Monday, June 25, 2012

Who set our shrines aglow?

Only the curer whose love makes me drunk
Only that hand, if it wants can cure me!
Requirement is not a test of my tears
Eyes, not carriers of rain laden clouds!
~Shahi-Hamdan, Amir-Kabir

The Gilan province in Persia is lush green. It is called the city of rain. A beautiful river known as Haraz flows quietly nearby. Nearly a thousand years ago, one fine morning, an old poet who lived nearby decided to send his emissaries to Kashmir. It was the 11th century, most historians agree. And we were never ever the same. He made Sufis of us all.

Soon enough the old poet became our Dastageer. People started calling him Gaus Al Azam (the Supreme Helper). He travelled in the day, visiting hamlets and hillocks, and wrote at night in beautiful Persian, his elegant prose matching works of such eminences like Imam Ghazali. The mystical universe of Sufism had a new patron saint.

Historians trace Dastageer Sahib’s lineage directly to the last Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, the blessed. Folklore has it that when he was a young man in Gilan, he was sent to study in Baghdad. Since dacoity was common, his mom sewed up 40 gold coins in his jacket. When his caravan was ultimately intercepted by robbers, he was hauled up, like everyone else, and asked to declare what he had on him. Gaus Al Azam truthfully said ‘40 gold coins’.

The dacoits took his honest reply for a kid’s joke and dragged him to their chief, who repeated the same question with a more fearsome growl. Abdul Qadir Jilani said the only thing he ever knew: truth. The dacoits, lore has it, were so impressed by the bright sparkle in his eye that they decided to give up high-way robbery. Ordinary folks, by extension, were totally consumed by Jilani’s message of harmony.

In Srinagar, a grand structure was raised where Dastageer sahib's remarkable philosophy was preached. Two beautifully calligraphed handwritten copies of the Qur’an adorned the mosque, which was done up in grand trellis work. The blend of Persian and Kashmiri architecture created a splendid floral motif with exquisite calligraphy on the walls and carved pillars. Bohemian songs reverberated in this abode of love each year.

Born in a tiny Mazandaran village, Dastageer sahib is buried at a shrine in Baghdad. A poet, who wasn't born here, didn't come to Kashmir but somehow mystically helped us fathom love and tolerance. No wonder Kashmiris enmasse soaked up both his philosophy and message of fellowship.

Boatsmen in the Dal lake, when the winds are sometimes fast, and waves appear dangerous, hold their oars in air and holler: Ya Peer Dastageer.

And we just lost that token of love. The spiritual watering hole of millions. In Khanyar.

Like so many other memories, dear and profound to us, we lost another chunk of our heritage, our innocence, our past. We must indeed be a sad lot.

© Sameer
Follow @sameerft

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Moslems are coming

Azad Essa is a very rare tribe. With an unusual chutzpah, he dons several hats: that of an Al-Jazeera journalist, blogger and a keen observer of peoples and cultures around the globe. It is not surprising that his first book ‘The Moslems are coming’ cuts through the usual fakery about the most pressing issues that confront us. In simple words the book has balls.

Divided into seven major chapters, each of which is further sub-divided into mini-chapters, Azad launches into a no holds barred account on assorted themes that range from the Burqa ban in France to the brisk business of cricket bats in Kashmir. But what holds the book together is its spiky sense of humor. ‘The Moslems are coming’ is sharp as a tack.

The chapter on Kashmir, which is actually a set of three needle-like blogs, is simply dubbed ‘India, Pakistan or Azadi’. The self-explanatory title perhaps tells us much more about the Kashmir conundrum than the joint efforts of Indian bureaucracy in nationalistic ties and media men blabbering away on Kashmir in self-righteous tones, holding somewhat grimy mikes. The essays, as part of Azad’s Kashmir barnstorm, are bluntastically delicious.

Make no mistakes ‘The Moslems are coming’ shoots straight arrows. In the interpolation to the vexed Kashmir problem, something that has intellectuals and policy-makers confounded since the start of mankind, Azad waxes eloquent. ‘What then of a place like Kashmir? Stuck between Western diplomacy and Indian ascendancy, Kashmiri ambitions for national self-determination suit no one. They have little power, little coordination, a disjointed leadership, a history of an armed insurgency and scant media swagger; their cause is like screaming for a lost donkey in the Himalayas.’

So many times I have wondered if we lack a common symbol. Some hornbook or an emblem that we could all feel strongly associated with. We do not have, the truth be told, anything in the tiny valley of ours, which we can relate to, in our quest for whatever we have set out to attain. The author’s hawk-eye notices the void. ‘Of course, Palestine and Tibet, despite their banners, bandannas and flags, are going nowhere rather slowly, but Kashmir does not even have that recognizable paraphernalia one could use to pick up chicks with.’

‘The Moslems are coming’ isn’t hard as nails, though it might appear so, given Azad’s condition, last diagnosed as acute humoroid. There are deadpan serious passages when he writes about a father’s anguish in Kashmir. The son, of course, like thousands of poor Kashmiris has gone missing. A mere statistic for the fat government babus and a perpetual psychological torture for the families who haven't given up hope. It requires a certain humanism to articulate this dichotomy.

May it be the dervish looking poplars of Kashmir, the abandoned homes of Pandits or the fine willow trees lining the valley’s beautiful hamlets, the book skips nothing. Azad’s rendezvous with the owners of willow factories could make sociologists’ green with envy.  How the Himalayan conflict affects the overall cricket bat business in Sangam makes for some very interesting cheese!

‘All we need is for Pakistan to win every series, and we’d do well,' a cricket bat factory owner, somewhere in the heart of Kashmir, confides in the author.  

The head says India, the heart whistles Pakistan. ‘The Moslems are coming’ snorts all scents of the conflict.