Tuesday, December 31, 2013

An ode to 2013

As December limps its way to oblivion, the timber of our deeds doesn’t smell all that great. The year has been a mixed bag. Just two months into the new year India hanged Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri prisoner languishing in Delhi’s notorious Tihar jail for 12 long years thereby satisfying the collective conscience of the nation, variously defined by sociologists as a massive bout of jingoistic orgy. Many thought the incumbent Congress government took the surprising step to dent the BJP’s blood baying calls and reap electoral gains in the run up to elections. While it did perhaps subside the Hindu right wing’s din of ‘Kill him, Kill him’, the electoral benefits that the ruling dispensation were seeking didn’t come. In fact the Congress party got reduced to rubble, mostly because of their own incompetence. The dead can jinx you from inside the tomb. Can’t they?

Come summer, Afzal was conveniently forgotten and it was time for music. There were heated arguments and much commentary on whether Kashmir was ready for an orchestra when the issue of mass graves and other serious matters like AFSPA were still unresolved. However Messrs Omar Abdullah and his golfer-turned-gobar-gas-minister-turned-Beethoven-lover dad Dr Farooq would have none of it. Along with a rather obdurate German ambassador Michael Steiner, displaying amazing skills of diplomatic over-reach, the concert was made possible on the same day the CRPF killed four people in Shopian. Zubin Mehta later sheepishly told a TV channel that he was sorry that people felt agitated because some of them were not allowed into the Shalimar garden. Next time, he vowed, it will be in a stadium and ‘mufat, mufat’ (Free, free) for all. No one told poor Zubin uncle that we didn’t bury a hundred thousand people to gate-crash at his concert ‘mufat’.

As autumn leaves began to fall, in strode Narendra Modi, the Hindu Hriday Samrath, grey beard perfectly clipped, hair transplanted and waxed in a halo, neat enough to hide a little pogrom in it. Looking keen in rimless glasses that his spin doctors insist he should wear at all times to give him that educated look, which he badly lacks, Modi set the cat among the pigeons with his talk on article 370. This singular article in the constitution of India has been a tiny mousetrap taken out every now and then by politicians to scare poor Kashmiris. It followed that regular hum on how important the statute is and all that jazz. In reality, notwithstanding the history of Article 370’s socio-economic utility, it has been politically defanged and reduced to a paper tiger. Modi was merely stringing the ruling establishment in J&K, as he has become wont to these days wherever he goes, and not surprisingly everyone took the bait.

Winter exposed our dark secrets. The high-profile chairman of the J&K Board of Professional Entrance Examinations turned out to be a garden-variety thug. The darling of the ruling cabal was given so many extensions, despite early-warning signals of his corrupt reputation, that he though it is fair game to sell the all-important common entrance test (CET) papers to the highest bidder. In the process he is reported to have offered some lower rung exam papers for a deg of 10kg fish gifted to him. God knows how many bush-league doctors and engineers must have trained, thanks to the corpulent Peer. Let's hope when he is old and out of jail, one of those terrible doctors treats him for greed.

Kashmiri firms also continued to do us proud in an infamous way. Someone discovered that our ‘world-famous’ spices were, well, ‘impure’, saddening a whole lot of Wazwan lovers from Anantnag to Uri. Carrying the motto of ‘Honest Spice’ and being awarded the Prime Minister's MSME Award for Excellence in 2009 didn’t deter the local firm from using colouring agents like Carmoisine and Tartrazine that can cause cancer, according to the Srinagar Municipal Corporation. Even our milk, that essential nutrient of life, we learnt, was substandard, misbranded and unsafe. The packaged milk, marketed as ‘Purity of Kashmir’ contained washing powder in it. With Jewish conspiracy safely ruled out, it looked like a clear case of Et Tu Brutus.

For much of 2013 poor boy Geelani was incarcerated in his Hyperpora house. The alibi given by the government was the age-old communist era trope: His release will incite violence. In the end they did let him out and boy, what a showstopper this 80-something man is. Mobbed and showered with flowers everywhere he went, people clambered upon walls to hear him speak, greatly embarrassing Omar and his viziers, who thought the only and the most effectively democratic way to fight this ailing, feeble man was to do what they are best at: Lock him up again. Lo and behold, Geelani was promptly house-arrested again. Democracy was saved again in 2013.

At the onset of 2014, the food we eat is adulterated, the milk we drink is contaminated and the air we breathe is still unfree. The only beautiful bit is the snowfall on New Year’s eve. The poetry of the earth, they say, is never dead.

Happy New Year, folks.

© Sameer

Follow @sameerft

Picture credits: Aehsan