Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 – Our year of scars

The year began on a somber note. The king was no more. Mufti Sayed’s ascension to throne had come at a great price. He bartered his party’s balmy image to enter into an alliance with the Sanghis – quite a treacherous thing to do in the context of Kashmir, given the generic disgust people have for the BJP. Yet the astute player that he was, Mufti went ahead with the alliance, hailing Modi as ‘toofan ka admi’. When the CM tragically passed away, fewer than 3,000 people turned up for his funeral. The PM, known to spend more time air-dashing than in the PMO, didn’t come for the last rites. You see, one may be top of the food chain but often enough in history, when you go against the grain, you endear yourself to no one in particular. Your own people disown you, while India’s PM has much more pressing matters to attend to.

As his heir-apparent, Mehbooba Mufti, the lady who always wears green scarves, was anointed. The PDP flag is also green. Call it symbolism, optics, implied subliminal comparison to all things Sabz. Be as it may, some showmanship emanated before Miss Mufti formally sat on the throne. While some alluded it to narazgi (a typical Kashmiri trait) with Delhi, others said that she was genuinely upset at how RSS (those cunning half-kickers) were hijacking her father’s grand vision. For a while it appeared that she might actually take the moral high ground and renounce the hot seat but soon fat politicians convinced her that only the naïve give up power so easily. In due course Mehbooba became the first woman CM of the state. Her party was over the moon but the honeymoon was not to last. Less than three months later, Kashmiris rebelled, wholesale.

Just after Eid ul Fitr when many of us attempted to plot our holidays, news came that the inevitable had happened. In no time sloganeering started, whatsapp groups went in near-frenzy and pictures of a dead rebel – Burhan Wani – went viral. It appeared as if someone from the state police, perhaps accompanied by the army, had flung open the gates of hell. Impromptu protests erupted all over the valley. Everyone wanted to show up at Tral. One was at pains to explain the outpouring of extreme emotion for this 20-something, dapper lad from a nondescript village in South Kashmir. God knows if it was a mix of his swashbuckling social media persona or plain chutzpah that animated the masses. Or was it our collective aspirations coming to the fore? In any case, post-2016, no one would remember Tral for its dry fruits and sweet springs. In the estimation of public, it has become Burhan’s village, his final resting place. Legends endure.

Caught totally unawares, Miss Mufti’s government acted on expected lines: i.e. by bringing on the full might of the security apparatus upon protesters. Bloodshed followed. Scores lost their lives. Thousands were injured. Many more were arrested, sometimes on the mere suspicion of raising their fists. The summer witnessed deadly effects of a particularly debilitating weapon in the state’s armory. Pellets became a bane. Hundreds of young men and women were directly impacted by these sharp projectiles fired into public gatherings, sometimes blinding those at the receiving end. When July melded into August, no one actually realized. There were just too many funerals. Such seething anxiety. Too much storminess. A muffled solitude overhung Kashmir. Each sleet of pellets carried more blindings with it.

A crippling strike brought things to a grinding halt. The writ of the state was challenged in a somewhat donnybrook fashion. Surrounded by sad-looking guards, the government literally crumbled. Apart from issuing orders that varied between banning newspapers, snapping internet, blocking mobile services and announcing curfews (none of which brought it any approbation), there was nary a trace of governance. More than five months on, the valley opened and shut as per the ‘calendar’ issued by Hurriyat. All along, Miss Mufti alternated between keeping the pro-freedom leadership in jail and under house-arrest. Nothing seemed to work. Initially appeals were made to kids to attend school. That soon changed to warnings for teachers. All that the CM desired, her sidekicks insisted, was a shot at peace and happiness. Happiness, like peace, cannot be fabricated; it must ensue. One must have a reason to be happy.

When the phone lines went dead and newspapers were outlawed, 2016 felt like 1989 over again. Across villages protests raged on. The distant songs came in mockery of the pounding of hearts. The hills, it seemed, were singing and the city was irate. People were besides themselves with rage. TV anchors in Delhi, shrill and ultra-nationalistic even on a dry day, were unable to discern the fury. Their talking heads tried to offer several clumsy reasons about what was going on in the ‘atoot ang’ . Since TV as a medium is shallow and provides little scope for depth, the channels entirely failed to explain the spontaneous nature of the uprising. Aspirations -- and Burhan was simply an adjunct to an aspiration -- are often about the soul. And the soul cannot be heard.

When the tempest passed, creatures of various stripe began to crawl out of the woodwork. Social media sermons -- about the futility of resistance -- appeared in all earnestness. As autumn morphed into winter, newspapers started lending space to preachy views. While dialogue and conversation is the hallmark of any civilized polity (and should be encouraged), it is a little rich that some of us go into hibernation when the tide is high, only to re-emerge afterwards to call the survivors both frivolous and irresponsible. You should be screeching with laughter, the argument goes, because if India seeps and bleeds you, it also gives you Jio and IAS. Such counterfeit countenance is not surprising, but let’s not forget that we are in this together and our feet are equally wet.

To paraphrase the late Aga Shahid Ali, the cold testifies to the earth’s fidelities, stronger in Kashmir than anywhere else. We are currently in the lap of winter with frost and freeze upon us. It is only human to want to sip more noon-chai and clutch our kangris more tightly than a CRPF-walla can ever latch onto his pellet gun. When the snow falls from a dreary sky, lest we forget, there shall be many hundreds of eyes that cannot see the flakes. And some of us, full of pep this time last year, are not alive to witness the stilled beauty of a mid-winter’s night. There are certain moments in the life of a nation that are at once reflective and melancholic, just like the winter. And while there is honor in staring down a tyrant, everyone deserves a spring.