Thursday, June 23, 2016

No notes tonight

It was not Amjad Sabri, who was the colossus of the famed Sabri clan — a family that chewed betel leaves and made magical music — but his father Ghulam Farid Sabri. Direct descendants of Mian Tansen — a Navaratna in the royal court of the Mughal Emperor Jalal ud-din Muhammed Akbar — they belonged to the Sabriya silsila of Sufism. Humble people who conquered the world with a simple harmonium and the power of their vocals. The Sabri brothers universalised Qawali — an energetic rendition in which words spiral high above all those assembled, like a whirlwind, to gently tap on the doors of heaven.

Amjad certainly carried forward the illustrious legacy of his extremely talented father and forefathers. Although less commercially-inclined than his contemporary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sabri carried within his heavyset form a deep-seated love for God and His messenger. He would sing paeans to the Lord in a baritone that had no match, over and over again. He burst into a song as if the whole world was his. That is the thing with Sufis. They transcend the realm of love, which the forces of hate can never fathom.

With his murder, the last of the great Sabris has been silenced forever. The mystic notes are gone. They say that Sufi kalaam is akin to the chirrup of birds in a jungle; the jungle being a metaphor for the temporal. Rumi wrote nearly 750 years ago, ‘Sing like the birds that sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.’ Tragic that we should witness birdsongs being erased right in front of our eyes.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

What a time to be alive!

In all probability the empress is fasting. Why else would she say then that there are just four bunkers in the valley? Kashmir is a continuous bunker. The state, with a population of slightly more than 10 million, has an estimated 700,000 soldiers, making it perhaps the highest civilian military ratio anywhere in the world. (70:1,000). The American counter insurgency manual says that ratios close to 25:1,000 are enough to achieve geographical dominance. Four bunkers? Like you can’t be serious?

You have to be fasting. Or anxious. In two days the Anantnag constituency will go to bypolls. Miss Mufti, the incumbent CM of J&K, is likely to win. According to press reports, between 50 to 100 people gathered at different spots during her road trips. Complete with paraphernalia, Miss Mufti’s Mama ji and other PDP stalwarts are camping in the constituency, criss-crossing villages, galvanizing voters. Raj Babbar has also arrived to campaign. New Delhi-based TV channels are itching to call it ‘Return of Peace’. They just can’t wait.

Even as Ramzan and polls concur in the South of Kashmir, everyone and his uncle who might have dissented and spoken otherwise, are under lock and key. Democracy is a clever sahar-khawn. It knows where to beat its drums. It would be insane, for instance, to let Geelani sahib, out of Hyderpora. Not only will people pour out in droves, he might actually put his fierce Urdu to a devastating effect. Best to keep pro-freedom leadership from upsetting the TV achors, who have specially flown from Delhi. Iftar parties, after all, cannot be a vinegary affair.

Even if 5% of those who attend a fallen rebel’s funeral were to vote, one would call it representative. The fact is that people don’t really enjoy this panoply of farce upon a farce. Yes, putting all the state machinery to use for over a month, wandering from village to village, panchayat to panchayat, does provide for some lazy Ramzan-time entertainment, but it means little if you don’t address the lament in people’s hearts; their aspirations and hopes.

Back in Srinagar a school founded by DP Dhar’s son shall now tell us how to dress. In the middle of Ramzan. This is 2016, not 1971.


Monday, June 06, 2016

Theorizing in Ramzan

When non-namazis outnumber regular mosque goers, you can safely conclude that the holiest month in the Islamic calendar is here. All roads shall lead to masjids tonight, where the devout will read the Quran; supplications shall be made. Butchers will cut more lamb, bakeries will bake more and Rajasthani dates will sell like hot cakes. During Iftar the dilemma that many faithful shall confront is not whether the Imam will recite long suras in the shaam namaz, but where to keep the seed of the date? A theory on what to do with the seed is yet to come from the IAS academy.

In related developments, the bickering between mainstream political parties has suddenly spiraled in the valley. Rashid engineer – with his fingers in too many pies – is spoiling the party for the PDP in exactly the same fashion that he used to spoil it for Omar. A few days back, in an act of sudden nostalgia, engineer trained guns at his old nemesis — NC — again. Perturbed, the grand old party of Kashmir unleashed their best weapon: Akbar Lone. In big headmaster glasses and freshly dyed hair, he led a verbal-carnage on engineer. Being a man of the street, MLA Langate gave it back to the old boor, only to be dubbed as an agent. ‘You are an IB man’. That is like the worst form of gaali in Kashmir. Worse than wishing someone death. Engineer is still recovering from the shock.

Meanwhile democracy continues unabated in the valley. All pro-freedom leaders have been imprisoned or detained or house-arrested in a major pre-Ramzan sweep, you see, just to make it more democratic during the holy month. Miss Mufti has to campaign in her bypolls, cut a few red ribbons at ATMs and coffee shops, and propose more cat and dog tales. There must be no noise in the backdrop. It spoils the carefully designed prop and ends up showing everything in a bad light. So a case dating back to the Maharaja’s time will be dusted and old boy Yasin shall be booked under it. Madame will cut more ribbons. A rented crowd will clap. Perfect. Democracy. 10/10.

As Satan is put in chains (imagine someone like Donald Trump without his wig, confined to Trump Towers for a month), Kashmiris get ready to welcome Ramzan. They shall, however, await a word from Radio Pakistan tonight, not withstanding all the hearts and minds, and pigeon and cat, and other propaganda theories. They will wait and wait until the announcement comes. Even the IAS afsars will wait. There is no theory to beat that sentiment.

Ramzan Mubarak