Wednesday, December 28, 2011


In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Mom’s anniversary. Fifteen years have passed since mom exited our lives. The scriptures say that there is a paradise in the skies complete with gardens and yew trees where the good and the kind are sent for some paradisiacal foot massage. The word Paradise comes from the Persian root word 'Pardis' which means an exquisite garden that is enclosed between walls. It is not an open space, perhaps. I just hope they allow the tenderhearted in.

There is no Eden on God’s green earth. There are only memories, which are like these mini-drawings in our heads. No amount of wealth or intelligence can bring back those who accidently wander to the pastures beyond the known. There is an eerie discomfort about it which pokes you in the most improbable places. There are times in life when you laugh without meaning it. Nothing comes back. All we can do is honor people. And miss them in our most private, personal thoughts.

We grow up and branch out in life. We traverse alien shores and pretend to be independent. The heart, though, stays captive to old thoughts, floating about in familiar pastures. No matter how refined your dining experience becomes, you reminisce about eating in your old kitchen, hurriedly, wanting to join your waiting friends for fun. No amount of perfumed candle light can ever knock one’s sock off like the popping of Izband [rue seeds] in a Kangri [fire-pot].

Graveyards have so many tales in them. We, the un-dead, may never fathom. Mom lies interred in a beautiful, simple grave, in a green triangular meadow, by a quietly flowing river, in countryside Kashmir. In summers a lot of Viburnum flowers drop from trees and fall on her tombstone. It is bittersweet to visit her. I think it snows over in winters. I have no ways of knowing since I decided to find my peace elsewhere.

A million stars in the sky. Never ending snowflakes. Hundreds of dewdrops to greet the dawn. Hundreds of bees in the purple clover. Hundreds of butterflies on the lawn. But only one mother the wide world over.

Boy, I just hope the paradise story is true.

28 Sep 1955- 28 Dec 1997


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

There is a merry tinkle about Christmas that makes it a very very delightful occasion. When I was kid, I was enamored with the idea of a fat old man, white as snow, sledging his way from the North Pole, where he is believed to have a secret gift factory. I’ve forever imagined Santa’s red coattails fluttering as his sledge speeds up.
And his beard, flowing white, not fox orange, dancing in the wind.
I was unable to fathom how such a fat man could slide in through a narrow chimney. But I loved the idea. Who does not love beautiful myths?

Christmas has always been about snow. And old Santa’s reindeer with those weird antlers. It is that time of the year when you don stocking caps and eat cakes and sing carols. To humankind! Though commercialized by sinister market wolves now, Christmas still has a feel-good factor that is irrespective of your faith-meter: you may be religious, secular or completely godless. I've hardly known a bloke who does not like the distilled spirit of goodness, that Christmas is.

For some strange reason Christmas makes people smile a lot, for it engulfs the whole world in a congenial conspiracy. Suddenly the irrational becomes rational. An unwed mother gives birth to a baby. The unpalatable becomes palatable as north star appears. The unreal welds into the real. Three wise men show up. Snow falls. Lore is fact. Hearts hammer. A lone bell begins to tintinnabulate. People re-meet.

I am culturally Muslim and spiritually liberal. I like Christmas for all its sweet secure spirit. I want a million coniferous trees to grow. The lights to glow. The bells to toll. The cakes to bake. The hymns to pop.
The love to spread.

We -- irrespective of our color and belief system – are wired to celebrate the good and the beautiful.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The return of Chilay-Kalan

It is cold as a well digger’s arse in Srinagar. The valley has just slipped into the nippiest part of winter, locally called ‘Chilay-Kalan’, which lasts all of 40 days. There is something about the 40-day Chila [epoch]. If the Tabligi jamaat [band for spreading faith to the faithful] somehow gets hold of you around this time in Kashmir they are likely to whisk you away for a period of 40 days. And you will never ever be the same, I swear. Apart from mosque Hamams, Harisa pinds [joints] are just about the best places to recline and indulge in a free-flow of the juiciest gossip in town.

So in every sand and brick home, little kids – each cheek a shade cherry -- are wrapped up in layer upon layer of woolens and kan-topas [monkey caps]. They move around like miniature astronauts, muttering away in Kashmiri-accented Urdu [but mind you, no Kashmiri, else you sound like a Groos]. Grown-ups hug the ubiquitous Kangri, to not let it go even for a heart-beat’s span, periodically handling the fire with a stoker, tied to all wicker-and-clay Kangris. There is no fighting the CRPF when you wake up in the morning to fight the frozen-oven tap. The wintry lull is not without a reason.

With little news happening, except for the cut-and-dried-and-shrill news-bytes offered by the intensely-yours old man of Hyderpora, the mike-wielding gang is a worried lot. In absence of political news they occasionally dash off to the shores of Dal to report the ice floes [called Tula-katur] to their ignoramuses in New Delhi. The lake freezes over in parts every winter and long years back, someone drove a Jeep on it. That is folk-lore. There are ice-roads in northern Canada, Russia, Scandinavia and elsewhere where truckers and motorists drive regularly but let us not digress too much from our fore-shore. Oh, Harzatbal rises like a florescent dome in glacial climes.

Despite the night temperatures dipping dangerously during the wintertide, the call for prayer [Azaan] always comes on time. In the countryside it is immediately followed up by an utterly pleasing cackle of coots, shovellers, pochards and wigeons. The songbirds tweedle upon treetops, singing in an almost melodic fashion, who knows, songs of winter and the joy of warmth. Deep in the pine jungles of Kashmir, which hide European Hoopoes and dark secrets in them, little indigo columns of smoke can be seen coming up from the Kothas [pit-houses]. It smells of simple wood-smoke at day-break.

When my generation was growing up in Kashmir, during the era of tea-colored bullets and power-less wintry nights, we thought in our juvenile abandon that Chillay Kalan must be an old, fat, Karakuli-wearing spook who exits his mountain cave at the onset of winters to bring all the frost and icicles and snow. Just like Santa Claus minus his goody-goody image. Now it does not snow like it used to in our childhood. For the contemporary and politically conscious breed of Kashmiris, Chillay Kalan must be someone like Farooq Abdullah. Theatrical. All bark and no bite.

© Sameer

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Devil is in the diary

The valley, it appears, is cold as blue blazes. Shakespeare wrote in Henry V in 1598 that I felt to his knees, and they were as cold as any stone, and so upward and upward, and all was as cold as any stone. Friends say that water lines have frozen over in Srinagar. The bitter chill of December is permeated only by the political happenstance, something never in short supply in our neck of woods. That also keeps journalists in constant business.

This Chilay-Kalan it started off by a yawning -- but perpetually paranoid -- security grid greatly alarmed by the sudden emergence of a blank diary and a calendar – all of six pages – printed by the same old nemesis of the establishment: the government’s tormentor-in-chief, that old man, who has by now developed an uncanny knack of frightening the largest democracy in the world with just about anything. Even a sneeze.

And this time it has been blank pages of a small pocket diary with innocuously elucidative quotes thrown in. Perhaps something like: Do not drink, all ye faithful, for you see, liquor can be spurious these days. Now when there is a talk of opening pubs in the city, where the chatterati and holidaymakers can giggle away to glory, such incendiary material like a pocket diary and wall-calendar with calligraphic verses can seriously disturb peace.

You never know what invisible ink Mr G might use. Why take chances? So orders were issued to appropriate all the goddamn calendars. There is a possibility now that J&K Bank might fast-forward its 2012 edition of calendars with 5th December, marked in red, with an exegesis: Birth anniversary of Jenab Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. One of the policemen, manning the house-arrest, could be given a copy to slither it under Mr G’s door. Just to ensure that he is cheesed off, proper and sour, in the 80-something Chilay-Kalan of his being.

The little debate on rowdiness notwithstanding, walloping a few photo-journalists here and there while they go about their professional duties, beating up a few dozen Moharram processenists, tearing down pages of wall-calendars, impounding blank diaries as if it were black hash, does not constitute hooliganism. Lo and behold if you show that silly mirror of yours to us, you might just be carrying out the worst form of hoodlumism. Why. Because we say so!

Pugmarks of a leopard were recently seen near the chief minister’s summer residence at Gupkar. A doctor who lives next door had his dog attacked and killed in the dead of night by the big cat. Experts were called in the next morning to figure out the phenomenon. They spent many hours examining and cataloguing the pugmarks in the foothills of Kohi Suleiman and concluded that in all probability it was a huge leopard that had wandered off the adjoining woods. Thank you, wildlife geniuses.

Grapevine has it that the leopard made a hasty retreat after noticing that it had crossed the perimeter -- into the turf of the original lion.

© Sameer

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Abdullah of all seasons

Whenever Doctor Sahib opens his mouth there is snowball's chance in hell that you won’t be surprised. The latest verdict, it appears, is loud -- as is expected from the older cub (they can be cubs only for there is only one lion): We badly need to have big screens back in Srinagar and open up the goddamn beer shops. Pronto. Tourists, you see, when they come to Kashmir have this tremendous urge (it could be the weather) to see Shahrukh Khan halt trains with the nail of his left little finger in cinema. Guests also want to eat butter chicken but often find no beer or Bagpiper available. This must change!

The tourism minister naturally adds to the chorus. 2011 saw 700,000 tourists visit Kashmir. Imagine millions of bottles of whisky – cheap, desi and malted – they might have consumed and the revenues thereof -- quickly collected by the state. In neighboring Jammu, where booze is freely available, by the way, excise duties et al on liquor comes to Rs 60 crores a year. Whatever the gain to the exchequer, tipple-tax may indeed be helpful in a state where the CM blows up Rs 12 crore on his chopper sorties alone.

All handicraft stores might need to display monkey-caps from now on – prominently. And journalists must wear bright clothes while clicking Haryanvi holiday-makers, enjoying boat-rides in the Dal. Else you could be mistaken for some obnoxious weed and dredged away into oblivion. The state government has -- till now -- efficiently, one must add, spent upwards of Rs 160 crore on the Dal clean-up project. Now the lake is as speckless as Veena, the neighborhood bombshell. All indicators suggest that ISI did not try to sabotage the project.

If one were to take Doctor Sahib seriously, we could be shortly in for a round of ‘controlled democracy’. Given his insouciant image, and apart from the fact that Sheri-Kashmir in a very un-socialist gesture put the dastar on the golf enthusiast one fine morning (since Farooq was more pliable and hence acceptable to India, his younger apolitical sister opines), Doctor sahib thinks he has a divine right to distribute over-simplistic gyaan on the workings of democracy in his capacity as India’s wind and biogas minister.

Other than the annual NC sound bites that Sheikh was a tall leader and how we are all grateful – and shall remain so – because he was for harmony and all that, the governor also had some nice words to say. Sheikh Sahib, Raj Bhawan noted, was among the notable leaders of his time who had worked closely with Jawaharlal Nehru. What they won’t say or choose to carefully blot out: Nehru put the Sheikh in prison for 23 long years and Indira Gandhi let him out, only to walk into a trap.

By the way has Doctor Sahib being listening to Kolavari Di, oflate?

© Sameer