A fine rain was falling as I disembarked the aircraft. Srinagar was shivering at 7 degrees centigrade. Rams and ewes, all set for slaughter on Eid, looked forlorn. Meat-market persons in untidy pherans haggled with locals for rates. Half the male population, I noticed, had not seen a shaving blade for weeks, a very Kashmiri trait most noticeable in winters. While it continued to drizzle, queues outside ATM machines got fretful. At least three people entered the cashpoint at one time to witness your transaction. The invasion of financial privacy has a very harmless ring to it, which is very indigenous.
Eid, like other festive occasions in Kashmir, is more about gluttony and less about socializing. So everywhere you go, you get fed like sheep. Ironically you are served one or more of a dozen improvised varieties of mutton (of sheep, generally). All your entreaties and appeals that you can’t humanly consume so much will fall to deaf ears, as the hosts will gang up to stuff more lamb down your throat. Eventually you give up, knowing deep down that your resistance is futile and stuffing one’s face is perhaps too insignificant a crime in face of the famed ‘mohabat’ of your Kashmiri comrades and relatives.
Then Eid came. It appeared disdainfully scornful that Farooq Abdullah and his sonny (in similar shades of Karakul caps) would offer Eid prayers at Harzatbal, with their sidekicks, while the same freedom was denied to the elderly man at Hyderpora. Now in his mid-80’s Mr G wasn’t even allowed to be with his sick brother in his last moments. A day after Eid the leader’s brother passed away in Sopore. It took the death of someone in his immediate family for the police state to relax Geelani's house-arrest. Obviously on ground the world’s largest democracy is running scared of an ex-Jamati, thrown out even by his own party?
To be frank the Karakul cap does not sit very elegant on Omar’s pedigreed head. The AFSPA debate is at its vertex these days. The CM has made a strong pitch, asking for the revocation of the law from more peaceful areas of the valley. Military-wallas, as usual, have put a spanner in the works. They are against the partial removal of the pathetic law even on a selective basis. The Indian army has committed many war-crimes in Kashmir and no one wants to lose the immunity to be tried in a court of law for all the injustices and villainy. And if Mustafa Kamal states the obvious, it is just fair game to guillotine him.
I tend to be slightly antiquated in my appreciation of people. While in Sopore, and since Geelani’s late brother was a neighbor, I got a chance to catch up with Mr G in person. On a rain swept evening, a few days after Eid, I sat face to face with the frail old man in his mid-80’s. In a very cordial conversation, which lasted an hour and was only interspersed with rare laughter by Mr G, he sounded totally sophisticated, extremely well-read -- with a conviction, that is both dainty and devastatingly honest.
One must be forthright though. It is hard not to be impressed by Geelani but when you press him about removal of AFSPA, he would just say the same thing he has been saying since the dawn of mankind. There are things, though, he spells out in such lucid terms that you would mistake him for Gene Sharp. ‘The quest for something that has a profound insight, intellectual message and inspirational value for us won’t be slaked by a road here or a sightseer there.’ The feeble smile stays.
In a rare unguarded moment he removed the Karakul cap and I can report safely that he has not lost a single strand of hair. It is silver grey. ‘You talk in Kafkaesque terms. Are you not afraid to be dubbed as a Utopian?’ I asked. Some wise soul says ‘A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which humanity is always landing,’ pat came the reply.
Rain continued to fall outside. It was pitch dark. Sopore would be the last on the to-do list when they finally come around to scrap the draconian AFSPA, I thought as I began to take leave of the padre of Kashmir’s resistance. This has always been the stronghold. ‘I wish you good health, Sir’, I said as I got up to shake his feeble hand.
‘Nothing can exist without a cause. I am only incidental’. Geelani is sharply aware of both -- his age and ideas.