Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Operation Rooster and other conspiracies

Wintry woes continue in the valley. Last week cops, on the basis of some solid info, laid siege to a mohalla, a country subdivision, in Baramulla, North Kashmir. These days, owing to the extreme weather, the police swings into action only when the intel is fully reliable and the target is clearly achievable. A high ranking officer led the offensive. Crack teams took position at vantage points. At the appointed hour the police assault was launched. Codenamed operation Rooster, it was swift, efficient and successful.

Three men were arrested. All young. “Case FIR # 12, 13 and 14 of 2012 under Section 3/7 has been registered against them,” newspapers screamed. What is all the more interesting is the huge body of evidence collected against the perpetrators. For once the police is uber-confident that they have a water-tight case. Oh and by the way the boys were booked for selling chicken at exaggerated rates. A few things can be more heinous. Period.

One doesn’t really want to get into the nuts and bolts of the poultry pricing mechanism in Kashmir. We have seen many a chicken being abducted on cold nights by feral cats, locally called laesh, never to be returned. Often the australorp feathers, lying about in the yard, are the only evidence of the overnight struggle. So many hen coops in the damp little valley of ours have been vandalized by both -- feral cats and CRPF in the past. To even think of raising the prices of our ‘happy chicken meal’ stinks of conspiracy. An elaborate Judeo-Christian one.

While the chicken fight continues in marketplaces of Kashmir, fisticuffs of a different kind seem to have spilled onto the virtual world. Ergo in various online platforms Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) and Kashmiri Muslims (KMs) slog it out over the most mundane of matters. It is a relationship that fluctuates betwixt love-hate to hate-hate and is replete with a jarring narrative. Online KPs think that they have been wronged by offline KMs while online KMs feel that offline KPs are belittling their suffering via their online trolls. It is very complicated and doesn’t get any moderate than that.

Due to huge snowfall in the hills leopards are on the prowl in the hinterland of Kashmir. Authorities say there could be about two dozen of them. Real hungry. Meantime small children and an occasional adult gets bitten around by bitches in the streets of Srinagar while the municipality blokes sit around rusty bukharis (furnaces) wondering why the government takes an eternity to release funds for salaries. Yes there is a direct correlation between wages and inertia.

Some Harvard dude is training cops how to be politely tough with people. January 26 is approaching. An old man is preparing notes on defiance.

© Sameer
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Monday, January 16, 2012

Snow Sparrows

We may have our iPhones alright but the first sprinkling of snow in Kashmir upends just about everything. Power transmission lines, roadside trees and civil administration cave in on each other and in that order. Ergo -- light, water and most means of communication disappear. The winter of 2011-12 is no exception. Local government was caught with its pants down, God knows doing what, in the season’s first – and subsequent – snowfalls.

Tourists from mainland India, with monkey caps fitted on them, like executors, can be seen wandering around Srinagar’s only fashionable lakeside road, Boulevard. Since the authorities have somehow managed to restore light for a few hours each day in hotels and houseboats, coupled with CM’s cut-my-light-also dramaturgy, things have begun to look touristy again. Picture postcards show snow, not the absence of glow in bulbs.

While it might still take some time to get the glow back in hamlets of south and north Kashmir, the general public has been asked to carry their cell-phone chargers in Pheran pockets, just in case. Great improvisers, as Kashmiris are, they put hospitals to good use this winter. In perpetual absence of ‘regular electricity’ cell phones were powered on by ‘essential services’ supply and car engines. Then people say we don’t ‘ideate’. Not fair.

Talking of fare -- no Kashmiri household can ring the snow in without the quintessential local fare -- Razma (kidney beans), called Razma dal and Kashur anchar (Kashmiri pickle) in our neck of woods. So when it snows outside, like it used to in good old days, there is no joy better than sitting around with your folks in the old kitchen, finishing off platefuls of rice with Razma and anchar (and fish, if you are in Sopore). Else a duck meal with spinach will do, if you live, let’s say in Sajad Lone’s little village.

Although Harisa is available in many towns of Kashmir these days, it is still a bit of novelty. The original inhabitants of old Srinagar are somewhat skilled in the craft. If you have a hovel or home along one of Srinagar’s notable bridges – Ael Kadal, Fateh kadal, Razeh kadal, Zeen kadal, you are likely to be teased in the bed by the near-seductive aroma of Harisa coming from one of the pinds. Nothing comes close. Milk in Kashmir, like our smutty politicians, is adulterated these days.

Besides taking potshots at the CM, who wears 70’s style English sweaters and hop scotches all over the valley, while people find it hard to walk to the local mosque in 10 inches of snow, the winter talk is invariably bound to throw up that moth-eaten annual question. Why is Mr G in Delhi while we shiver in the bitter chill? Well, may be, because he does not have a Hamam like some of us and unlike all of us he is not allowed to step out, around summer, the time of dangerous ideas.

Winters are exclusively for nader-mounjas. And brown-grey sparrows, pecking at yellow crumbs of rice, on the staircase of Makhdoom Sahib in Koh-e-Maran.

© Sameer

Friday, January 06, 2012

A town torched

There was sound of a huge bang that morning, like someone blowing up a cartful of dynamite. Just before the cockcrow. Most of the townspeople were asleep. The dawn prayers had thin attendance, mostly because it gets very cold in January. By nine o’clock a military patrol was out, doing rounds of the main marketplace. Suddenly gunmen emerged from a narrow alley and shot random bullets at the party before quickly disappearing in the maze that old Sopore is. Taken rather off guard, the security detail ran back to their barracks only to emerge again as Frankenstein’s monsters, spitting hell fire. In the next fifty odd minutes, they murdered fifty five people in cold blood. And burnt the town down.

Even after all these years nobody knows for sure what transformed the BSF party into the heartless creatures that they became -- that cold January morning. Hapless people, trapped in flames, had only two choices to make and both, it turned out, cost them dearly. Stepping out of their shops meant getting bumped off on the spot. Those who hid in their shops were roasted alive. Many people who were killed on January 6, 1993, were buried without their families being able to see them one last time. The dead bodies had faces -- that smiled, loved and beamed a few hours back -- too disfigured to be kissed a final good bye. Monsters seldom heed tears.

An unfortunate bus, half-full with passengers, on its way to Sopore got caught up in the frenzy. The driver, oblivious to the savagery of the 94th battalion BSF, was flagged down. Soon charcoal gray powder blew into the vehicle. Terrified passengers froze in their seats, their hands still inside their Pherans. A stash of gunfire lit the bus up. The ill-starred men and women banged at the window-panes, begging to be let out, but their screams met no saviors. The nearby shops were burning in maroon fire with real people in them. A hundred thousand books in the local women’s college were turning to dark dust in the library. The foot soldiers of the world’s largest democracy looked on with a ghoulish glee.

Entire families were wiped out on that January morning 19 years back. A respected Sufi Pir [spiritual man] lost six members of his immediate and extended family. His two grandsons, two nephews and two cousins. The old man was unwell in his bed when news of the doom came. Women began to pull their hair out and grown-up men wept inconsolably in his mud-and-brick three storey home, often frequented by devotees. Later when the corpses of all the six young men were lined up in the lawn, someone asked the Sufi if he wanted to come out and have a last look at the lads. ‘Oh yes’, the old man said and as someone walked him outside he whispered in the most feeble voice, ‘I had a dream last night and they told me that we shall take you to hear things I never imagined. I think this is the Taebeer [interpretation]’.

I feel somewhat uneasy writing this, recalling mostly from memory, from the pastiches of ugly nightmares of growing up in Kashmir of the 90’s. Ofcourse I was too young to comprehend how people in flesh and blood could get so godawful and burn fellow humans alive. It smelled of fear and flesh. We heard the wails coming from a distance. That evening the smoke’s twist was awfully slow.

In memoriam
To my fellow townspeople,
cut to merciless death on January 6, 1993.
We remember you.

© Sameer

Twitter: @sameerft

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

An inauspicious start

I’m sure justice is a concubine. The poor are like nutmeg. They are always crushed. One such boy, as he was being wheeled to the hospital, had this soupcon red in his eyes, like wanting to hold onto dear life. Moments later he shut them forever.

In a matter of few minutes he became the latest statistic in Kashmir's murky tale. Thankfully there was no electricity last night for the parents to see each other's eyes.

Why do the poor always die? While the rich get away.

Rich boys ski. They drink coffee in plush cafés. They wear au-de-perfume. They blog. They debate on intellectual constructs. They eat caviar. And Harisa. The less privileged, almost always, get killed. That is a given.

By habit politicians burn a lot of gas in trying to out-do each other to reach the families of those who get killed. The dead are often hailed as martyrs in presence of their un-dead folk, in a certain reassuring way so that their loss looks acceptable.

It is so awfully ironic that while alive no one wants to die and yet when you get shot in the head, you become an instant martyr like Saint Sebastian. Redemption is attained in death at least, if not in life -- in the valley.

I often think of Kashmir as this distant Arcadia – snow falling on antlered hanguls. Intrigued that I am with its pastoral simplicity, I cut the blood part out.

© Sameer
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Filed under: Mini-blogs

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011: Kashmir's kick-ass year

The final dying moments of 2011. What an eventful year it has been! The Americans killed OBL, go-go-go Hollywood style and NATO got poor Qadafi cornered, like a desert rodent, only to be impaled by the loutish thugs from Misrata, who then put his body on display, similar to some medieval pillory.

The Arab spring, powered on by ordinary people, astounded everyone. Elsewhere ordinary people – the now-famous 99% -- got their act together and sat down -- in Zuccotti Park, NY, laying mental siege to the slimy edifices of capitalism. Occupy Wall Street was almost synchronous with the Euro zone stumble, something that is bearing on, as we put our stockings on to ring the new year in.

Kashmir stayed relatively peaceful in 2011. Early on in April, village folk lined up, pherans upon shoulders, Geelani Sahib’s boycott call notwithstanding, to elect their Sarpachs. Sociologists admitted at that time that human memory is forecasted to remain short-term and God knows Panchayat-ghars were notorious make-shift interrogation centers not so long ago.

One of Kashmir’s foremost lobbyists in the US, Dr Fai was caught this year feeding carrots to rabbits in Virginia, near DC. Caught up in heavy diplomatic cross-fire, the Kashmiri doc – who has since revealed the color of all rabbits – was America’s style of humiliating Pakistan which had – earlier in 2011 -- outted and thrown the CIA agent Raymond Davis in prison. The Pakistanis released Davis after he paid blood money; subsequently the Americans let Fai off on bail -- with an electronic contraption strapped to him. Bad blood remains.

In the run up to fall this year, there was ballyhoo in badam-orchads and Indian news papers. Glad that the first nine months of the year passed off relatively smooth, lit-lovers thought it fit enough to dust their Fab-India Kurtas and head off to Srinagar. Since Zabarwan makes stunning backdrop in autumn, it was time to sit back over 'yellow as quince' Kehwa and discuss freedom of expression with local men and women of letters. Alas no one took the bait.

There was murder in the Gupkar castle in 2011. TV channels went berserk, especially Arnoub, the oily haired Indian telly anchor who has successfully discovered the G-spot of Kashmiris and jerks them into a mad frenzy every time he begins mouth farting. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the prince of Denmark’s dad drinks a potion so potent that it immediately causes bubbling scabs on his body. Something similar happened. Some commission was set up and then winter set in.

The debate on the abrogation of AFSPA gathered momentum this year with both Omar and Umar on the same page for a change. Many weeks of hue and cry later, the debate drowned in liquor. Rather than promising something substantial – to be named after Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah – on the late Sher’s anniversary, Dr Farooq asked for opening of beer bars in Srinagar. Sheri-Kashmir must have turned in his grave. What a spirited wish on someone’s tomb?

They say life is about looking forward. As 2011 melds into 2012, one can only wish that there is more power in Kashmiri homes this winter. Let the flute and the lyre of peace replace the paranoia and bluster of those who administer us. And though we may seasonally be unretentive, one cannot burn memories.

Happy New Year, folks.

© Sameer