Monday, December 31, 2012

The year that was

The world didn’t end in 2012. Silly Mayans. Although panic gripped Kashmir in December following gossip that cosmic rays from Mars will enter Earth, perhaps somewhere between Gupkar and Dalgate, leading to harmful effects on mobile users. God knows who spins these old wives tales in our neck of woods but they always travel thick and fast. Such was the alacrity of the rumour that the office of Kashmir’s divisional commissioner had to step in, late at night, to allay any fears of mass paranoia. Behavioral scientists later attributed it to an early winter condition called ‘afvah-mongeritis’, a hallucinatory condition, brought about by Kangris. It goes away in a few days.

Displaying our frenzilicious appetite for all things horrible, we got into a Shiite-Sunni Twenty-20 in 2012. Both Shias and Sunnis thought, in their infinite wisdom, that the state was in league with the ‘other’ community. There was such vile posturing. Flabbergasted, the administration quickly imposed curfew in nine police station areas in the city. The university postponed its exams and the usual blame game begun. All opinion polls suggested, what Geelani Saab had prophesized when the first stone was flung: handiwork of the agencies. It is a time-tested Kashmiri euphemism for our own ‘imbecility’.

In the year bygone cooking gas became a rare commodity. Serpentine queues to fetch a gas capsule became routine in Kashmir. With an acute shortage of more than 6000 LPG cylinders per day, many rued the day they dismantled their mud hearths, a central feature in all Kashmiri homes, not too long ago. Alas the advent of cell-phones and disposable incomes dulled many a heads in Srinagar and other semi-urban places and people started doing away with good old fireplaces. There was some romanticism in saying ‘hearth and home’. Not any more. Now keep standing in the damn queue while it snows on you.

The beautiful shrine of Dastageer Saab went up in flames one fine morning last year. The 200-year-old sanctuary, located at Khanyar in old city, was entirely made of wood. The desecration came as a rude shock. How could someone put a match to our heritage? Accident or vandalism – the jury is still out but what an utter disgrace that our cultural history is being torpedoed right in front of our eyes. No one might ever know who committed this crime but a spiritual watering hole to hundreds of thousands cannot be extirpated by such acts of hate. Dastageer continues to live on in the hearts of countless.

Towards the year-end the Hurriyat (Mild) got busy, packing their bags for Pakistan. They broke bread with everyone -- from Bilawal’s dad to Imran Khan and returned home the other day to declare the trip a huge success. There is a speculation – and it would only be a stab in dark – that the visit had the Indian blessing. God knows what’s cooking behind the scenes? At the Institute of Strategic Studies of Islamabad, Pakistan’s top think-tank funded by the foreign office, Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat, clad in a funny blue cape, was at his melodramatic best. He told a serious audience that even if we have to cut each others noses, it should be done in such a fashion that we should look better than before. Prof Shireen Mazari, editor of The Nation and one of Pakistan’s top strategists, had a confused look for days afterwards, I am told.

And for all you news-floozies out there, a new luxe hotel has come up in Gulmarg. The Khyber: Himalayan Resort and Spa, owned by the Khyber Group of Industries came up at a whopping Rs 120 crores. JHM, a US Hotel group, which owns the Crown Plaza, Hyatt Regency, Marriot, Renaissance hotels across the globe, is a partner of sorts in the venture. The Khyber Group belongs to the Trumboos of Sopore, our erstwhile next-door neighbors. The price for a room in their uber-luxury hotel oscillates between Rs 14,500 to 1,05000 per night.

On that rather upscale note, wishing you a happy New Year.

PS: Snow, pherans, old kotchas, familiar laughter, naar kangir, naedir monja, old friends, vaan penji. Simple pleasures in life are still priceless.

© Sameer
Follow @sameerft

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Remembering BB

Five years since Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. The absence of one the sub-continent’s most charismatic, controversial and captivating leaders is like sky, spread over everything. Her tainted hubby who went on to become Pakistan’s Prez has old foes breathing down his neck. The same men who bumped off Benazir continue to run amok, killing innocent bystanders. Her son, the baby-faced, shrill-sounding Bilawal is set to be anointed later today. As if leadership were a heirloom. Nothing ever changes in Pakistan!

At the end of one of her interviews – way back in late 80’s – Benazir was asked if the popular supposition was correct: that if and when she supplanted General Zia-ul-Haq [Pakistan’s ex-military dictator], she would become the first woman to rule a Muslim country. "Quite true," she said and then remembered that a Queen Raziyya [Raziyya Sultan] had ruled the Delhi sultanate in the 13th century.

I checked the reference. According to history, the queen had been "wise, just and generous" and endowed with all the qualities befitting a king. "But she was not born of the right sex, and so, in the estimation of men, all these virtues were worthless."

Eventually men had murdered her.

I hope Mohtarma rests in eternal peace amidst the mango fragrance of the beautiful Pakistan countryside.


Updated, Dec 27, 2012

Sunday, December 09, 2012

We, the 93 per cent

In many's looks,
the false heart's history is writ in moods,
and frowns, and wrinkles strange
~Sonnet 93, William Shakespeare
English playwright and poet (1564-1616)

Sonnet 93 is one of Shakespeare's famed sonnets addressed to a mysterious fair youth. Our local fair youth brigade -- read Messrs Omar and dad Farooq Abdullah – are currently blushing at the 93 percent polling recorded in the state for the four Legislative Council (LC) seats held under the rural local bodies’ quota. Despite prevailing threats from some quarters and a general atmosphere of intimidation, it appears that the Panchs overwhelmingly decided to get in a democratic queue. The icing on the cake was the four by four victory lap by the NC-Congress combine.

Notably the election to these seats was last held in the 1970s. No wonder the intelligence apparatus and the security grid in the valley are happy like clams in butter sauce, congratulating each other. It is after a long, long hiatus that the government is in a position to fill up the LC seats under the Panchayat quota. Apprehensions that some members might boycott the polls after the recent killing of five Panchs and Sarpanchs by unknown gunmen, and the late summer calls for the headmen to resign, have apparently fallen through. The belief in democratic process, it appears, just like the seasonal Harisa, has returned to Kashmir.

The problem is not with so many council folk turning up in large numbers to vote. The image being carefully cultivated, and the one that immediately goes out, is that elections – of any stripe – are in a circuitous way some tacit approval of India’s rule in Kashmir. The fact that the Panchayat polls are being held like a direct contest between the National Conference-Congress coalition (notwithstanding the gibberish Sheikh Nazir and Mustafa Kamal keep regurgating) and the Peoples DemocraticParty (PDP) is not lost to many. The rightwing BJP contested all four seats.

In the meantime, Hurriyet Conference, headed by Syed Ali Geelani called for a boycott of the polls. Not because in his mid-80s, the old man takes some perverse pleasure in making these appeals. There is perhaps a larger point he is trying to make. Elections, in a disputed geography like Kashmir, seldom solve anything. They only lead to an illusion in a bubble. Alas false hope is a terrible thing. Rest assured, the 93 percent turn-over and all the associated sound of progress shall soon be sold as signs of creeping normalcy.

Pertinently everyone wants to give peace a chance but the unraveling of any such initiative requires a political will (not necessarily the will-o'-the-wisp of Prof Gani Bhat and co). If anything these elections seem to be obfuscating, even if temporarily, the dominant narrative in Kashmir. While it is quite convenient to hail democracy and beat poll drums at SKICC, making sure that dissenting voices are effectively locked up in Hyderpora – isn’t exactly fair game. The truth is that the current exercise is simply a part of the existing structure of power in Kashmir and bears no relation to the aspirations of people.

For three decades the polls to the Panchayat quota were not held in Kashmir. Suddenly, as if to prove a point, feelers went out. Campaigning began in all earnestness. Pro-India parties started the usual election-time bickering. And on December 6, the results were announced with much fanfare. Self-congratulation climaxed while everything evaporated in the background. A day after the elections, New Delhi based newspapers were quick to note that the contest in Kashmir assumes significance as it is being considered the litmus test for the 2014 assembly elections.

The game, it appears, has just begun. God knows how much does a plateful of Harisa cost at Aali Kadal these days!

© Sameer
Follow @sameerft