Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snow memories

Snow beneath whose chilly softness
Some that never lay
Make their first Repose this Winter
I admonish Thee
~Emily Dickinson

A little bird whispered that snow is falling in Srinagar. The idea of snow flurries swirling around your legs is an incredibly delightful thought. Nothing warms cockles of the heart like the magical, almost surreal spectacle of a million unassembled snowmen falling from heaven! God’s way of asking us to reclaim some of our lost childhood -- and the innocence thereof.

As it continues to snow outside, the world appears subdued and fragile. Kangri is a cherry on the top. It is a very cozy, snuggled down, unwinding feeling. Nothing -- at all – beats it! There shall be places in Kashmir tonight with no electricity, I can imagine. And the candles burning in familiar kitchens elegantly put to shame all the candle-light dinners in swanky lounges, we expats frequent.

When I used to be in school the only fight people knew of was the snow-ball fight. One of the greatest joys in the world is to throw small orbs of snow at one other. The idea is to be quick on your feet and kneel down to make snow balls and aim them at your friends. Ofcourse your pals are equally determined to shoot their snow-balls at you. There is a sudden, sharp boyish rush to it. The pink of cheeks and salmon-like palms notwithstanding.

Peering from inside the windowsills to watch the snow pile up in the backyard is the stuff fairy-tales are made up of. When no potholes are visible. Just running miles of endless, clean snow. Snow that came overnight. It falls on old fences. Upon little eggs in the eagle’s high eyrie, while the bird-lings cheep happily. Wildbirds strut their stuff, exposing their iridescent plumage to God’s cottonwool.

Snow makes an almost medieval swirling descent. It is often humbling to see the flakes fall headlong on still waters of the distant pond, kissing the stillness. It snows on locked temples with cold deities looking a shade surprised. And on the countless sand bunkers that despoil our beauteous landscape. In every orchard and onto each lee. Snow falls on fresh moist graves with small kids in them. On abandoned army helmets upon the lonely hillside. In wetlands. Old chimneys. On our suffering. Our aspirations.

Snow falling soundlessly in the middle of the night will always fill my heart with sweet clarity, Takemoto used to say. In the nineteenth century Guy de Maupassant likened snowfall to a curtain of uninterrupted white flakes constantly sparkled down to earth -- this wrinkling wave, a sensation rather than noise, entanglement of light atoms which fill the space, covering the world. It appears no different in the last month of Circa 2011.

The snow-man has bits of charcoal for eyes and long after the children have forgotten about it, the figure stands outside, arms spread, like Jesus. It watches the tiny snow-globs come dancing down from the night sky, in hushed whispers. To fall on deer-backs. Upon naked trees. On defunct electric lines. In secluded terraces. Upon wet dog-snouts. Caressing the ladyfinger like icicles. On parched humans. Never failing them.

It snows on, in the eerie silence of the long wintry night.

© Sameer

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Mom’s anniversary. Fifteen years have passed since mom exited my life. The scriptures say that there is a paradise in the skies complete with gardens and fountains and yew trees where the good and the kind are send for some paradisiacal foot massage. The word Paradise comes from the Persian root word Pardis which means an exquisite garden that is enclosed between walls. It is not an open space, perhaps. I just hope they allow the tenderhearted in.

There is no Eden on God’s green earth. There are only memories, which are like these mini-drawings in our heads. No amount of wealth or intelligence can bring back those who accidently wander to the pastures beyond the known. There is an eerie discomfort about it which pokes at you in the most improbable places. You laugh without actually meaning it. Nothing ever comes back. All we can do is remember people. And miss them in our most private, personal thoughts.

We grow up and branch out in life. We traverse alien shores and pretend to be independent. The heart, though, stays captive to old thoughts, floating about in familiar pastures. No matter how refined one's dining experience becomes, you can't help reminisce about eating in your old kitchen, hurriedly, wanting to join your waiting friends for fun. No amount of perfumed candle light can ever knock one’s sock’s off like the popping of Izband [rue seeds] in a Kangri.

Graveyards have so many tales in them. We, the un-dead, may never traduce them. Mom lies interred in a beautiful, simple grave, in a green triangular meadow, by a quietly flowing river, in countryside Kashmir. In summers a lot of Viburnum flowers fall from the trees on her tombstone. It is bittersweet. I think it snows over in winters. I have no ways of knowing since I decided to find my peace elsewhere.

A million stars in the sky. Never ending snowflakes. Hundreds of dewdrops to greet the dawn. Hundreds of bees in the purple clover. Hundreds of butterflies on the lawn. But only one mother the wide world over.

Boy, I just hope the paradise story is true.

28 Sep 1955- 28 Dec 1995

© Sameer

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chilay-Kalan with a Karakul

It is cold as a well digger’s arse in Srinagar. The valley has just slipped into the nippiest part of winter, locally called ‘Chilay-Kalan’, which lasts all of 40 days. There is something about the 40-day Chila [epoch]. If the Tabligi jamaat [band for spreading faith to the faithful] somehow gets hold of you around this time in Kashmir they are likely to whisk you away for a period of 40 days. And you will never ever be the same, I swear. Apart from mosque Hamams, Harisa pinds [joints] are just about the best places to recline and indulge in a free-flow of the juiciest gossip in town.

So in every sand and brick home, little kids – each cheek a shade cherry -- are wrapped up in layer upon layer of woolens and kan-topas [monkey caps]. They move around like miniature astronauts, muttering away in Kashmiri-accented Urdu [but mind you, no Kashmiri, else you sound like a Groos]. Grown-ups hug the ubiquitous Kangri, to not let it go even for a heart-beat’s span, periodically handling the fire with a stoker, tied to all wicker-and-clay Kangris. There is no fighting the CRPF when you wake up in the morning to fight the frozen-oven tap. The wintry lull is not without a reason.

With little news happening, except for the cut-and-dried-and-shrill news-bytes offered by the old man of Hyderpora (still intense) the mike-wielding gang is a worried lot. In absence of political news they occasionally dash off to the shores of Dal to report the ice floes [called Tula-katur] to their ignoramuses in New Delhi. The lake freezes over in parts every winter and long years back, someone drove a Jeep on it. That is folk-lore. There are ice-roads in northern Canada, Russia, Alaska, Scandinavia and elsewhere where truckers and motorists drive regularly on frozen waterways and ice roads but let us not digress too much from our fore-shore. Oh, Harzatbal rises like a florescent dome in glacial climes.

Despite the night temperatures dipping dangerously during the wintertide, the call for prayer [Azaan] always comes on time. In the countryside it is immediately followed up by an utterly pleasing cackle of coots, shovellers, pochards and wigeons. The songbirds tweedle upon treetops, singing in an almost melodic fashion, who knows, songs of winter and the joy of warmth. Deep in the pine jungles of Kashmir, which hide European Hoopoes and dark secrets in them, little indigo columns of smoke can be seen coming up from the Kothas [pit-houses]. It smells of simple wood-smoke at day-break.

When my generation was growing up in Kashmir, during the era of tea-colored bullets and power-less wintry nights, we thought in our juvenile abandon that Chillay Kalan must be an old, fat, Karakuli-wearing spook who exits his mountain cave at the onset of winters to bring all the frost and icicles and snow. Just like Santa Claus minus his goody-goody image. It does not snow like it used to when we were growing up. For the contemporary and politically conscious breed of Kashmiris, Chillay Kalan must be someone like Farooq Abdullah. Theatrical. All bark and no bite.

© Sameer

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Confusion in the times of conflict

Sometimes in our confusion, we see not the world as it is, but the world though eyes blurred by the mind.

We are as confused as a hungry baby in a topless bar. We find it hard to differentiate between a yellow school bus and a white police wagon, especially on weekends. As a principle we don’t like to fight in the cold because we aim better in June. But dejection is quite commonplace in our neck of woods. Since that perfidious damsel – variously called Azadi – didn’t show up this last summer, we are a little glum. Naturally we react! On the brighter side we have hope that she might do a half-Monty next season. Hence at the onset of our winter hibernation the ritualistic bus burning.

It is not the plebs alone who are confused. Sheikh Abdullah’s descendants are equally confounded. Dad Farooq shaves two times a day, picks out a new shawl from his fashionable wardrobe and preens in the mirror for hours. Then he air-dashes to various Moffusil towns of India to declare that the dreaded AFSPA shall not be repealed in Kashmir. Sonny Omer sings a different jingle in Srinagar. He says AFSPA must go. As it were – on the most important issue at hand -- the first family of Kashmir is at a serious cross-purpose. Adding to the theatre of absurd is another of the Sheikh progeny who says that the appointment of interlocutors is plain meaningless. The CM nephew disagrees. Confusion prevails.

The thermometer of army’s tolerance is directly proportional to the dip in mercury. The army spokesperson in Kashmir said that the CM -- boss of Unified Command -- has basically given in to Hurriyet speak. In plain words Omer watches too many Geelani videos and has now begun to make some of the same demands, chiefly the removal of AFSPA. He said something about merger-accession also but that does not particularly bother the army. It mostly wants the harsh law to continue. Sensing that they may have over-stepped their brief, the army’s highest officer in Kashmir promptly said sorry to Omer but the confusion didn’t end here. The junior minister of defence in Delhi butted in with his wisdom: The army can speak. So why the apology!

As Sunday markets go, Srinagar’s BD market near Polo View is famous. Kashmiri hawkers are quite enterprising and they lay their hands on the best pre-used stuff from across the globe. You can buy clothes which they can’t even think of in Delhi’s second-hand markets. Gloves from South Africa often vie for attention with caps from Norway. The market is chock-a-block on Sundays and if the currently visiting Track-II diplomacy team drives by, they may well mistake the bazaar for normalcy and hence Kashmir’s acquiescence to status quo. In a park – nearby -- the parents of those missing in the strife quietly assemble on some Sundays, seeking the whereabouts of their beloved.

The conflict in our hearts. And the confusion, thereof.

© Sameer

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Harvest and hankering

Can we not light up a fire
and see each other’s gaze?
Can we not make noise
like those good old days?
Can we not break into a song
when first snows alight?
Can we not be awe-less
and fear not the night?
Can we shut out the guff
rulers let fly at us?
Can we summon to mind
poems of harvest and hankering?
Can we paint wistful meadows
in bold colors of concord?
Can we sit and laugh
in the midst of this curse?

© Sameer

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The hecklers

Aesop, the Hellenistic slave, narrated a profound tale in the winter of 6th century BC. The story is simple but the message remains relevant 2700 winters later. A Bee, queen of the hive, buzzed her way to Mt Olympus to present Jupiter some fresh honey. Jupiter, delighted with the offering, promised to give her whatever she wanted in return. The Bee thought for a while and then said, “Please give me a stinger, so that I can hurt whoever might come to take my honey.”

Jupiter didn't quite like the Bee's desire to hurt people, but he had made a promise and had to keep it. So he answered: “I hereby give you the stinger you want, but use it at your own risk. For you may only use it once, and it shall break off in the wound you make. Thus you will die from the loss of it.” Right-wing Kashmiri Pandit groups have taken recourse to the stinger, over and over again. Cloaked in nothing but nuisance value, the loss is, in plain words, their very own.

I don’t frankly admire the Mirwaiz too much. I think he reeks of an elitist with all those expensive caps and well-pressed designer Kameez-yazars [Pathani dresses] but he is an important voice, however rapidly he talks on TV. The fact that some goon in ill-fitting pants will awkwardly lunge at the spiritual head of a huge section of Kashmiris is such a travesty. What compounds the pain further is the sight of neo-Nazi style fellow Kashmiris, cheering the mobsters on. Hell what have we become?

Heckling and assault on dissenting voices has become the new bench-mark of the largest democracy in the world. If instant 2-minute TV fame is your idea to spend a dull Thursday afternoon, then all you got to do is this: Rush to the nearest Kashmir seminar in town and behave like an undomesticated mare, kicking away at everyone. Bare your teeth menacingly and go ahead and smack the speaker. In no time the robot-like cameramen will have your attention. And Eureka: You are a nationalist. An ultra-nationalist, if you please. Friends can see you on telly. Simple.

One wonders if this is the educated, liberal, brainy, respected Pandits who once inspired awe. Not to mention an overwhelming majority of Kashmiri Pandits do retain their secular ethics and cultural upbringing. Somewhere in the melee (post the exodus, which is such a shameful chapter) several second generation KPs mingled with the rougher crowd. Soon they would become the flag-waving, uncouth, sloganeering jokers in the pack. What is transpiring at the moment is part of the same transmutation.

Lately it has become quite fashionable to dub anyone ‘enemy of the state’ as soon as something displeasing is said. Ofcourse there are heart-aches, ofcourse there is displacement, ofcourse there are serious disagreements but taking a passado at everyone who holds a position contrary to your own makes you a crack-pot. To shoot a man because one disagrees with his interpretation of Darwin or Hegel is a sinister tribute to the supremacy of ideas in human affairs -- but a tribute nevertheless, the literary critic Steiner said sometime back. One only agrees.

© Sameer

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wintry tales

Only the curer whose love makes me drunk
Only that hand, if it wants can cure me!
Requirement is not a test of my tears
Eyes, not carriers of rain laden clouds!
~Shahi-Hamdan, Amir-Kabir

The Alvand mountains in the Hamdan province of Persia are lush green. One fine morning an old poet who lived nearby decided to set off for Kashmir. It was 14th century, historians agree. He rode a horse and came. And we were never ever the same. He made Sufis of us all. Despite what the likes of G Parthasarthy and Arnoub Goswami and his bald guests will have you believe, we still are a soft-touch lot, which gets quite dewy-eyed at the drop of a hat. We cried both when Sheikh Abdullah ceased breathing and Benazir was slaughtered in broad day light. Each year on Herath we seriously miss out on the wet wall-nuts that Kashmiri Pandits used to stock. We are nuts, I agree, but our heart is in the right place.

So we decided to lock horns with the ‘biggest democracy on earth’ and its military apparatus for five whole months. And boy, what engagement it was? We let the dust gather on shop fronts and government offices but we didn’t budge. Even a wee bit. With no major movement on roads we plastered king-size graffiti on highways. Armed with nothing but a moral rage our kids picked up stones from the roadside and took aim at the democracy. Ofcourse a democracy has hidden fangs and it lunged at us – again and again. A lot of young people who went out to tease the democracy are no more. They sleep forever in the apple fragrance of countryside Kashmir and beneath the bustle of Srinagar.

And as autumn gives way to the bitter chill of winter there shall be mehfils [gatherings] again and people will celebrate Eid and other associated occasions of merry-making and quite unbeknownst to all – snow shall fall. A million flakes will descend on cold nights upon forgotten graves and tall pines of Gulmarg. Skiers will slide over soft, cottony, clean snow. One of the two Abdullah’s might take a quick chopper sortie to the mountains. TV OB vans shall follow to get images for the jingoistic middle-class, which but for the lack of an expression are likely to bawl: Swarg hai Kaashmir [Kashmir is paradise]. Indeed. A jinxed one at that.

The roughhouse seems to be abating because there is a certain critical point till which eye-lids can not be batted. Eventually eyes get strained and blinker. The democracy is running worried and not without a reason because every intelligence index suggests that people might put up a fight – if only next summer. So there are efforts being made to reach out. A three member panel is wandering about with a tent which they pitch in towns and taverns. Only the already converted see them. Ideally we should have held them in a dreamless embrace but we are walking on eggs here.

Bohemian love songs reverberate in Srinagar this time of the year. At Syed Ali Hamdani’s Urs [anniversary] last night people thronged to seek blessings and peace, I am told. The bloke was neither born here, nor is he buried in Kashmir. Born in Hamdan, he died in Khatlan [modern day border of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan]. A poet, Hamdani visited briefly to help us fathom love and tolerance. We soaked up both his philosophy and message.

And now we stand accused of being intolerant. Pity.

© Sameer

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Autumnal nightmares

Srinagar is a busy outpost this autumn. The interlocutors have just wrapped up their maiden visit and promised to be back next month. In Delhi, sources confirm, they told Palaniappan Chidambaram (PC), India’s sharp-as-a-tact home minister, that he requires to arm himself with just one thing before flying into the valley: A topcoat. PC nodded gravely. In the autumn of 1964 Nehru’s chief troubleshooter Shastri landed at the Srinagar airport without a coat, clad in a Kurta-pajama. The shivering gentleman was immediately given a military coat by the army top brass at the tarmac. History. Such a mindful mistress.

October 30 afternoon. Srinagar is a ghost town. Omar, in a two-day stubble, is waiting for PC to descend at the airport. He has had recurring nightmares in the last few days. An old man in green Karakul appears in his dreams. The figure attempts to snatch the plough from Omar. The young CM doesn’t let it go. He calls out for Devender in his sleep. There is no response. Devender is a heavy sleeper. Omar sees stones chasing locks and hummingbirds dropping bird-shit all over the boulevard. He lets a sleep-scream out: Papa. Farooq is raising the roof in Delhi: freedom of expression is dangerous.

The ivory-color Air India [again renamed, I hear. Indian airlines to Indian to Air India again] touches down. PC appears on the door. Fresh. That discerning look in the eye. Omar quickly gets on his feet. He looks at his Swatch. There are firm hand-shakes and condensed pleasantries. They disappear into Omar’s waiting SUV. A million sirens blaring. Lights blazing. The security detail jumps in their respective cars. The cavalcade takes off.

PC to Omar: You don’t look good. What happened?

Omar: Nothing, just having these nightmares.

PC: What do you see?

Omar: Geelani trying to snatch my plough.

PC: OMG. Terrifying.

Omar: In another dream he appeared with a key around his neck.

PC: Key?

Omar: All locks open with that key here.

PC: Ah, yes yes. Such a sad story.

Omar: No one listens to me. It looks like a joke now.

PC: We didn’t book him for that speech.

Omar: No point, Sir. He has been saying that since ages.

PC: Do you think we can gag him with tax threats?

Omar: I don’t think so.

PC: You know Nalini is a tax lawyer.

Omar: You mean Mrs PC.

PC: Yes.

Omar: We are asking shopkeepers to vacate government property?

PC: You will be unpopular.

Omar: How popular do you think I am?

PC: Don’t loose hope, please.

Omar: Arundhati Roy is not helpful.

PC: We are concerned.

Omar: Concern too is not helpful.

PC: Before we could even think of what to do about her, international media got interested.

Omar: Ah, autumn makes me gloomy.

PC: Put some Kashmiri music on.

Omar: You want to listen.

PC: Music is moonlight in the gloomy night of life. Was it Sartre?

© Sameer

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 27, 1947: Dakota in my dell

Autumn wind rustled in the terrified vale. In the chimneys of Srinagar, nestling birds shuffled. A DC-3 Douglas Aircraft Company Transport Airplane (called Dakota in brief) was heard in the sky around 8.15 in the morning. The dull camouflage paint suggested that the propeller-driven plane belonged to the Royal Air Force (gifted to the newly formed Dominion of India). Commandeered by Biju Patniak (who later went on to become the CM of Orrisa), the DC-3 had 17 soldiers of 1-Sikh regiment on board. The bumpy flight had just crossed Pir Panchal and was going to significantly alter the course of history in the subcontinent. Its first attempt to land on the ramshackle Srinagar airstrip was not successful.

Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai, the commanding officer of the party was getting edgy.

He asked the pilot to fly low on the airstrip again, this time, to ensure that no raiders were around. Also since the first hasty attempt to land was abortive, Plan B was to turn back to Delhi. Instructions from PM Nehru’s office were clear: If the airport was taken over by the enemy, you are not to land. Taking a full circle the DC-3 flew ground level. Anxious eye-balls peered from inside the aircraft – only to find the airstrip empty. Nary a soul was in sight. The raider party – also called Tariq’s raiders (after Gen Mohammad Akbar Khan of Pakistan’s 13 Frontier Force Rifles, codenamed Gen Tariq) were busy distributing the war booty amongst them in Baramulla.

Four days ago the fiercely combative Afridi tribals with active help from the Pakistan army, galvanized by reports of the mass murder of Muslims in Jammu, attacked Kashmir. Codename: Operation Gulmarg. Everything went according to plan for the Pakistanis. A few hours after the daredevil blitzkrieg was launched on October 24, 1947, Muzaffarabad fell. On October 25 the tribal militia, backed by regular army troopers, reached Uri. By evening the tiny town was captured. Mirpur and Poonch looked vulnerable. The Maharaja’s troopers were absolutely no match. The Pakistani onslaught was ferocious, sudden and swift. By the morning of October 26, 1947 the advancing squad was knocking at the doors of Baramulla. By afternoon the most important township in north Kashmir was taken. The same evening a feeble Hari Singh fled Srinagar, anticipating savage raiders – any moment -- to drag him out of his Hari Niwas palace to impale him.

Ofcourse the moment never came. The uncouth raiders in the words of Gen Mohammad Akbar Khan (Brigadier-in-Charge, Pakistan, in War for Kashmir in 1947) himself: ‘Delayed in Baramulla for two (whole) days for some unknown reason’. The loot and orgy in Baramulla continued well into the morning of October 27, 1947. Around that same time the DC-3 hovered over the airspace of the still independent Kashmir. Later Indian claims that its forces landed on the Srinagar airport -- only after signatures on the Instrument of Accession by Maharaja and the Indian government were obtained -- is riddled with some confusion and disputed. Be as it may the Dakota quietly touched down, almost unnoticed at 8.30am. For the first time -- ever -- India was in Kashmir to help. Sometimes in history friends can cook up a storm.

A total of 704 sorties right from the morning of October 27, 1947 till November 17, 1947 meant that the tribals were totally routed by the more professional Indian army. PM Nehru was ecstatic. On November 2, 1947, the PM spoke to the nation from All India Radio. Nehru was pointed: [Quote] We are anxious not to finalize anything in a moment of crisis and without the fullest opportunity to be given to the people of Kashmir to have their say. It is for them ultimately to decide -- And let me make it clear that it has been our policy that where there is a dispute about the accession of a state to either Dominion, the accession must be made by the people of that state. It is in accordance with this policy that we have added a proviso to the Instrument of Accession of Kashmir. [Unquote]

The matter went to the UN which announced a ceasefire of hostilities, pending a plebiscite. Pakistan still holds onto a part of Kashmir. The Indian army continues to increase its footprint in Kashmir and at present constitutes the highest military-civilian ratio anywhere in the known world.

63 years later, the battle for Kashmir wages on.

PS: Col Rai was killed in Kashmir a day after he landed. Gen Tariq was jailed under the Rawalpindi conspiracy case but was later released and went on to become the chief of national security under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

© Sameer

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Kashmir witnessed the season’s first sprinkling of snow. Clean as Geelani’s Khan-dress. Since I don’t get to be in the valley for most parts, I feel quite nostalgic about getting into a Pheran in Harud [Fall]. There is something quite timeless about being home around this time. I might be missing an exact expression for it but it is a very mixed feeling. Harplike. It hits you bang in the brow, mostly on autumn dawns.

And you want to steal apples. Suddenly.

Harud itself means loads of work. Farmers get real busy this time of the year. The grangers of our destinies [read our leadership] too get over-worked around the same time. So here is a quick stack up of what is making news in Kashmir at the onset of this autumn~ the year's last, loveliest smile.

Geelani: At 82, this man is to Kashmir what Omar Mukhtar was to Libya at 69. Ofcourse the latter was executed by Italian fascists in 1931 making him a Muslim resistance icon. India might never want to make an icon of Geelani but the old fellow – singularly -- gives the second largest growing economy in the world, and their kissing cousins in Kashmir, sleepless nights. Minus his calendars, he totally rocks. Unselfish and uncompromising. Most Kashmiris do not read his pro-Pakistan booklets but unanimously adore his oh-so-grand-fatherly demeanor.

TV: Kashmiris do not read. Urdu newspapers are skimmed through by the 40+ crowd and the retired gentry. In absence of any major source of entertainment and sans a book culture, people turn to the idiot box. Every single TV journalist, belonging to, reporting in or speaking on Kashmir – articulation is no criteria -- is a huge hit. Journalists are alternately dubbed as pro-India, anti-Kashmir, pro-Omar, anti-Tehreek and so on. On TV everyone loves Sajad Lone’s speechcraft. And all Kashmiris unanimously hate Arnoub Goswami. Personally I reckon he totally sucks – oily hair and all. Greasy loser. Who uses oil these days?

Deal: Deal means a different thing in Kashmir. It is not like closing a deal. You ‘get’ a deal in our neck of the woods. And deals are as rare as nuns in bikinis. Curfew and Hartal -- both competing weapons in the ‘longest conflict in south-Asia’ come with a set of deal periods. It can stretch from a few hours to a few days at one point in time. You learn to respect the deal by stocking things up, meeting friends, visiting a sick relative in the hospital, buying vegetables before any one of the two pronouncements is made: Thou shall not move. Halt, the oxygen taps are shut. Consequently everyone awaits their slice of deal.

FaceBook: When you are confined indoors for longish spells and the world looks like a big Kokur [chicken] coop, the best thing to do is to open a FaceBook account and lord over the world. Kashmiri youth is doing exactly that. Everyone and his uncle is clued in to all things Kashmir and beyond, thanks to the power of FaceBook. From the confines of baithakis (drawing rooms) they engage in political debates (sometimes constructive), post pictures (sometimes disturbing), make pro and anti pages and put links up (sometimes eye-opening) while the curfew continues. A lot of gossip mongering and mediocre stuff too happens but that is just the dross. FaceBook is one good indoor addiction amidst the outdoor fury.

Interlocutors: No one thinks they can make a difference. The set of three have their task cut out: Engage with Kashmiris. And not just the separatists or the already converted (read the NC and PDP chaps). One dialogist I know asked for a suggestion a night before she flew into the valley. I recommended a warm coat. Kashmir is a very complicated puzzle and though I earnestly wish that ordinary people help them solve it, I fear it is still sometime before that might happen. Given the Kashmiri argumentative nature I thought we could have completely overwhelmed the interlocutors with our list of arrogates and aspirations. Shut mouths rarely get heard.

The Valley upshot:

What's cool: Early snowfall in the hills, Danyi-thaepri [rice crop artistically thatched away in small chalet like formations], Eid anticipation, Kashmir Pandit Sangarsh Committee, Chinar leaves, Arundhati Roy.

What's not: Traffic jams, Masarat Alam, Three-week long curfews in countryside, Text ban, Roots in Kashmir.

© Sameer

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Azadi -- The Only way!

We may be different political beings but we are all human beings.
~Syed Ali Geelani
Delhi, October 21, 2010

The auditorium was filled to the rafters. Geelani sat calm as a mid-summer's sea. I don’t quite subscribe to the man’s politics but you can’t help grudgingly admire him. Apart from sounding total convincing, he is frighteningly intelligent. He speaks in a disciplined, clipped dialect and makes Haryanvi cops jostle with one another to pluck their cell phones out and click him. The Little Theater Group audi, next to DoorDarshan, located in the heart of Delhi, was Kashmir’s very own Broadway this Thursday. Syed Ali Shah Geelani was the sole protagonist.

Even before Geelani got up to speak, those perennial dorks from BJP’s student wing ABVP and their ideologically intolerant brothers-in-arms which go by fancy names like Panun-Kashmir (our Kashmir) and Roots in Kashmir began their distasteful sloganeering (Crude swear words, cusswords, expletives all). In the melee some buffoon attempted to throw paper missiles at Arundhati Roy, sitting next to Geelani. Something was hurled at the rostrum but it missed the 82 year old leader. Trespassers have such poor mental trestlework.

Kashmiri volunteers immediately threw themselves around Geelani. Students formed a human shield. The man betrayed no emotion. He continued to beam a beatific smile – in intervals -- as if scoffing at the frenzy subliminally. Eventually two men helped him to the lectern. Geelani began on a wispy note and just two minutes into his speech, given in flawless, genteel Urdu, interspersed with Kashmiri-accented English, everyone was in raptures. There was rapt attention. He constantly shook his head (could be age) and recalled historical dates like a farmer’s calendar. No wonder he churns those calendars with such ease back home.

Over the next few days the Kashmiri papers – and FaceBook videos -- are likely to shed light in some detail on what Geelani said at the convocation. The Indian TV has already given it a rotten spin: Kashmiri students heckle Geelani. That is such a cunning slant. The Hindi news channels in this country, and some English channels, their camerapersons (they look like car mechanics) and anchors (IQ levels seriously negative) should all be put on a bus without brakes and send on a paid-vacation (with free Samosas and Chai). The future generations will be grateful. With the kind of TV happening, India may soon be a nation of morons.

In dense Urdu Geelani talked about justice, basic human bonds and democracy. Ofcourse he repeated some of his standard fustian statistics but his speech was never drab. There is something uncomfortably scrupulous about him even if you tend to disagree. He looks injected with truth serum. The manner is uncharacteristically poetic. The inflections are fresh while the delivery is clear. I thought the top cops – revolver grips shining in holsters -- standing on the exit doors were so cued in to Geelani’s one hour long speech that their subordinates, who usually won’t dare stand near their bosses, shoved their way to catch a glimpse. ‘What democracy are you talking of, Geelani thundered? It was never exhibited in the valley. Before 1990’s if they caught you listening to Azad Kashmir radio, they would put you in jail, along with the culprit radio, he told a giggling crowd, which comprised of journalists, intellectuals, writers, students. And sulking badgerers.

I don’t know how big Geelani’s influence is in present day Kashmir or how to measure it in the competing narratives but he has for sure transcended into something big. He does not carry that Jamaati-chief tag any more. He has gone beyond the Hurriyet boss appellation now. I reckon Geelani defines Kashmir’s defiance.

You may loathe him, love him or harangue him, but there is no denying his indomitable spirit. As a parting shot, almost chokingly, Geelani said: You (India) could aspire to be a superpower, perhaps surpassing America some day but frankly we don’t care. Aspirations can’t be abolished. Even by a superpower.

Some spunk this old man has.

© Sameer

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The three tenors

Top cops in Kashmir would be a little less antsy tonight. The assistant commissioner of police, City, was still sleeping when I called him a moment back. The fugitive at large, one who dished out mini CD upon mini CD in flawless Urdu, calling for revolution, was finally nabbed at his maatamal (mother’s folk’s home) yesterday. Heck, Maatamal has been a weakness with Kashmiris. Conversantly when dour teachers (who used to be called master jee’s in good old days) wanted to pull you up for being too chatty with your bench-mate, often invoked thus: Khala ji ka ghar samaj ke rakha hai kya [Is this your mom’s sister’s home?] So quite Omar Mukhtar-style they descended from all directions and bundled away the runaway robin from his Maatamal.

Notwithstanding the sudden harud (autumn) loss the melody isn’t expected to stop. The three tenors are getting ready in Delhi. The home ministry is expected to have a quick rap session with the interlocutors before they land in Srinagar in an effort to get everyone talking to them. Whether on not Kashmiris talk to them is un-germane. Radha is the most elegant of the lot. She has grey hair and a kind heart. Padgoankar loves foie gras (duck liver pate) and all things French (they gave him the Legion D’Honneur a few years back). Ansari, an Aligarh alumni and ex-IGNOU professor, revels in discussions on economics of human resources and education. Anyone can go talk to them. They don’t bite.

Along with Bhim Singh (the indomitable Rajput who rode around the world on his motorcycle in the late 60’s a la Che Guvevara) LK Advani is pretty upset with Omar’s recent assembly speech. A psyched out BJP usually means advantage home turf. However there has been a mixed reaction to Abdullah-III’s now famous turn of phrase: ‘We acceded. We didn’t merge.’ While Bhim Singh et al have reasons for being jumpy, the separatists aren’t much pleased too. So in keeping with the tradition of spoiling the party for National Conference, the padre of resistance, clad in a gown he has gotten much fond of, uttered the ‘Emperor-has-no-clothes’ lexeme: Oh, and Omar’s speech was scripted in Delhi.

Ironically many say that BJP felt more slighted when someone told them that the somewhat suggestively-named National saffron mission wasn’t infact what they thought it to be. The mission was a Rs 370 crore grant to Kashmir aimed to enhance production of the golden crop of Zafran (saffron). Party workers had bought crackers surmising that a large chunk of Kashmiris had finally understood the futility of throwing stones and shall soon be lining up to join the saffron mission – of abrogating Article 370. BJP now believes that there is something sinister about the amount of grant money of Rs 370 crore. It reminds them of the avowed dislike of Article 370.

On a more nostalgic note October reminds me of autumn. Fall in Kashmir is pleasant. The airs change as if touched by the flapping feathers of a bottle-green angel on his way to the moon. There is mild breeze in the mosque spires, the undulating nets of fisher folk and the quiet branches of the majestic oaks. The leaves, an angry shade of crimson, fall off the trees in abandoned Hindu temples to strew the ground beneath. It is also time to reap the rice crop. The sight is the most breathtaking -- neat rows of assiduous men and women, hunched back, collecting their fruits of labor. They sing songs of love, joy and bounty together. Trousers tucked. Aloud. Hip to hip. Sermons can stay hinged upon mosque knobs sometimes.

The blue-necked cuckoos don’t stop purling. Even in conflicts.

© Sameer

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bub, bunkers and beyond

There is an unseasoned mutiny in Mulk-e-Kashmir this summer. The boatsmen in Dal have revealed to intrepid journalists – clad in bullet proof vests – that the usually calm carp fish have been nibbling away at their oars of late. The defiance, it seems, has drained into the lake. A little ahead of the weed-infested Dal, an entire company of CRPF with chest-nut color guns in their hands, fingers on the trigger, chased a few hundred street urchins through a tulip garden, completely squishing the flowers in the process. As a result the Zabarwan foothills are stippled with mutli-colored floral boot-marks.

The only mills working in the city are the ubiquitous rumor mills and the word on street is that the Gregorian calendar would soon be replaced with a standard Geelani calendar. Heck that Gregory XIII was a pope anyway! Meantime the newest chairman of JK bank is mulling over the 2011 calendar with special green-color numeric for Hartal days and red color numeric for Curfew days. Parleys shall be held with Geelani sahib, when he is a little less angry and Omar, when Devinder, his chief of staff, goes on a sabbatical and leaves him alone, God willing, for a day or two. Besides there are chances that -- with autumn fast approaching -- the CM may finally take his sunglasses off. Eye to eye contact is always better than an eye for an eye.

Kids having a field day till end-September this year [three months of unlimited holidays] thought in their juvenile abandon that the summer holidays [locally, 15 dohan hinz garma-chutti ] might stretch forever. Alas it was not to be! Early October the education minister clad in an ill-fitting suit strode out of his Kokernag home to his Srinagar house and called the media men – who assemble quicker than you can say Jack Robinson – to cut short the forever vacations. Uniforms not washed for 100 days quickly went into buckets, much to the chagrin of teenagers, and lo and behold, the lawyer-minister from Kokernag was giving student attendance stats to media men – who assemble quicker than (okay the joke is stale now!) – the next evening. Only his son didn’t attend school, choosing instead to go by the now-famous Geelani calendar.

Apart from sad politics over body-bags in the last few months there are glad tidings too. Out of more than 1600 small and big bunkers located all over the province (mud and cement, brick and sand, trench and pillbox types – but all unanimously ugly) 16 bunkers shall be removed with immediate effect. Mostly unaesthetic these sandbagged formations pervade the mental landscape of people, apart from littering the stunningly beautiful (but seriously jinxed) geographic landscape of Kashmir. Called Bankers by most locals, these bunkers have a small slit for the gun barrel, serving a constant reminder to the hoi polloi that the Maginot line is not to be trodden upon in Kashmir.16 such monstrosities shall go now! We must smile!

A deadpan face-off is going on (which merits another blog, actually) between Gupkar and Hyderpora. Betwixt these two residential locales the destiny of five million people is calendared -- week after another week. These days the Blackberry Czar is at odds to break the deadlock set up by the Padre of Resistance. There have been numerous brainstorms and smear campaigns but nothing seems to be working. Be as it is, the government has now begun to fast forward Urs holidays, originally scheduled for later this month to Hartal days.

Talk of doing away with the Gregorian calendar, altogether.

© Sameer

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Plucked young

Last night my cousin called up. His voice was chocking and amidst sobs he said that his friend, a teenaged chap, Muddasir, is no more. The kid was shot dead, at point blank, for, perhaps being the median age of a protestor. In Kashmir if you are too young for a beard, you are a sitting duck. They can plunge a poisoned bayonet in you and ofcourse you can’t even squeak.

I’m told Muddasir, an avid footballer, couldn’t run when the hail of bullets came. You don’t have a centre-forward position in a street as narrow as a grid of a cross-word puzzle. His mother who had looked at him longingly only a moment earlier -- perhaps anxious about his career in the strife torn valley – was stupefied into a statue. Guess it is difficult for parents to outlive their children.

How many more parents must weep in the crook of their arms at night, silently? You cannot have glib commentators in TV studios spinning old wives tales for us. You cannot have ruthless men in Khaki, instructed to put the fear of government in people, stomping around looking for their next prey. Has it suddenly gotten so inhuman that nothing but the smell of blood satisfies their predatory instincts? Is democracy suspended, north of Pir Panchal?

A lot of flowers grow in countryside and towns of Kashmir this time of the year. So everytime a kid is killed in cold blood, friends do the most innocent thing one can ever imagine. They go about the neighborhood plucking away all the most beautiful roses and hyacinths and tulips and chrysanthemums and while their friend is being taken away for burial, they rush to the top floors of their homes and shower the body with flower petals. The coffin carries no less than a flower in it, plucked away, young.

Muddasir, our little town’s best footballer
And all other flowers that didn’t deserve to fade away. RIP

© Sameer

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The brown boot

Hans Christian Andersen is one of 17th centuries' greatest story-tellers. I especially like his fairy tale 'The Red Shoes' which the Danish author wrote in 1845 [around the same time the Brits fought the Sikhs in north India. The Dogras, till then Sikh loyalists, cleverly turned British supporters overnight and got Kashmir] about a girl Karen who becomes a victim of her own red shoes. Yesterday a cop [variously described as a nutcase, drunkard, contentious et al] threw a leather brogue at the duke of Gupkar.

He missed. There was frenetic activity at 1 Gupkar road at night. Farooq Abdullah shaved for the second time in one day and jumped into his waiting SUV and drove from his home at 7 Gupkar, a 45 second walk, to Omar's bungalow. Palace insiders gave this account.

Farooq [hassled]: Where is Omar? Where is Omar? Tell him Farooq is here. [Dr Sahib prefers to use third person for himself, like Gaius Julius Caesar]
Omar [clad in a Zara tee-shirt and Bermudas]: I am coming, tell him not to create a scene. I am already stressed out.
Farooq: Any leads on the shoe case?
Omar: They are looking into it.
Farooq [loosening a big-stoned ring on his index]: What is your guess?
Omar: You may have an idea. I told you I want to resign and go someplace nice and quiet and cool – to unwind. Now face this!
Farooq: Come on Omar. I have faced bigger challenges in life.
Omar: But you never faced a shoe.
Farooq: The cop, they say, is not in a sane frame of mind.
Omar: I heard him shout – Hum Kya Chahtey: Azadi [We want Freedom] very distinctly. He didn't sound like a madman.
Farooq: Do you smell fish?
Omar: The butler is making tuna tonight.
Farooq: I mean – do you rule out the hand of Muftis in this?
Omar: It has to be someone's foot dad. Remember, it was a shoe.
Farooq: Now who is being non-serious? And you think I act casual.
Omar: Well no one from PDP turned up at the stadium.
Farooq: Good riddance. Continue with it. Send them no invites. Why should they eat at government functions in the day and then criticize us in TV debates at night.
Omar: I don't care, dad.
Farooq: Well I do. I think our naughty neighbors could be involved in this.
Omar: They have floods. Apparently they got no time to brain-wash disgruntled old policemen at this time.
Farooq: Someone threw a shoe at Zardari last week.
Omar: Just because someone tried to knock him down, it doesn't mean they will pay someone to try it on me.
Farooq: Who do we blame then?
Omar: Divisive elements. I prefer keeping it vague and low-key.
Farooq: It is a big deal – already.

[There is a knock]

Knock, knock.
Farooq: Who is it?
Voice: Devender.
Farooq: Devender who?
Voice: Devender, Omar's advisor.
Farooq [with that Omar-you-and-your-so-called-experts look]: Come in.

Enter Devender, chest heavy with some intel he wants to share.

Omar: Speak Devender. It is OK.
Devender: Bandipore is Carnival-like! Thousands are marching to Ahad Jan's home.
Omar: Who is this Ahad Jan, now?
Devender: Err...The cop who threw the foot-wear projectile at you.
Omar: Dad says he is mad.
Devender: He bagged the President's bravery medal in 1990.
Farooq: Wayeh Khudaya, kom pagal gaye agadey. [God, we are faced with crazy people]
Omar: Whatever. Devender, mind a Tuna dinner. The fish is meant to be eaten raw. Just flame-kissed with lemon.
Devender: I won't mind.
Farooq: Devender, where is the shoe now?
Devender: Err... [At which Omar cuts him short]
Omar: Dad how about some Ortiz Bonito del Norte tuna.
Farooq: I have no appetite tonight.

© Sameer

PS: The palace conversation is pure pasquinade.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The domino effect

It is awful to follow Kashmir these days. Each voice in the tiny valley carries a hint of sob. Every hour brings in more sad tidings. The roar and the smoke of clash seem to be getting louder by the hour. Curlicues of Barbwire and Dannert wire appear ineffective. All efforts made to describe the strange shape of this furor have gone wrong. Without attempting to be all too worked up, it is safe to assume that the Tehreek [movement for Freedom in Kashmir] is on an auto-pilot.

There is a limit point upto which the human mind is capable of remembering names and ages. So many kids have fallen to ugly force in the last couple of weeks that the threshold has not only been submerged, it is completely blanked out now. Since the mind is programmed to seek answers, partly to beat the tedium and partly to comprehend what is going on, opinions are abound. Like moths on a starless night. Everybody – from the harried CM Omar Abdullah to the underground fugitive Masrat Alam – is incriminated. Vox Populi is filled with bewilderment.

The right to protest is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Throwing stones is not. Setting fire to government property is not. Clearly someone is not abiding by the law of the land. But that is not the whole picture. The rules on the use of force against unlawful crowds are also clear. Section 130 of India’s Code of Criminal Procedure, is clear: ‘If the assembly cannot be dispersed otherwise and it is necessary in public interest, then the executive magistrate can order armed forces to disperse the assembly. Even then, every officer must use as little force, and do as little injury to people.’ In Kashmir the line between natural rights and legal rights is often quite blurry.

At this moment a fear of the awkward looms. No one knows what happens next. The protests come along as asymmetrical. Bricks don’t come from Pakistan, as prime- time TV anchors with prim faces smeared with foundation cosmetics would break down for us. The weekly Hartal [strike] calendars issued from some hideaway, much electronegative as they are, continue to be followed in letter and spirit. The traditional opposition to the ruling coterie, Hurriyet, appears as naïfly as the common man. Omar is politically sidelined – trying to assert his authority by taking turns subsequently to preach on TV, order probes, dash off to Delhi (as and when summoned) and express -- what can be at best be called a cross between impuissance and an inability to do anything.

Three full fortnights of strikes have passed by. While it strikes one as windy and impractical, given the fact that the axe falls first on the less privileged, the effrontery is seriously alarming. The curfews are getting punitive. Phones in more sensitive pockets of the valley are jammed for well over a month. Text messaging doesn’t work at all. Six million men and women of Kashmir are finding it hard to grasp what they can do and what they are allowed to do. No one talks about the silver minted look of Omar anymore. As if on cue, everyone is looking up at the sky. The clouds appear shaped like stones.

© Sameer

Friday, July 30, 2010

Scarlet puddles

Woodlets are cold once again
Nights are drawn-out again
Death rattle is here again
Burying grounds are busy again
Scarlet puddles have formed again
Bowmen appear on trees again
Wildly shooting at dreams again
Each bird is a foe again
Birdcalls are grievous again
Darkness at dawn again
Nighttime at noon again
Clouds bursting once again
Old men crying yet again
Savage wilderness once again
Hop-skipping puddles time and again

© Sameer

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The naked dervish

When I was growing up in Sopore – a tiny whistle stop town – there was a lot of violence. The militants of Sopore used to be the fiercest and the security forces perhaps got an additional briefing or two before they were dispatched off to this front-line township. There was a lot of hostility in those days between the Indian army and the locals, much to the glee of militants.

Night-long gun-battles were routine. Since Syed Ali Geelani, then in his 60s and fiery best, came from a hamlet near Sopore, his iconoclastic following was at its pinnacle in Sopore. Winds of mutiny blew rapidly from Wular. I was very young but I remember vividly. There was only one solace to a large number of people in this mayhem: Ahad Saab Sopore. The naked dervish.

Ahad Saab upset a lot of believers because he walked naked. Stark naked. Even in winters when it snowed for days. I must have seen him all of a dozen times – walking always -- and let me admit, as a child I used to freak out at his very sight, not because of his unclothed state, but because of his gaze, which was quite intimidating. He would look at you with blood bellowing in his ears.

I froze in my school bus when he walked past. Ofcourse I would be baffled about how he managed to survive the freezing temperatures, when everyone wore a Pheran [loose warm tunic] and held a Kangri [fire pot made of clay and wicker]. It was only much later an American professor explained that there is a state known as Fana-al-Fina (forgetfulness of annihilation). It is a very deep, mystic concept of unconsciousness. And it drives Wahabis all bonkers.

A lot of people used to visit Ahad Saab and they did things which the vocal Islamists promptly clubbed with polytheism. The home of the mystic was like a carnival where people would come, get-together, reflect, weep, talk and at times sleep. In absence of any other outlet to give vent to their emotions, they found Ahad Saab’s abode a spiritual watering hole, where they went – again and again – for some sort of spiritual communion, perhaps.

Sometimes the public opinion was split in the middle: visiting the dervish was blasphemous, some would suggest, yet people kept pouring in. Sufism has its own intellectual culture, the physical artefacts of which are these mystics, his followers felt. And the one man who never spoke while his detractors and acolytes clashed was Ahad Saab.

Inspite of the growing trend of pan-Islamism which has swept across the Muslim lands and engulfed Kashmir also, the valley still has at its heart a very syncretical ethos. Dastageer Saab, a very reverend saint in Kashmir writes about Tasawwuf [spirituality] and Dervishes: A mystic can do nothing and is nothing in his self-being. But Lord gives him a helping hand. [The Sultan of the saints: mystical life and teaching of Shaikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jilani]

And yet you will meet people in Kashmir who vouch for numerous inexplicable things and occurrences that Ahad Saab was capable of. I don’t wish to negate what is attributed to the ascetic but there is no doubt that he was a common focal point who tied so many human beings together.

Ahad Saab died last night. Naked. The peripheries of his soul never felt bound within his body. He tore clothes and shrieked when attempts were made to put a blanket on him in sub-zero temperatures. People came from far and wide to have a look at his face. Hear him speak. Yet he would rarely open his mouth. There is something companionable about silences, sometimes. ‘But he is naked and he looks unhinged to me. Looks awkward. Isn’t this be-adabi [indecency]?’ I asked someone long years back.
‘Love is be-adub’, pat came the reply. Sufis.

Ahad Bub
Patron saint of Sopore

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ideating on a Hartal morning

National Conference (NC) is to Kashmir what Congress party is to India. With minor absenteeism the party has mostly ruled Kashmir since 1947. On its website NC has put out the last testament of its founding father Sheikh Abdullah in text animation which states that '…People’s hearts can only be won by love, justice, truthfulness and sincerity. Not with subsidized rice, army and offering largesse.’ Paradoxically Kashmir has been witness to a frightening shrinkage of agricultural land (hence reliance on imported and subsidized rice), more army men than government employees (4,50,000 men and women in government service compared to roughly about 6,00,000 troopers) and last but not least we are extremely liberal of spirit while doling out freebies and bribes. Any one in Srinagar will tell you that. Thence stands belied the last testament.

That does not mean NC has no relevance. It is a completely democratic party. Out of the JK’s 87 assemble seats, NC has men and women on 28. That is roughly about one-third. It also has a central working committee comprising of 22 wise men who actually call the shots in the party. With the situation in Kashmir getting more complicated than Kandahar, these wise men decided to get their heads together for a Chintan Baithak (introspection meet) of sorts last week. Sheikh Abdullah’s eldest son Dr Farooq Abdullah, naturally, is the President and gets to sit on a low-chair. His eldest son Omar Abdullah is the state’s chief minister (CM) and gets another low-chair to the right of his dad. Nineteen other gentlemen have to hunker down on the carpeted floor. One guy sits in between the two chairs separating the former and the current CM. God knows why? Sheikh Abdullah smiles benignly from the wall.

It was a closed door meeting held for 420 minutes (7 hours). Eight resolutions were passed. So Omar stays as CM, all ministers (whether inefficient or not) will continue as ministers, Sheikh Nazir (relative to the CM and CM’s dad) will carry on as the general secretary and ofcourse Dr Farooq Abdullah will continue to be the President of NC (what if they won’t make him the President of India). All the men were agreed that there is a need to strengthen the party. Dr Farooq Abdullah gave a personal assurance to his crew that they will get to see more of him, henceforth.

As soon as the get-together started to get a tad boring (with usual uninspiring speeches), the unexpected happened. Dr Sahib pulled a rabbit out of the hat: Autonomy! Give it to us Now – pure and unadulterated as it existed for six years -- between 1947-1953. There is a longish history to the eight magic words. Let us cut it short here for the sake of brevity. NC after partly shelving the Autonomy in 1975, revived it in 1994. A resolution was passed (unanimously) in the JK assembly in 2000 adopting the Autonomy report (Autonomy committee was headed by Maharaja Hari Singh’s son, Dr Karan Singh). India wasted no energy. The government of India out rightly rejected the wish. [Who knows they might have a change of heart this time?]

At this the meeting was announced concluded. The delegates filed out one-by-one into the lawns to their gaping white ambassador cars, fitted with red lights. Into the city, with no soul on any thoroughfare, drove the twenty wise men. Window panes rolled up. Sirens blaring. Dad and son retired for siesta. No chips on their shoulders.

© Sameer

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The deer in my dream

I keep having this dream whenever I sleep just before the cock-crow. It is kind of recurring. I see a green jungle, thick and beautiful, with all kinds of wights. There is a little cottage in the densely wooded forest, covered by the bark of trees. It is like a million romantic movies. There is a powerful abruptness about the place.

I am standing outside the cottage, looking at the fish plonk in the rill that passes by. All of a sudden a gilded deer ambles by and walks towards me, hesitantly. I am unsure about how to react. Something about its eyes attract me. The eyes are like Persian almonds, big and sea-water like. The Iranians call them Chaqalu bâdom.

The deer waffles a bit, looks around, and then with the gait of Megan Fox walks upto me. I let go off my hesitancy and pat it playfully. It is lithe with legs suited for the rugged woodland terrain. I detect it is vulnerable and weak too. The deer appears to be looking for riding out the harsh jungle. I offer my little cottage. We become friends.

I get to hear noises in the jungle that I never imagined. Some days the clouds hang so low that you could see the grey twist of the mist right outside the cottage. The deer continues to stay. I would take it to the streamlet for a bath. I fed it out of my hand. When it was stormy in the woods at night, I would leave the door open.

Writers have very strange vagaries. I used to read poetry and scribble my fictive parables on cold cold eventides with only the deer by my window. A swarm of wasps would travel past. Occasionally a ladybird, blobbed in a hundred places, would slide by. The deer was getting tidy all through. Its eye shone.

And then one fine morning it was gone. It is hard sometimes to nurture a flower and water it each day and then find it suddenly plucked away. I don’t quite know what happened to the deer. There are creatures that lurch in the jungle. I missed the deer, in my dream, I recall. It shouldn’t have been gone. It still had plenty of growing up to do.

I didn’t get time to look for it. My dream broke. The tender smithereens of the broken dream lie all about my mental landscape.

© Sameer

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Striking it out!

7 Race Course Road, Lutyen’s Delhi. Lush as a freshly watered golf course. Pea fowls spurt about in the laws of the Prime Minister’s bungalow, spreading their iridescent blue-green plumage. Dr Manmohan Singh walks out of his study, clad in a spotless white Egyptian cotton Kurta-Pajama [lose-fitting traditional Indian attire]. He wears a turban, the color of a clear noonday sky.

Indu Shekhar Chaturvedi, PS to the PM, walks in front. She leads the PM to a hotline. It is a secure point to point communication system that connects the head of the government to whoever he wishes to speak to. K Muthu Kumar, OSD to PM, steps ahead and presses a secret button. He hands the phone to the PM. Dr Singh clears his throat a little.

PM [in a soft voice, whisper-like and silken]: Hello. Hello. Is that Mehbooba Ji?
Mehbooba Mufti [turning pages of an Urdu newspaper]: Yes, and who is this. What do you want? [The pitch is both idle and shrill].
PM [hand on mouth-piece of the receiver]: What is this Muthu? Can’t you inform them in advance? [Removes his hand from the receiver and clears his throat again] Mehbooba Ji, this is the Prime Minister.
Mehbooba [Bored like an average Kashmiri on a Hartal afternoon]: I don’t like people joking with me when I am going to go into a sulk.
PM: This is Dr Manmohan Singh, Mehbooba Ji.
Mehbooba suddenly remembers the satiny voice. OMG, the PM. She jumps to her feet. Aquiver like a pea-hen.
Mehbooba: I am so sorry, Your Excellency, I was drawn away by the latest Hartal time-table in the newspaper. I couldn’t realize it is you.
PM [a tad relaxed]: That is fine, Mehbooba. How is Mufti sahib? Where is he?
Mehbooba calls her dad [hand on mouth-piece of the receiver]: Mufti Saab, Jalti yiyov haz. Zehra haz badlav takdeer. [Mufti Sahib, come quick. Our fate is likely to change]
Mehbooba to PM: Mr PM, what is it about?
PM: What?
Mehbooba: Why do you wish to speak with Mufti Saab?
PM: Err…No, I was generally enquiring about him. Courtesies, you see. I want to talk to you.
Mehbooba [a, shade dejected]: What would the PM of a mighty country want from a small regional party leader like me?
PM: Well, you know, Mehbooba. I don’t know the language of politics and how to say these things but since you have been such a nice girl, I [stammers], I was just wondering if it could be possible for you to attend the ‘All-party’s meeting’ called by our BlackBerry farmer in Srinagar.
Mehbooba: Sir, I don’t want to sound rude but I don’t like Blackberries at all. Besides we have another full week of strikes here. I was just reading in the newspaper.
PM: Beti [daughter, affectionately] How can you not attend? What is democracy without opposition? We will look plain silly.
Mehbooba [by now an agitated Mufti Saab is around, keenly listening into the tête-à-tête]: We have a considered opinion sir and let us submit it to you, here on this hotline. We think the BlackBerry farmer sucks. His tale is over.
PM: Mehbooba, dear-o-dear, we know that story. Who do you think writes the script? So pray, be a good opponent now and go to Srinagar tomorrow.
Mehbooba: His Excellency, papa has something to say.
PM: Mufti Saab, aap baat kyo nahi samajtey [Why don’t you understand?]
Mufti: Dekhiye, Wazire-Azam Saab, yaha haalat mukh-talif hai. Hartal hai. Nahi Ja sakte. [Look, Mr PM, it is different here. There is a strike. We can’t go]
PM gesticulates to his aides, all of whom are looking peculiarly at the phone. The gesture suggests: What now? They ask him to hang-up with an alibi.
PM: All right Mufti Saab, please try and re-consider your decision.
Mufti: Hartal hai. Saang-bari ho rahi hai. Kahi pathar laga, to. Nahi Ja sakte.
[There is a strike. There is stone pelting. What if we get hit? We can’t go]
PM: Have a good day.
Mufti: You too, His Excellency.

Mufti turns to Mehbooba: And you thought New Delhi wants a change of guard.
Mehbooba: Heck, I thought why else should the PM call me.
Mufti: They back the Abdullahs at present.
Mehbooba: Drop it papa. Did you check the latest calendar?
Mufti [with a wink]: Is there a strike day for mainstream politicians’?

7 Race Course Road:
PM to his aides: They kept repeating Hartal and Hartal.
First aide-de-camp to PM: Apparently a new Hartal time-table is out in Srinagar, Sir.
PM: What the heck? Don’t they have any relaxation hours in the Hartal?
Second aide-de-camp: Yes sir, for a few hours, on Saturdays.
PM: Interesting. And how do they re-impose a Hartal?
Third aide-de-camp: Throw stones.

© Sameer

Friday, July 09, 2010

News Hour by Arnoub Goswami

Welcome to News Hour. This is Arnoub Goswami, live from Mumbai, from my studio, blue as tobacco smoke and you are watching the most watched TV show in India. We are debating the current unfolding events in Kashmir tonight.

[The camera zooms into Arnoub’s strangely smug face, highlighting his greasy hairdo. Soon there is a close-up of his face and the image stays for nearly an hour. Arnoub has recently watched the archival footage of famous TV anchors in history and tries in vain to imitate them. There are fake pauses. There are intellectual pretences. End of it he looks totally daft]

Arnoub: With me tonight in the blue studio is only one man: Arnoub. We broadcast live from Mumbai and since no one politically significant lives here, I am joined by guests from Delhi, Srinagar and elsewhere. Remember it does not get bigger, bluer and better than this. So stay glued. We’ll be back in a moment to ask tough questions and call them all on carpet, especially the ones from the land of carpet-sellers. Watch out.

[Commercial break]

Arnoub [in a CU (close-up) shot, taking the whole frame]: We have tonight with us Mirwaiz Umar and Sajad Lone from Kashmir. Dr Chandan Mitra and Rajeev Rudi join me from Delhi and here in our blue studio in Mumbai I lord over them. We begin Round-1.

Arnoub to Mirwaiz Farooq: Mirwaiz, do you pay these agitational kids who throw stones? My channel has access to your landline logs and it appears that your domestic-help actually helps you transport stones from his ancestral village in South Kashmir, an anti-national place, since stones are in short supply in Srinagar.

Mirwaiz: This is non-sense. I don’t know what you are talking about. I….[at this point Arnoub, the judge, jury and the executioner rolled into one, cuts Omar short].

Arnoub: I want to bring in Chandan here. Chandan, What do you make of the stone ferrying?

Chandan Mitra [Chewing on something sheepishly]: I think there is a lot of juice in the transcripts’ that your channel has so painstakingly accessed. That is not only a clear indictment of the mobsters who target our brave Jawans in Kashmir but it also goes on to prove, Arnoub, your own dexterity and ability. I salute you tonight. Like I saluted you last night. My God. How incredibly ingenious!

Arnoub: Thank you, Dr Mitra. At Times Now we try to be popular, never populist. Let Sajad answer my next salvo.

Arnoub [grinning] to Sajad: Is it true that the kids who get shot provoke the cops? Also is it true that paid stone pelters push little boys to the frontline on purpose so that even as our troopers, exercising extreme caution, fire below the belt, the boys invariably get shot in the chest due to height variation. Answer me Sajad. The nation deserves an honest answer.

Sajad: As long as you stop looking at it as a simple law-and-order problem, you can't picture it right. Height variation. Extreme caution. You must be kid…[at which point Arnoub decides to interrupt Sajad].

Arnoub: Nobody is a kid here. We are all adults and we are talking adult business here. We are talking real guns here, not toy guns. [The anchor looks straight into the camera and as if on cue the cameraperson does an XCU (extreme close up), exposing the gleaming side-arms of Arnoub’s glasses. Arnoub has a glitter in the eye that says: Good boy, Arnoub, point scored].

Arnoub to camera: We have heard the view from Kashmir, which is both fragmented and frustrated. When we come back after the break we will hear again from Dr Mitra [who will finish his mushroom soup by then]. Rajeev Rudy will also enlighten us with his views on Kashmir.

[Commercial break]

The prank resumes. The prankster repeats the cycle.

The conscience aches. One wishes to weep into the crook of arm. At the banality of it all! Will the silly anchors ever fathom that the fury is many decades, many centuries deep?

© Sameer
PS: All situations in the blog are fictitious. Artists invent lies, at times, just to tell the truth.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

What next?

Our sorrows will never be sad enough
Our lives will never be important enough
~Arundhati Roy

Kashmir is a beautiful cage this morning. The inhabitants behind the grilles are strung out and edgy. Their luxury of innocence has been taken away. A peek through a crack in the windowpane can invite a ‘stray’ bullet. There is no venturing out of the home-cages. The bylanes are fitted with death-traps that resemble mousetraps. And they have been put in place in Srinagar and Sopore and Anantnag and elsewhere. We have become the townmouse and the countrymouse, like the Aesop fable.

There are curfewed dawns and curfewed noontides and curfewed evenings. Hazarding a guess – whether it is full moon or moonless tonight – is impossible. Our gaze has been curfewed over. Ill tempered spectres prowl about in the backyards. And there is no sound except jackboots mashing something, someone on the curfewed road. The sick can’t cry. A girl, from north Kashmir, withering with stomach ache, died in the wagon while her aged father tried to convince the mechanical creatures ‘imposing’ the curfew to let them pass. In utter vain.

Is the dead girl a martyr? A martyr as in bullet and blood martyr, we know not. The supremely disconnected TV anchors, sitting in plush studios in New Delhi, perhaps know better. There is a bespectacled host, son of an ex-army officer, who in particular knows all the answers. He is the Bill O'Reilly of the silly Indian TV circus. His mouth turns in such a disgusting manner that every phrase he manages to mutter comes out phoney. It is lame and dumb. And it comes from the ‘free’ media of the world’s most orotund democracy.

There are no newspapers on newsstands in Kashmir today. The local press has been curfewed over. Their pens rendered unsuitable. Dissent and debate is part of a democracy. While India's self-righteous leaders never fail to highlight its democratic credentials, they remain ignorantly indifferent to the misery of more than six million people, who have been cooped inside one of the world's biggest prisons. The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual crime, Max Stirner the German philosopher once averred.

One wonders what is next: What after the curfew outlasts its utility? What after the last flag march has been conducted? What after the doors of the cage are re-opened? What after the last guard goes away? What after the last body is fished out? What after the inferno burns out? What after your scream solders onto my scream?

A long wordless hug. Zero-tolerance. Probe. Mid-terms. What?

© Sameer

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Persecution -- what are you tonight?

Persecution has a shape, and a weight and a texture. This summer it is unmistakably evident in Kashmir. Mornings fetch sad tidings here. The beautiful garden that is Kashmir appears run over by strange creatures. When a crisp blue suddenly gives way to dreary evenings, it is sadness beyond comfort. That has become out subroutine. Kids engage the cops, who in turn shoot them in the head or heart, tempers fray, the government shuffles a tad, strikes follow, there is furious sloganeering and curfew. The action shifts to another corner of the garden. Evil emissaries’ prowl. With whips in their hands. They smell of funk and coconut oil.

I am summering in Kashmir and it is kind of bittersweet. Hopping out of the home is a challenge. My media accreditation cards allow me to drive a bit but I am not to venture near the war-zone. That is where the action is: young men – aged 20 and less – try and engage the CRPF in a battle of wits. A devil-may-care ferocity looms. The police train their guns on the kids. 11 boys were killed in this fashion in June alone. And the spiral continues. The government calls the kids rioters. While the claim cannot be substantiated given the government’s track record of speaking nothing but untruth on Kashmir, one finds it hard to put an exact expression to this fury.

Mosque loud-speakers are blaring out old cassettes. They ask people to get out of their comfort zones and gather. God knows how the magniloquent songs of revolution survived these two decades to mysteriously emerge now when no one even cared to remember the lyrics. I don’t frankly fancy the verbosity of the songs but I must concede that the Azadi sentiment hasn’t exactly withered in Kashmir. It lies torpid and in a state of suspended consciousness. People go out and even vote in between the dormant years but it never really goes away. That is the take-home twenty years later.

The strike is now supplemented by a curfew. There are fetters around the garden. Imagine a life where you are kept within bounds, your phones are jammed and your expression is severely gagged. People still find ways and means to sneak out and forgather near their homes. They exchange back-fence talk and speak in exaggerated tones. Someone says that the cops are coming. Some places the crowd simply melts into the alleys. Other places the mob sticks like glue. A confrontation ensues. There is sound of tear-gas shells exploding. The shells come down like handfuls of nails flung hard by a seriously riled sky. Then there is wailing.

The cycle repeats.

© Sameer

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Red is my orchard

There is mild rain in Sopore. This is a small borough with lots of apple orchards and apricot trees, that are salmon pink this time of the year. There is shrieking this evening. The distant wails come to me in mockery of the pounding of my heart. Two kids, ages 14 and 17, too young for beards, were put to death a few hours ago. Shot dead from point blank as they attempted to knock themselves out with cops. Irrational exuberance – the government press release shall in all probability suggest. Instant martyrs – the townspeople have already picketed in.

A bunch of kids attacking a CRPF/SOG vehicle is a good enough alibi for the jackboots to open fire on them. Standard operative procedure can be thrown to wind when harsh non-indulgent laws exist. In case of extreme provocation there is an option to aim at legs or in the air. Like today in Sopore, and last week in Srinagar, the guns are targeted either at chest or in the head. If the idea is to instill fear and intimidation in people by firing live ammunition with an intent to kill, then apparently it is not working. There should have been no Sopore today after what happened in Srinagar a few days back.

Clearly the government has got it awfully wrong in Kashmir. Cornered like a wild Chimp, it lunges at little boys who chase it. The official version notwithstanding – any confrontation between stone-holding youngsters and massively armed troopers – is disproportionate. As a result any death resulting out of such a face-off puts a serious question mark on the government’s cavalier attitude. It becomes a savage cycle thereafter and incidents such as these further provoke the hostility of people. The separatists simply tap the alienation.

As I blog it is evening time in Sopore. Two more homes are chopfallen in the cursed paradise. Little sisters’ running barefoot after an irate mob that carries their dead brothers’ is nightmarishly painful. Their eyes were like alien moons. They are simple, poor people and they don’t deserve to die like this. I don’t have an exact expression for my regular journalist friends in New Delhi or London as to why these kids fell today. I don’t know what frenzy is this. Is it a jinx around our necks or have we become somewhat unhinged in our heads? I can’t fathom.

Pray just don’t tell me there is yet another probe. That sounds like an expletive now.

© Sameer

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Where are my fireflies?

As a rule night comes early to Kashmir. The lowdown from ground zero is that violence has now been completely institutionalized. The largest democracy in the world and its Blackberry czar in Kashmir seem to be clueless about how to deal with their single biggest problem -- the street kid. Less than three weeks after the prime minister of India dropped by for a two day spring vacation, assuring the natives that their human rights will be respected henceforth, three young boys were sent to their graves. Their human rights scattered in Srinagar bylanes, with their teenage blood.

Accountability is a slut in this city. Top cops I conversed with say their men come under a hail of stones from irate mobs and they only fire in total defense. The paramilitary troopers cooped inside their sad bunkers lead a drab life and shoot when slightly provoked. Add to this the countless intelligence agencies at work, trying to help the government maintain law and order, and the riddle is complete for you. Kashmir is a police state. No dissent is brooked. The idea is to hold the popular sentiment down with jackboots. The panic button is perpetually on.

Across the other end of the Kashmir conundrum are the pro-freedom blokes. Having exhausted most of their options the separatist chariot is kept trundling by strikes, locally called Hartals. A human life is worth a day’s Hartal. Period. During the strike period the elite stay indoors to water their well-manicured lawns, those with no gardens to till read Urdu newspapers to the last tittle and the more outdoorsy sit on shop fronts, exchanging small-talk. Kids in several hot-spots throw stones at cops with a recklessly irresponsible defiance. There is a curiousness to it: All this looks perfectly normal here.

The civil society is somewhat split over the frequency of strikes. Hartals in Kashmir are unique in that they are very political in nature. Historically strikes have been the prerogative of workers. We have refashioned Hartals to fight an economic and nuclear power, which doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about clenched fists. How else do we protest, a senior separatist leader asked me quizzically? I had no ready-to-offer answers. As long as a strike remains peaceful, the society can be expected to support a legitimate cause. Any inconvenience caused to people is an expected spin-off. You cannot overdo it.

The narrative flickers at a riotous speed in the valley: From killer troopers to trouble-making teenagers to well-heeled separatist leadership to the bacchanal mainstream polity. Everyone has a strong, almost poisonous opinion of one other. They appear like strings of a beautiful musical instrument and when you try to strum it, it sounds like a vuvuzela horn.
The melody is lost.

As I blog, I can hear gun-shots piercing the waxing gibbous night. A fierce encounter is ongoing somewhere near the riverside. There are no fireflies tonight. Only tracer bullets.

© Sameer

Sunday, June 20, 2010

One more tear

One more smokestack is smokeless tonight
one more child put six feet under
One more mother is wringing her hands
one more son is inhumed tonight
One more joy is trampled upon
one more lad is overhung tonight
One more bullet to the heart
one more woeful home tonight
One more sombre evening
one more starless sky tonight

© Sameer

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


There is a certain informality about Kashmir that is both whisper-style and soul-baring. I’m home and everytime I come, it is raining like stair rods. It was tipping it down as I pulled into the vale, green as an impressionist piece of art by Frédéric Bazille. The mise en scène was broken only by troopers’ dourly standing guard. A very few people were on roads. The strike call given by the padre of resistance, this old fellow called Syed Ali Geelani, was being observed with all conviction. A kid had been shot in the head for no apparent reason. Kashmir may be the proverbial paradise but it is a very cursed one at that.

I absolutely love rains but folks say it has been raining here for more than a couple of weeks now and the farmers are a worried lot. When it rains in Kashmir it pours. The driblets tap-dance on all the rooftops in the neighborhood making it very agreeable, especially at night. You can hear the rain. It is near songful in Kashmir. I’m however willing to suspend my romance for rain – albeit temporarily -- to the country people’s concern for their crop. There is talk of special prayers being planned to make peace with God. And propitiating heavens is no mean feat. God has gotten irascible these days.

The absence of sound at night in Kashmir appears a little extraordinary to someone used to the clamor of citified life. It is peaceful here, I must concede. There is nary a bark. Only total, complete muteness like that of a graveyard at midnight. It takes you a few days to get acclimatized to the stillness. Eventually you get on with it and begin to appreciate the simple life. Why do you need street lights or night-life? Slowly you get used to the uncomplicated lifestyle. Only that it gets a little laidback and languid.

Regular narrative in Kashmir is replete with talk of separatists and their ingenious ways. The padre of resistance was recently heard profusely thanking people for making the last strike a success. Yasin is planning court arrest over the weekend. There could be some fisticuffs and more action. Such activity is grist for the rumor mills which go into overdrive. Local news agencies lose no time in sending texts of sad tidings to people, who in turn take a perverse pleasure to read the contents aloud to whomever is around. Everyone is a citizen journalist and the ubiquitous cell phone is a harbinger – of whatever is not right with us.

Some of what we love still remains. I listened to Wanwun. Wanwun comes close to madrigals. These are melodies of mirth sung in unison, usually in marriages. Beautiful women with still beautiful voices tell the stories of love and happiness in a very sing-song fashion. Chorus. They form a human chain with arms flung over one another and swing like an ancient rhythm. Their carols curl and pop in the rainy air. The pitch rises and falls and steadies with each note. The thrumming of Tumbak-naris (small, hand-held drums) turns the atmosphere euphoric. All hurt vaporizes.

God, I was missing on the homemade opera. I am glad to be home.

© Sameer

Thursday, June 10, 2010

To my old bed

I smell wild wood trees
possessed by buccaneers and bulbuls
criss-crossing each other
along heaving paths
I see bee-eaters, their iridescent wings
like violin bows upon the track
fringed with tall pines
like sharp arcs into blue Eden
I hear sounds being chargrilled
in the timberland, so green
surrounded with dug-outs
as deep as war sorrows
I walk into my vale
self-same over the years
cacophonous and comforting
if only to fell happily
into my old bed

© Sameer

Monday, June 07, 2010

PM in Zabarwan

Monday morning. The doors of Air India-001 are flung open at the Srinagar airport. The sky is blue, like the British Conservative party flag. A lean figure with a light blue Turban -- snowy white hair concealed within -- appears at the door. He has a duffle coat on. There are whispers on the Tarmac: Prime minister, Prime minister. With a brown bag in hand. Lots of goodies for us.

Slowly, with the grace of a sonneteer, Manmohan Singh descends the air-stairs. There is sound of salutes. Left. Right and centre.

Omar, clad in a crisp jacket, hair greying, like an amateur philosopher, steps ahead and extends both his hands for a hand-shake: Mr Prime Minister, Welcome to Kashmir.
PM: Nice day. The weather is fabulous, Omar.
Omar: Yes Sir, it was raining all through the last week. And the week before. We feared floods. All rivers are flowing over the danger mark.
PM: Hay Rabba [Oh God]. Why is everything so dangerous here?
Omar, tittering: Nothing serious, Mr PM. The rains can be a blessing sometimes. The only way to keep the separatists indoors.

Both step into a waiting car fitted with a zillion gizmos. Not even a robin on the tree can trill when the motorcade passes by.

PM, turns to Omar: Oh, by the way, I was mulling over to invite the separatists to a closed door.
Omar: Well, sir -- Geelani sahib is angry, like always. CID wallas tell me that even Mirwaiz is irate. And Yasin has been asking people to burn torch-lights at night. Sajad writes angry notes on Facebook.
PM: Grim, very grim. Why are they so annoyed?
Omar: Must be the weather, Sir. Grumpy like northern sky.
PM: I shall still renew my offer for peace. Sonia Ji insists.
Omar: How can there be peace Sir, when people are plucked out of their fields and clobbered to death?
PM, gaze a little stern: Don’t sound gloomy, Omar. It is a nice day.
Omar: Pardon me, His Excellency, I was a little distracted.
PM: You know we can’t afford to loose focus.

The cavalcade crosses a desolate looking Boulevard. Farooq Abdullah and Ghulam Nabi Azad follow in their respective cars. Sirens blaring. Farooq taps his driver to overtake Azad. [Tez Chalav Shahmas-lada -- Drive fast, you dimwit] Soz trails in another car, looking repeatedly at his cell-phone, wondering why it stopped working [Khabar haz kya gov yath – What happened to my phone? – Jammers Professor, Jammers]

Meanwhile in the PM’s car –
Omar, gathering courage again: Frankly, I am for zero tolerance, Sir.
PM: So am I.
Omar: We are on the same page.
PM: Zero tolerance for violence and terror.
Omar (in his thought-baloon): And human rights violations.
PM: Did you say something?
Omar: No Sir – we are already at the convocation centre. Let’s step out.

© Sameer

Monday, May 31, 2010


Mother they promised me
honey from the bee hive
and I ran to savor some
mindless of the night

They gave me not a single drop,
instead put
honey-color bullets
in my mouth

I kept asking for some
food and they kept
spraying me with arrows
till I gave up

The longbow man roared
and turned to his men
wiping away blood, he said
my violence conquers yours

Mother I think they killed me
but I know not why
The thinnest crescent
of moon saw me bleed

© Sameer

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fig and the cartoon bird

A cartoon bird flaps its wings
in a doodle as old as dirt
Looking high and low for perch
across a glum-looking portrait

In a wood and canvas canoe
I drift along the bird
Looking for shiny moorage
by a phony familiar island

I forget what season it is
as I chase the cartoon bird
I wade on,
as it soars, abstracted by the trail

As it reaches a tiny garden
to halt upon a fig sprig
Kissing wasps on a fruit
gape at the bird’s beak

Figs deny to grow in winter
shy of sky-smelling snows
Adam and Eve robed in leaflets
once rambled about the sky

The bird pierced a lilac fig
to jab a wasp deep in it
Drupe is often confect
for the lover lives inside

© Sameer

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lest we forget

Yeh kiska lahu, kaun mara
ai rahabar mulko kaum bata

~Whose blood is this, who died?
Oh leader of my nation, speak up

[My translation of Sahir Ludyanvi’s verse lines]

Word was out, like a lion that hadn’t eaten for days. Early Monday morning three gunmen had barged into the Lake view home of Kashmir’s Mirwaiz – Chief preacher and spiritual leader to more than five and a half million Kashmiri Muslims – and went straight to Maulvi Muhammad Farooq’s alcove. The men had the mental maps worked out and knew exactly where to find the high priest.

A hugely influential but controversial leader, Maulvi Farooq was quite urbane and classy. He would appear in Srinagar’s historical Jamia Mosque at noon-time on Fridays clad in an intricately embroidered gown and a Karakul cap with trademark black glasses. A thousand eyes would look at him in awe as he slowly ambled towards the pulpit of the 600-year old perfumed prayer hall, ornate in exquisite Indo-Saracenic architecture. All 370 wooden pillars in the mosque stood upstanding. The chandeliers pendulated.

But when have gun-barrels respected superior lineages? The men, who entered the Mirwaiz house, on May 21, 1990, pushed their way into his study and even before the 11th Mirwaiz of Kashmir could understand what was happening, a volley of bullets hit him. Centuries old reverence was brutally violated. Always pro-Pakistan, Maulvi Farooq had recently fallen out of favor with the hardliners. A meeting with India’s Kashmir affairs minister and subsequently calling the kidnapping of Rubiya Sayed ‘un-Islamic’ acted as an immediate provocation.

By the time the reverend was wheeled to the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, a hospital ironically named after his bete-noire Sheikh Abdullah, with fifteen gun-wounds to his head, chest, stomach and legs, Mirwaiz was dead. Kashmir’s grand abbot was no more, slaughtered by his erstwhile followers. Irate crowds began to gather outside the hospital as news got around. Governor Jagmohan – recently dispatched to tame Kashmiris – got into a huddle with his security advisors at Raj Bhawan, a few kilometers away. Indignation rained.

There was some scuffle over Mirwaiz’s dead body. The hospital authorities were hesitant to hand it over. People took forcible control of the slain leader’s body and carried it in a procession through downtown Srinagar. The crowd swelled as more and more people joined the cortege. Sloganeering hastened. Women wailed. Near the Islamia College of science and commerce, located at Hawal, the 69th battalion of CRPF intercepted the marchers. Suddenly, skittish like stupefied horses, troopers aimed their guns on the mourners. A curtain of fire followed. 57 innocent people were cut to an instant death.

The pallbearers were all dead. Mirwaiz’s body fell off the coffin, on the road. Two more bullets hit his mortal remains. The air was rent with terrifying screams and more bullets, which seemed to ricochet off the walls and hit even more people. In less than three minutes, the funeral procession was reduced to a pile of dead. The road outside the college resembled a concentration camp, with bodies scattered all over, a blood-soaked coffin, hundreds of slippers, bedaubed in blood.

There are conflicting reports about what happened afterwards: Eye-witnesses who spoke to foreign media said that as soon as the CRPF guns fell silent (having exhausted their ammunition), around six to seven men -- from the procession -- collected Mirwaiz’s body from the roadside and placed it in the coffin. By all accounts they ran with the casket to Mirwaiz’s office. The cleric was later laid to rest in Srinagar’s Martyr’s graveyard. Those who perished in the blood-bath were buried the same day. Sometimes in history mourners can swiftly become mourned.

Ironically the man alleged to have led the hit squad to assassinate the Mirwaiz, Abdullah Bangroo, was killed less than a month later by troopers. In an atmosphere as malefic and morbid as Kashmir it is hard to sift through the official and unofficial versions. Often both are contradictory. Call it a quirk of fate, Abdullah Bangroo lies buried very close to Mirwaiz's tomb in the Martyr’s cemetery in Srinagar.

No one was ever charged or punished for the May 21 killings. Governor Jagmohan, under whose watch the mass murder took place, never showed any remorse.

Blood, bought for a song.

© Sameer

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Our Catch-22

So what is making news in Kashmir, my editor habitually asked me. 'Hmm, Kashmir is calm', I ran on. And before my super-rich boss could even begin the thought process of asking his pretty personal assistant to book him the next business class – for a quick air-trip to the valley -- I chipped in: 'but the calm takes no time to turn into a storm'. The look on his face suggested that I grounded his flight before it took-off. That is, I think, our reality. We are a riddle. There is a lull, like when a bomb goes off. Who knows what comes next?

When we are not on a strike or obsessed with the latest encounter story, we like to watch cricket. Everyone is a Pakistan supporter.
I am startled sometimes. If it was only about religion then India has had its share of Pataudis, Azharduddins, Kaifs and Pathans. It is not about faith. There is some profound, archaic, incomprehensible obsession with Pakistan that while not many in Kashmir would like the idea of Zardari as their president, they would root for Team Pakistan.

Brings to my mind an occasion in my childhood in Kashmir. On August 15 – India’s Independence day – for many years in the 1990’s the Indian army mandated that every bus, car, horse-carriage, motor-bike and bicycle should have a little flag of India. This was to show-case our ‘Indian-ness’ as also massage the soldiers’ ego, who took some perverse pleasure at the sight of independence-seeking citizenry carrying the tri-color flag. There was a strange irony to it. For many it was forced love, like unwilling love-making.

Quite unbeknownst to my friend, a resident of Srinagar, who lived in the US and home for holidays, the show, was on. He decided to pay us a visit. Since his car had no flags slapped on it, he was flagged down by troopers near the Sopore Bridge and asked to step out. A handsome army officer in his 30’s asked for his identity papers. An explanation was sought for the act of disobedience. My pal produced his American passport which had the desired effect. And I don’t frankly know about the flag business, he said in his rather honest defence.

The officer smiled and spoke in polite English and explained that putting up an Indian flag in these parts on August 15 is as important as vermicelli [a sweet pasta like dish called seviyan in India and Pakistan] on Eid. So get a flag, the officer grinned as he handed his passport back. I’ll, my friend responded, as he hopped back into his car, ‘but officer’ he shouted just as the captain began to turn his back: ‘our hearts are green. And we don’t eat seviyan on Eid.
Kashmiris don’t have a sweet tooth’.

The paradox stays. A local boy topped India’s elite civil services recently. Everyone and their uncle congratulated one another. A Kashmiri had done them proud. The stereotype had been broken, the pigeon-hole dismantled, the myth shattered. So everyone danced in the rain. Same evening when Pakistan played their T-20 match against England, lots of prayers must have gone up for the men in green. Head says India, the heart whistles: Pakistan.

It is our Catch-22. We are complex.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Past prairies full of dewy grass
on a hummock east of sunrise
Next to boughs laden with cherry
in the rouge of concealed groves
Far from a million churlish noises
where stillness strokes the soul
Beyond the bounds of barley fields
deep in woods of rose-ringed parakeet
In the land of shiny caterpillars
cocooned from the ogre-ish uproar
Across streamlets with slippery cobblestones
underneath cliffs of last year’s snow
There is a hint of hope
and it is stark

© Sameer

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Stone Age

A slapdash stone hit someone in Srinagar. The gent dropped dead. The mob dissipated. Newsmen rushed to the spot. There was hyper-activity on FaceBook. Boom was lowered. Syed Ali Shah Geelani was swiftly blamed, like an arrow that flies off a sharp archer’s bow. Omar Abdullah thought Geelani was solely responsible. His online devotees seemed to agree. Delhi-based television channels ran tickers that read: Geelani’s stone-throwers kill a man. Not the one to take it lying down Geelani came back with a quick explication: Job of Omar’s henchmen/India’s agents/elements bent to defame the freedom struggle. The verbal warfare was last continuing.

In reality Geelani – white as a druid – had called for a symbolic walk to the office of the meaningless United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan [UNMOG] in Gupkar. Bored military personnel from Chile, Croatia, Philippines, Korea and Uruguay are stationed at UNMOG. God knows, no one ever listens to these countries, leave alone, military observers on deputation from these countries. Kashmiris must have submitted a million memoranda in the last sixty years to the observers. The surprised blue-capped officers would step out of their sleepy office, over-hung by Chinar trees, and gingerly accept our pleas from inside the iron-grilled gate. No one knows what they did to our heart-felt epistles. That is still a multi-lateral mystery. Recycling can’t be ruled out.

The freshest march didn’t materialize. The separatists were arrested and released in the evening. These days no march is allowed. The million strong processions during the Amarnath land row were a chink in the armor, which exposed the state. Wary, the government does not permit more than four persons to assemble without reason, except for rented NC workers, who are ferried from Srinagar suburbs to wave little red plastic flags of the party – for example when Mrs Gandhi makes a sudden air-dash to Srinagar or when Omar wants to practice his Urdu-like Kashmiri. Democracy is very subjective. It does not ensure liberty to all. Or always.

Right now Madame Mufti sounds more separatist than the separatists themselves. Fearful that she may step on their sacred space, the pro-freedom blokes avoid her like bubonic plague. Over and over again they remind her that her dad as India’s home minister unleashed the hideous looking Jagmohan on Kashmir. With cold-calculated-cruelty governor Jagmohan went on to order the great purge that antagonized generations of Kashmiris. The year was 1989. Twenty one years later Kashmiris remember it like yesternight. The Muftis may be avowed adversaries of the Abdullahs, but for most plebeians, both are quislings.

Political divides aside the Kashmiri romance with stone throwing -- coming back to the latest frenzy – styled on the Palestinian Intifada has lost all its luster. True it used to be the weapon of the dispossessed – the oppressed – against the powerful, and hence lit upon huge symbolism in the conflict years. The defiance has now been sadly dented, notwithstanding what Geelani says. It is mobocracy. Random men, out on the streets on the drop of a hat, half-bricks, flints and cherts in hand, don’t seek instant-Azadi. They enjoy a field day. The adrenaline rush leads only to stone age.

© Sameer