Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Rendezvous with Ratan

This week Rajya Sahba MP GN Ratanpuri went to meet Geelani Sahib at Malviya Nagar in New Delhi, where the padre of Kashmir’s resistance has been confined to a solitary room by the mighty government. On the first day the honorable MP wasn’t even allowed to shake hands, leave alone meet up the ailing patriarch. Both Geelani sahib (standing on the doorway) and Ratanpuri (standing a few feet away) were not allowed to touch base. Like jinxed lovers.

After standing in the kotcha for a long time, and having made a dozen phone calls to several chaps in the higher echelons of power (being a lawmaker has its perks) Ratanpuri returned with eyes like disappointed lemons. Orders from the top, he was bluntly told, bar anyone from meeting the 83 year old. A feeble soul with a pacemaker, half a kidney, chronic asthma, cervical spondylosis and prostate problem is apparently a code orange level threat to the largest democracy in the solar system. What to do, Sir?

But Rantanpuri is not someone to give up so soon. After all he has been the editor of the quirky Urdu Daily Aftab in the heady 70s, not to mention his celebrity broadcaster days at Radio Kashmir, Srinagar. He persisted on Day two and finally, with a great degree of wriggling and contacts, managed to convince the paranoid security grid that he won’t really leak any of the radioactive substance that Geelani Sahib apparently emits.

He shall, he pledged, simply have a photograph taken with the old man on his new BlackBerry. Armed with a tablet (akin to the Ten Commandments…Thou Shalt not types) and under the watchful eye of the pot-bellied Delhi Police constables, the MP managed to sneak into the small room-cum-prison to meet up Geelani Sahib. Only to get an earful from the bed-ridden paterfamilias, who said what he always says without fear or favour -- with or without Haryanvi cops around -- that Kashmir’s right to self-determination is the final answer to all the questions.

Pic Credits: GN Ratanpuri, Rajya Sabha MP

Interestingly for the entire while that Ratanpuri spent by Geelani’s bedside, he was supposed to talk in Urdu only so that the eavesdropping Haryanvi constables could make sure that no nuclear secrets are changing hands (This being the trust deficit season just before the tourist season). Given the chaste Urdu that Geelani Sahib speaks and drawing from Ratanpuri’s long years at Radio Kashmir, where he spoke into the microphone like a velvet throat, one wonders how much did the poor cops finally pick up?

Did jargon like Haqe-Khud-i-Radyat, Aqwam-i-Mutehda, Bunyaadi Haq, Jazbe Ehsar, Qaabiz Afwaj slightly dull the heads of the special cell cops? We might not know their states of mind! However Ratanpuri, coming as he does from the pro-India camp, after updating his Facebook, revealed truthfully to the media, “Geelani Sahib was lying with pain in left side of his abdomen. With Ortho-collar around his neck he stood up to wish me.” Tells a lot about the grace and fortitude of India’s code orange level threat.

© Sameer

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Last summer when I went to meet Geelani Sahib, the cops outside his home stopped me to check my credentials. I told them I am a journalist to which a polite Kashmir Police constable quipped, ‘Bub haz chu atyi, neero achev’ (Bub is there, please go in). Over noon-chai served in simple porcelain cups and a fresh Kashmiri bagel, I asked him pointedly about the futility of Hartals and why there could be no alternative to these shut-downs.

‘Any political struggle or revolution requires a fair degree of hardship. I know Hartals are leading us nowhere but what is the substitute. You give me one’, he responded. I tried quoting Gene Sharp, the Clausewitz of nonviolent warfare. Geelani Sahib nodded affably but the tiny smile on his lip suggested that he didn’t completely agree with me.

At an ideological level, India has lost the battle in Kashmir. The way Afzal's execution was carried out and the justification given did not cut ice with anyone in the valley. Frankly Kashmiris have evolved in the last two decades and we understand the falsehoods, media spin and associated crap. As a writer friend whispered, 'A 12 year old kid can see through the charade, the fraudulence of their arguments'. Curfews, clampdowns and curbs are the only skeletons left in the democracy's cupboard.

But what about Hartals? Are they regressive? Is this collective punishment? What is the substitute? I think the answer is not black and white. If Hartals had the power then something would have been achieved by now. However, Hartal, conceptually, does have some symbolic purpose but by employing it so often, we might end up wearing out the masses by making them talk their ears off. That is, Hartals shoud be used sparingly to retain their relevance.

Instead of Hartal, what we need is more introspection and more awareness about our issues. That is, encourage our generation next to seek education, travel (within and outside Kashmir) and write (blogs, poems, articles, satire, books) to facilitate this incredible quest for information and knowledge all over Kashmir. Once our population knows that the real power is in knowledge and scientific reasoning then you will see intelligent responses from people. Lets not cheer our kids into throwing stones, which are only met with bullets. Let them defeat the injustice through the power of ideas.

Books are the best way to bring awareness and it should be drilled into the collective psyche of Kashmiri boys and girls that they need to write about their life and aspirations. It does not need to be a history lesson. Kashmiri masses need to write on each and every subject, be it fiction, non-fiction, economy, sociology, psychology, religion, violence. There will be kids who would opt for medicine and engineering but lets cultivate a sense for liberal arts too. Unless and until Kashmir does not produce its own breed of bright journalists and writers, you can’t fight the onslaught of an uber-nationalistic Indian media. Kashmiris first need to write for each other and then globalise themselves.

Young people in Kashmir need to travel within Kashmir to understand and know what exists beyond Srinagar. Kashmir for Kashmiris remains divided in three territories: Srinagar, North Kashmir and South Kashmir. I understand that people can talk about Srinagar because it is the capital. However, what on God’s green earth does South Kashmir and North Kashmir mean? When did they become provinces of note within Kashmir? Where does North Kashmir begin and end? North of what? And the same for South Kashmir? The reality is that Kashmiris don’t know about themselves. South Kashmir and North Kashmir simply allows them to hide their ignorance.

So, lets fight oppression by educating ourselves and then educate others beyond Kashmir. It might be that we will not achieve anything substantive in the near term but at least we will not lose our youth to boredom and violence. And in the process, we might end up knowing ourselves better.

In the era of globalisation, we have to think global. We have to educate the world about Kashmir, its conflict and injustices. Lets have our cultural renaissance in a million different ways. Eight million people don't just define themselves by the same victimhood narrative. That makes us appear weak. We don’t need people to feel sorry for us. We require the global opinion to agree with us.

Hartals, I may venture to add, are too local to have any lasting impact. While we can pull our shutters down, every now and then, in protest, let us not stop in the tracks in our quest to excellence. The fact is that our ideological foe is formidable. The engagement has got to be multi-layered: Cultural, intellectual, philosophical and political. This is a long fight and there is no date for Azadi. Revolutions, by their nature, are infinite.

While there is no taking away from our deep and tremendous admiration for Geelani Sahib, and the beautiful cause he leads so courageously, I’d rather a kid draws a cartoon, lampooning the state, rather than see his coffin being taken away and his helpless mother, wringing her hands, holler: myaani potrov.

Let them cordon our streets and block the Internet. Our icons live in our hearts and minds and we shall strive to honour them with our pursuit of knowledge.

© Sameer

Sunday, February 10, 2013

We heard his neck break

So they hanged him after all. By the neck. Till he could exhale no more. “We heard his neck break,” one jail official told a journalist friend of mine. That was perhaps a mandatory detail. Exactly when the spinal cord snapped, that particular instant was essential for the collective conscience to be finally declared satisfied.

BJP notables soon declared victory on behalf of the hard Hindutva lobby. The soft part is taken care of by the grand old party itself. Rahul will soon smile those cute dimple smiles and a million tourists will fly into the valley in low-cost airplanes.

That there was no direct evidence in this case is no more an issue! That too has been settled now. How? Well, what is important: collective conscience of the middle class, judiciary, netas and media or the basic fundamental rights of an individual? Those for collective conscience say ‘Aye’, the nation asks, some douchebag TV host might groan; the ‘Ayes’ have it. Go figure.

So what does one make of the guy put to death on February 9, 2013? How did Afzal’s head become a souvenir as if it were some war trophy everyone wants to take home and show to kids? How did a regular guy who hummed poetry turn into the monster who had to be shoved into the democratic guillotine at all costs? As if solitary confinement for 12 years in a 16 ft by 12 ft death cell was not enough.

Why this secrecy, like burglars, one wonders? Why can Ghalib not kiss his dead father's face? There must be some civility even in death! Why can a family not be allowed to grieve? What does India want to prove: That by not letting his family visit him for one last time, Shinde becomes some tough nut? That, Sir, is a clear lack of dignity.

The answers are staring at us. There are times in the life of a nation when your defiant stare is perhaps a befitting response to the deception of what’s being thrown at you. In any case there is so much bad blood and dumb shit flying around that you don’t feel like to add to the chorus.

In 1989 lot of Kashmiri boys did things they never imagined they could do. Those who could not even climb a small tree scaled some of the tallest peaks in the world. No one knows precisely what happened all of a sudden -- back then. Who knows if it was a medley of reasons – spurred by a cataclysmic chain of events set off by another shocking hanging just five years back.

This February 11 would be 29 years since another Kashmiri, Maqbool Bhat was hanged in Tihar, where he lies buried. As if in a diabolical gesture Afzal was hanged just two days short of Bhat’s death anniv. His body too, in complete contravention of the universal statutory laws, was not returned to his folks. And it comes a full circle.

Promptly the press is muzzled and the clamp down begins.

Atoot Ang is not so Atoot after all if you have to hold it down by jackboots. This is state belligerence. Plain and simple. The fault lines are clear. The masks have slipped.

It is so utterly heartbreaking.

© Sameer

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Sunday, February 03, 2013

Rock the party

Buoyed by the huge publicity generated by the all-girl Kashmiri rock band, thanks largely to some anonymous online trolls, several grandmothers have gotten together in down-town Srinagar and adjoining areas to form a rock band of their own. The elderly women are going to showcase their special talent, doing Sufi versions of chakir, wanwun and other musical genres, to re-tell old wives tales and lovelorn songs of Yusuf-Zulaikha. It will be a modern and progressive band, mind you, with Sare' Apa as the lead guitarist, Zoon boeb at bass guitar. Hajra, who sells fish on Amda Kadal as drummer and Nabla at the keyboard. Progressive rock, Zaed bal style.

The grannies struck upon the idea to get into rock and roll because Hajra heard some ‘modern’ folk talk about the outrage caused by online threats to Kashmir’s ‘first’ all-girl band. How dare someone object to our modern sensibilities? Sare' Apa remembered that we used to have someone called Lal Ded who sang in the 14th century and then another songster Habba Khatoon, who penned exuberant lyrics in the 16th century. How come a few high school girls singing became an exposition to call us illiberal? The grand mufti, a government flunky, represents his posh cottage, and not the attitudes and beliefs of Kashmir.

While the old dyeds’ from down-town get their lyrics sorted out and a full fan page to them, with likes and comments to the boot, here is a little ode to the twisted logic: Expression indeed is sacred and music perhaps is the outburst of soul but this entire hullabaloo in our little vale about a high school rock band and dudes throwing fashionable jargon like misogyny around -- amounts to zilch. It somehow looks odd when you talk about freedom of expression for the rock band and deny the same expression to people who want to take a simple procession on Ashura every year. What is so sacred about bass guitars and so vile about allowing a students union in the Kashmir University?

From the way TV anchors are mentally masturbating the nation and by extension some Kashmiri homes (with access to cable TV) it looks like hippie counterculture has spread out from San Francisco into the bylanes of Shahri-Khas and is here to stay. Sure English-knowing Facebookers are offended, TV anchors are terribly upset, Twitter crowd is frothing at their mouths while the honorable CM is equally piqued. Pity no one was outraged when Ghulam Hassan Sofi, a musical icon of ours, died a few years back in abject poverty. Chana'e bar tal ravam racha'e aawaaz vach'e nou.

Jeans patloon, paanch-cappuccino-lavo-jaldi and torrent-downloaded music sure makes you a Koshur-angrez but what would perhaps help is an understanding of your own cultural ethos. Even a teeny weeny bit! Remember much before bored brats from Srinagar and elsewhere would make a quick dash to Gulmarg to celebrate New Year over Ho Hey by The Lumineers, we had a rich tradition of female singers like Naseem Akhtar, Raj Begum, Shameema Dev, Kailash Mehra, Jahan Ara Janbaz and Zoon Begum in Kashmir. Yes we squandered that tradition only to appear more phony and fake!

Sure the spirituality of Mehjoor, Abdul Ahad Azad, Wahab Khar, Rasool Mir and Rajab Hamid is uncool. Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones is cool. Ranbir Kapoor eating wazwan is uber-cool. Psychedelic and riff laden heavy rock is modern. All-girls bands are wow and ‘absolutely rocking’ if you throw in the word Sufi. So what we need is more and more Kashmiris -- boys, girls and grandmothers -- crooning the Five Finger Death Punch and Linkin Park's Burn It Down, preferably by the Zabarwan. And if you can't text message your friends to come for the concert because such communication is banned, try Facebook pages. Outrage is á la mode!

PS: All suggestions for naming the bujji-band from down-town are welcome!

© Sameer
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