Thursday, March 31, 2011

The day after!

So the end was not to the liking of Kashmir. Early reports and the brief clutches of conversations with friends -- journalists and otherwise -- suggest that a day after Pakistan was shipwrecked by India in a game of cricket, a lot of people are down in the mouth. Apparently the timbre of our lives is jazzed up by cricket only.

Last night everyone and anyone – whether or not you have a cricketing brain – chewed onto their nails and prayed that Pakistan win. Ofcourse the chosen representative of the people of Kashmir, the archduke of Twitterville, Omar Abdullah supported India. Geelani Sahib’s affiliations could not be immediately known. He does not have an iPad.

While the two prime ministers tucked into some boneless chicken in Chandigarh, poor Kashmiris popped Izband [rue seeds] and smoked an equivalent of 11 truckloads of cigarettes in Srinagar alone. Kids inhaled juts of passive smoke in their screaming little lungs. But nothing worked. It proved a damp squib.

The media is such a mistress. Especially the TV guys in India and Pakistan. They jerk the hoi polloi into such frenzy that it only becomes a matter of do-or-die afterwards. From the bat-manufacturers in Bijbihara to timber smugglers in the woods of Kupwara everyone called upon in supplication -- for India to lose. The prayers were unanimously rejected.

Perhaps a smart sociologist will explain this almost inscrutable obsession with Pakistan cricket. Then there are moon sightings also, and despite India’s commendable advancements in satellite launches, Kashmiris mostly rely on the ramshackle Roohati-Hilal [moon-sighting] committee of Pakistan. Eid is always courtesy Radio Pakistan.

A million brain-farts and zillion invectives later the realization finally dawned. India had won. Pakistan was trounced and Kashmir felt sublimely god-awful.

© Sameer

Saturday, March 26, 2011

We, the Poshlust

Just when everyone is drunk on cricket and India meets Pakistan in the semi finals of the world cup cricket, how can tiny Kashmir be any exception? Cricket is just about the only safe, neutral, middle-of-the-road topic one can broach in an atmosphere as surcharged as waadi-Kashmir. Anything else is likely to antagonize a potential Geelani or a Yasin or an Omar fan and vitiate things. These days you can’t even tell who is who.

Notwithstanding the overwhelming support for Pakistan cricket in every home of Kashmir, an aspiring bureaucrat lurks about in each alley. Ever since the local doctor turned civil servant, who says the Hippocratic Oath and Ghalib’s prose with equal ease, hit it big, all kids want to imitate him. Besides bureaucrats make people feel powerless and there is something strangely sinister about making others feel inadequate.

The grapevine is that agencies [local for intelligence operatives/agencies which outnumber the dogs of Srinagar] are happy. They couldn’t have asked for a better bargain to amalgamate minds into the mainstream. Sometimes things happen for the good.

Since a lot of kids have been put in jails, for teasing the largest democracy in the world, naturally there is competition brewing in prisons also. Reports suggest that some of those jailed have taken to writing the civil services exam. One such captive, it appears, made it to the last rung of the much fêted services examination. Handcuffs jangling he was brought to the interview panel.

What followed next is pure yarn but one that we need to spin. Yarning is redeeming, many-a-times.

Three member panel and a prisoner-aspirant.

Panelist: What is better – democracy or dictatorship?
Aspirant: Democracy. Especially when they hang you by the feet at night.
Panelist [clearing his throat]: Why do you wish to become a KAS officer?
Aspirant: The guards who kick me now would guard my children later.
Panelist: How can you calculate the number of stones the agitators threw last summer?
Aspirant: Total number of bullets fired (the authorities may have the figures) divided by hundred, Sir.
Panelist [changing the motif]: For some IQ testing now.
What happened, young man, when the wheel was invented?
Aspirant: It caused a revolution, sir.
Panelist: Revolutionists don’t occupy administrative posts. How would you explain this passion in Kashmir?
Aspirant: We are the poshlust.
Panelist: That is a Russian word.
Aspirant: Yes, unique to that language but holds true for us.
Panelist: Elaborate.
Aspirant: It means cliché, smugness, sameness -- all rolled up into one.
Panelist: Thanks.
Aspirant: Thank you, Sir.

© Sameer

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Peace Puzzle

There is some strange congruity between my home coming and the conflict-barometer of Kashmir. Whatever it is, sneers at me! Wherever in the world I come from, someone never flunks to up the ante here. Quite dutifully. The pot keeps boiling. A crippling strike greeted me a day after I landed, followed by a gun-battle, some distance away from home. Clearly it is not over yet, whatever it is: valor, frenzy or our infelicity.

I prattled with the peace emissaries on my flight to Kashmir. In clipped English I understood thus: the pavement to Shangri La is cobbled with uneven stones. Brimstone, if you may. Radha Kumar confided that the peace train is on track but the signals are one too many. Dilip Padgoankar said his nephew studied music in Prague and lives in Dubai now. Perhaps I should listen to a song or two once I am back later this week.

I don’t know if strikes are going to lead us to the Promised Land. Kashmir observers say that symbolism of the self-imposed clamp-down is huge. There is little else we can do to tell the bully that we have forgotten nothing and the self-inflicted wounds continue to fester as the winter tide comes to an end. Many feel that Geelani – the old man with a natural knack of displeasing the Abdullahs in Kashmir -- may be stretching it a little too thin. The jury is still out on us.

You can smell the first spring blossom in Srinagar. Soon, and I am echoing my own thought, Hyacinths, blue and beautiful, shall sprout. Low rumble may follow angry thunderclaps. Clouds shaped like abandoned honeycombs will freckle the skies over Dal. April will slowly meld into May and happy songs will reverberate in the chocolate color meadows of the vale, lush and lithesome. Then June will come.

Since June is a troublesome epoch, I thought March would be a good bet. Already the itinerary of day one has gone haywire. So I shall have to redo the maths quickly and drop some occasions from the scheduler to be able to wrap it up in the next few days.

With reverence due to the revolution, I hope peace holds till atleast the emissaries of peace are around. And till I am able to drink some Kehwa in peace without a rusty bullet ricocheting in my backyard.

© Sameer

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Sabbatical

Time for a sabbatical. For a little over one week. I am off to India, then to home -- Kashmir.

Waking up to familiar fragrances is -- any day -- a better idea than opening your eyes to an alien land. And looking out at the woody-stemmed, twining leaflets of the scented violet flowers called Wisteria is like watering your sapped-out soul. Hauntingly calming too. After an exacting journalistic rigour, I reckon it comes as a welcome interlude.

So all my bags are packed for destination Kashmir. A very enviable chunk of land, whose people are a little touched but sweet. It is full of butterflies and gossip but I don’t mind such hare-brained distractions, as long as it is naïve. Inwardly you sketch a smile at over- simplistic frames of reference, which is mostly sappy. You know that however hard you try to, you cannot unbelong to them. Slowly you end up loving the quietude of the place.

Still I felt a deep lump in the throat as I packed my bags last evening. I don’t know why we feel attached to -- Situations. Things. Events. Cavort. Laughter. Intimacy. Gazes. Rides. Friends. My head is slightly reeling. That may be a joint I took tiny drags of. The smoke often makes funny, irregular shapes, which make no sense. One may have a blazing hearth in one's soul and yet no one ever comes to sit by it. Passersby see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on the way. Vincent would agree.

© Sameer

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The smiling Peer

He was the kindest soul in the town. The affirmation of his dignity was a very subtle, refined humor, which only a very few possess. He wielded it ferociously while he breathed. The most jocular voice in my neighborhood is gone. Our next door grand-fatherly, immensely popular, Abaji met his maker today.

I really miss people I know. To lose them forever is tragic. Worse still I am never in Kashmir. Personally I love satire and I don’t recall well if the old man – with his endless repartees and wisecracks – did subconsciously shape my sense of droll. Whatever the occasion, Abaji would eventually find humor.

One fine day, perhaps in the winter of 1995, a 12-hour gun-battle shook Sopore. The intensity of the encounter was so profound that the entire neighborhood decided to assemble at one place: In Abaji’s elegant little home. While everyone was busy fidgeting or worrying about what comes next [reprisals by the army on innocent citizenry were commonplace], there was one soul who wasn’t bothered a wee tot. Abaji. Amidst the deafening crackle of gunfire he said with an expression that was his hallmark – a cross between sounding deadpan serious and subtle, ‘Khabar kahyi gasan akh gool’ [How much does a bullet cost?]

When he went to perform Hajj just after 9/11, a local carpenter, not too much in demand, came to pay a visit to Abaji and asked to be remembered in Duvas [prayers] in Mecca. ‘Agar haz banay, myani kori khatir onuth akh abaya teti’, [Could you get an Abaya for my daughter?], the poor carpenter requested. Tongue firmly in cheek, Abaji shot back: Temov chahay Abaya banavin band karmit yana Ambreekas hamla koruk [They have stopped making Abaya’s after 9/11]. Yeti aanus bukra-khreeta. [Get her an ordinary Burqa here].

Comicality apart, Abaji was perhaps last of the old-world Sufis. He would do Khatams [Sufi-style private prayers] and Naat-Khwaani [Singing of odes to the Prophet] – an assaymark of Kashmir’s gentle Islam -- much to the chagrin of the new-age hardliners.

Taravees [special Ramadan prayers] are longish and the Imam usually recites them briskly. Leading one such prayer in the mosque many years ago, he turned to the faithful suddenly and quipped: Speed cha theekhi? [Am I going with good speed?]

Gags such as these and many more shall always endear him.

Abaji will make the angels giggle, I am sure.

Peer Abdul Rashid

© Sameer