Monday, December 31, 2012

The year that was

The world didn’t end in 2012. Silly Mayans. Although panic gripped Kashmir in December following gossip that cosmic rays from Mars will enter Earth, perhaps somewhere between Gupkar and Dalgate, leading to harmful effects on mobile users. God knows who spins these old wives tales in our neck of woods but they always travel thick and fast. Such was the alacrity of the rumour that the office of Kashmir’s divisional commissioner had to step in, late at night, to allay any fears of mass paranoia. Behavioral scientists later attributed it to an early winter condition called ‘afvah-mongeritis’, a hallucinatory condition, brought about by Kangris. It goes away in a few days.

Displaying our frenzilicious appetite for all things horrible, we got into a Shiite-Sunni Twenty-20 in 2012. Both Shias and Sunnis thought, in their infinite wisdom, that the state was in league with the ‘other’ community. There was such vile posturing. Flabbergasted, the administration quickly imposed curfew in nine police station areas in the city. The university postponed its exams and the usual blame game begun. All opinion polls suggested, what Geelani Saab had prophesized when the first stone was flung: handiwork of the agencies. It is a time-tested Kashmiri euphemism for our own ‘imbecility’.

In the year bygone cooking gas became a rare commodity. Serpentine queues to fetch a gas capsule became routine in Kashmir. With an acute shortage of more than 6000 LPG cylinders per day, many rued the day they dismantled their mud hearths, a central feature in all Kashmiri homes, not too long ago. Alas the advent of cell-phones and disposable incomes dulled many a heads in Srinagar and other semi-urban places and people started doing away with good old fireplaces. There was some romanticism in saying ‘hearth and home’. Not any more. Now keep standing in the damn queue while it snows on you.

The beautiful shrine of Dastageer Saab went up in flames one fine morning last year. The 200-year-old sanctuary, located at Khanyar in old city, was entirely made of wood. The desecration came as a rude shock. How could someone put a match to our heritage? Accident or vandalism – the jury is still out but what an utter disgrace that our cultural history is being torpedoed right in front of our eyes. No one might ever know who committed this crime but a spiritual watering hole to hundreds of thousands cannot be extirpated by such acts of hate. Dastageer continues to live on in the hearts of countless.

Towards the year-end the Hurriyat (Mild) got busy, packing their bags for Pakistan. They broke bread with everyone -- from Bilawal’s dad to Imran Khan and returned home the other day to declare the trip a huge success. There is a speculation – and it would only be a stab in dark – that the visit had the Indian blessing. God knows what’s cooking behind the scenes? At the Institute of Strategic Studies of Islamabad, Pakistan’s top think-tank funded by the foreign office, Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat, clad in a funny blue cape, was at his melodramatic best. He told a serious audience that even if we have to cut each others noses, it should be done in such a fashion that we should look better than before. Prof Shireen Mazari, editor of The Nation and one of Pakistan’s top strategists, had a confused look for days afterwards, I am told.

And for all you news-floozies out there, a new luxe hotel has come up in Gulmarg. The Khyber: Himalayan Resort and Spa, owned by the Khyber Group of Industries came up at a whopping Rs 120 crores. JHM, a US Hotel group, which owns the Crown Plaza, Hyatt Regency, Marriot, Renaissance hotels across the globe, is a partner of sorts in the venture. The Khyber Group belongs to the Trumboos of Sopore, our erstwhile next-door neighbors. The price for a room in their uber-luxury hotel oscillates between Rs 14,500 to 1,05000 per night.

On that rather upscale note, wishing you a happy New Year.

PS: Snow, pherans, old kotchas, familiar laughter, naar kangir, naedir monja, old friends, vaan penji. Simple pleasures in life are still priceless.

© Sameer
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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Remembering BB

Five years since Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. The absence of one the sub-continent’s most charismatic, controversial and captivating leaders is like sky, spread over everything. Her tainted hubby who went on to become Pakistan’s Prez has old foes breathing down his neck. The same men who bumped off Benazir continue to run amok, killing innocent bystanders. Her son, the baby-faced, shrill-sounding Bilawal is set to be anointed later today. As if leadership were a heirloom. Nothing ever changes in Pakistan!

At the end of one of her interviews – way back in late 80’s – Benazir was asked if the popular supposition was correct: that if and when she supplanted General Zia-ul-Haq [Pakistan’s ex-military dictator], she would become the first woman to rule a Muslim country. "Quite true," she said and then remembered that a Queen Raziyya [Raziyya Sultan] had ruled the Delhi sultanate in the 13th century.

I checked the reference. According to history, the queen had been "wise, just and generous" and endowed with all the qualities befitting a king. "But she was not born of the right sex, and so, in the estimation of men, all these virtues were worthless."

Eventually men had murdered her.

I hope Mohtarma rests in eternal peace amidst the mango fragrance of the beautiful Pakistan countryside.


Updated, Dec 27, 2012

Sunday, December 09, 2012

We, the 93 per cent

In many's looks,
the false heart's history is writ in moods,
and frowns, and wrinkles strange
~Sonnet 93, William Shakespeare
English playwright and poet (1564-1616)

Sonnet 93 is one of Shakespeare's famed sonnets addressed to a mysterious fair youth. Our local fair youth brigade -- read Messrs Omar and dad Farooq Abdullah – are currently blushing at the 93 percent polling recorded in the state for the four Legislative Council (LC) seats held under the rural local bodies’ quota. Despite prevailing threats from some quarters and a general atmosphere of intimidation, it appears that the Panchs overwhelmingly decided to get in a democratic queue. The icing on the cake was the four by four victory lap by the NC-Congress combine.

Notably the election to these seats was last held in the 1970s. No wonder the intelligence apparatus and the security grid in the valley are happy like clams in butter sauce, congratulating each other. It is after a long, long hiatus that the government is in a position to fill up the LC seats under the Panchayat quota. Apprehensions that some members might boycott the polls after the recent killing of five Panchs and Sarpanchs by unknown gunmen, and the late summer calls for the headmen to resign, have apparently fallen through. The belief in democratic process, it appears, just like the seasonal Harisa, has returned to Kashmir.

The problem is not with so many council folk turning up in large numbers to vote. The image being carefully cultivated, and the one that immediately goes out, is that elections – of any stripe – are in a circuitous way some tacit approval of India’s rule in Kashmir. The fact that the Panchayat polls are being held like a direct contest between the National Conference-Congress coalition (notwithstanding the gibberish Sheikh Nazir and Mustafa Kamal keep regurgating) and the Peoples DemocraticParty (PDP) is not lost to many. The rightwing BJP contested all four seats.

In the meantime, Hurriyet Conference, headed by Syed Ali Geelani called for a boycott of the polls. Not because in his mid-80s, the old man takes some perverse pleasure in making these appeals. There is perhaps a larger point he is trying to make. Elections, in a disputed geography like Kashmir, seldom solve anything. They only lead to an illusion in a bubble. Alas false hope is a terrible thing. Rest assured, the 93 percent turn-over and all the associated sound of progress shall soon be sold as signs of creeping normalcy.

Pertinently everyone wants to give peace a chance but the unraveling of any such initiative requires a political will (not necessarily the will-o'-the-wisp of Prof Gani Bhat and co). If anything these elections seem to be obfuscating, even if temporarily, the dominant narrative in Kashmir. While it is quite convenient to hail democracy and beat poll drums at SKICC, making sure that dissenting voices are effectively locked up in Hyderpora – isn’t exactly fair game. The truth is that the current exercise is simply a part of the existing structure of power in Kashmir and bears no relation to the aspirations of people.

For three decades the polls to the Panchayat quota were not held in Kashmir. Suddenly, as if to prove a point, feelers went out. Campaigning began in all earnestness. Pro-India parties started the usual election-time bickering. And on December 6, the results were announced with much fanfare. Self-congratulation climaxed while everything evaporated in the background. A day after the elections, New Delhi based newspapers were quick to note that the contest in Kashmir assumes significance as it is being considered the litmus test for the 2014 assembly elections.

The game, it appears, has just begun. God knows how much does a plateful of Harisa cost at Aali Kadal these days!

© Sameer
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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Fight

It is the onset of winters and we have gotten busy, I am told, slugging it out to decide which one the two -- Sunnis or Shiites -- has a better Muslim soul. And the faithful can go bonkers in trying to prove that their belief has some divine sanction while 'otherising' the godawful deviant. Unmind of the ludicrousness taking place in down town Srinagar, heavens opened up last night and it rained. Nature has its own ways and means of pissing at human witlessness.

How I love the sound of ceaseless tapping made by a million tiny rain globs! Like some ancient aqua dance. Nature is an orchestra conductor with a magical wand-in-hand. An unseen choirmaster to whom the clouds bobble. Winds blow. Plants prance. Like tiny teardrops, which are beautiful, glistening and innocent, rains come.

I like to walk in rain. When it rains on humans it cleans up many dusty layers and cuts through the cobwebs. I imagine old chimneys happily piping up smoke in a distance. I think about a flock of swallows fluttering somewhere in a frenzy, caught up in the rain, looking for some dry perch.

When it is dark and cloudy outside, I’m oft transfixed by lightning -- the ferocious signature of God on his palimpsest. In red ink. Like a furious school teacher, signing a poor marks sheet. In red. Cross at us for some archaic reason. Don’t we do our home work well enough?

It is end November and it is raining. On our new found bitterness. On stones lying about in Zadibal. On Sunni mosques. On the homes of the Hurriyet. On Taj's ill-gotten farms. On half-constructed aspirations. On bunkers with ugly slits in them. On Shaheed marguzars. On bare cherry trees.

It is raining. In-to our old miseries. In large puddles. In the begging bowls of the homeless who have nowhere to go. In desolate alleys. In the hollow of our prayers. In the crevices of our history.

Early winter rain. How genial.

© Sameer
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Saturday, November 10, 2012

The gaseous state

The winter is coming, like they say in the massively popular fantasy television series Game of Thrones. It is November, and winter is coming to keep its date with the valley. Soon it will be cold as a witch’s tit in Srinagar and elsewhere and everyone will be wearing those god awful Chinese ear muffs, especially brothers from the transport fraternity. One can imagine mini-bus conductors hanging precariously low on the edge of their respective vehicle doors, their aquiline noses red with the winter chill, red ear-muffs on, hollering, ‘Lal Bazar, Lal Bazar’. There is something bleakly cosy about the winter in Kashmir.

Blokes in the Press Enclave, fellow foot-soldiers defending the fortress of journalism in the world’s most militarized zone, would naturally hate to leave the fort with its hot rusty furnaces, locally called Bukharis, during winter. Outside, mile long queues of ordinary folk will assemble to get their gas cylinders re-filled. Curiously in the first two decades of the Tehreek, many thought that ‘cylinder’ is what rogue militants do, when cornered by Indian troopers. Those were innocent days and no one bothered to tell apart surrender from cylinder. Now there is no one left to surrender and cylinders are in such short supply!

Such is the scarcity of gas that Kashmir’s ruling clan recently went into a huddle and decided – in a great sign of magnanimity – to give up their additional gas connections. Omar was the first one to announce the voluntary abandonment of his two gas capsules. Anyways he looks a tad frail these days, making you wonder if he really eats at night, let alone use the gas capsule for cooking. Next Dr Farooq, noted for his voracious appetite, stepped out to surrender his extra gas cylinders. Many National Conference workers assembled outside Gupkar on this somber occasion had tears in eyes. Renunciation is no mean feat.

Doctor sahib was heard telling folks that soon Kashmiris will realize why he was made the minister of gobar gas. If the present condition prevails the day is not far when everyone will have to go back to good old style stone and mud-fire also called ‘Daan’ locally and burn gobar and firewood. This may worry a lot of people who decided to do away with the Daan system with the advent of gas and electricity. Little did they know that modernity signifies the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art of which the other half is the eternal and the immutable.

A gas heater cannot, I repeat cannot, vanquish a naar Kangir. Ever.

© Sameer
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Saturday, October 06, 2012

Mirror mirror who's the fairest of the two: Rahul or Omar?

Rahul will soon become PM: Farooq Abdullah

The archduke of Indian Nation Congress, a pretty boy named Rahul Gandhi, is the latest benefactor-angel to turn up in Srinagar after the great metrosexual SRK. Like SRK, he too has Kashmiri ancestry (verified by the crystal-gazer-in-chief Farooq Abdullah). Armed with a Gandhi pedigree in each pocket of his white Kurta and a disarming dimpley-smile (partially hidden under stubble) he is camping in Kashmir University campus these days, preaching the virtues of trust to our Generation-next. Alas, trust is the only entity, Kashmiris seem to be falling short of, while dealing with India.

Ironically most of the distrust can be directly traced to Rahul’s great granddad, another great Pundit of his times – Jawahar Lal Nehru, India’s first PM. He too came in peace and extended an olive branch. The camaraderie was legend. In many long walks that he took with Sheikh Abdullah on the Boulevard -- while the autumn moon shone bright and Dal had fewer weeds -- he spoke words of honor and hope. The great Sheikh nodded like a shy bride. Nehru looked gracious and pleased in what looked like a frame from a romantic film; one that was too good to be true. Kashmiris soon learnt that if something is too good to be true, it most certainly isn’t.

When the Nehru-Gandhi scion says in his dainty English that he wants to be pally with Omar, the archduke of National Congress, just like Nehru was brotherly with Sheikh Abdullah in the days of yore, there is a deep sense of déjà vu. It all feels like we have seen this film before and remember all the dialogues before they are even uttered. Why does it feel that way? The most mocking part of the act is the progeny of Sheikh Abdullah are the ones who are clapping the hardest. Ofcourse there is a rented mob also (usually gathered by one of the local MLAs, hence proving his worth to the party) that makes a loud hitting noise on these occasions. Such blatant expunging and selective amnesia of Kashmir's recent history is indeed a film -- a tragicomedy.

Newspapers are replete with pictures of Omar and Rahul in Valentine smiles, eyes meeting each other half way and more flames. The party sidekicks, in rare bonhomie, seem to be having those mental feuds: who’s more charming of the two? Then there is Farooq Abdullah, the master of ceremonies, jumping around, never failing to call himself in third person singular: Farooq, Farooq. Occassionally he turns to Omar and utters those magical words: Omar, you are doing well, hold on fast! Not like me; like your grandpa. And feeling wise, he gives Rahul that sweet avuncular look before regurgitating the ‘You will be the PM prediction’. Wish someone told the good doctor that asking ‘Is the Pope a Catholic?’ isn’t exactly wisdom.

© Sameer
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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The lion sleeps tonight

No other topic bisects Kashmiris right down the middle as much as the legacy of one man -- six foot and four inches tall. Commonly referred to as the ‘Lion of Kashmir’ by most National Conference wallas, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah is considered something of a male Lady Macbeth by countless others. A complex character, he attempted to climb Mt Greatness (and did reach quite high) but sadly stumbled somewhere along the trek to the summit. While lions are not known to live for more than a decade in the wild, Sher-i-Kashmir survived several jungles and jails. His cubs continue to live in a nice little den under the foothills of Zabarwan to this day. No, they didn’t become lions.

Sheikh Abdullah can best be described as a paradox who knew his Iqbal well. Kashmiris taking a walk along the Chinar bagh near Haft Chinar, Srinagar, in days bygone, often stumbled across Chinar leaves with Sheikh’s name clearly visible on both sides. Of course it was part of the myth-making around the man who was part anti-India, part pro-India, a Prime Minister now, a Chief Minister some other time, Nehru’s pal, Nehru’s foe, sleeping in Nehru’s bedroom at Teen Murti Bhavan one season to fighting swarms of mosquitoes in Kotla Lane jail the other. Like his persona, the inheritance of Sher-i-Kashmir is deeply split.

How does one attempt to remember a man who challenged the might of the last Dogra feudatory at a time when entire villages were taken for bonded labour? Heck, you can’t even begin to place a leader who sets up the Plebiscite Front, telling a stunned India fearlessly that it should hold referendum in Kashmir under the auspices of the United Nations (Yes, pretty much what Mr Geelani says these days). Imagine the dent in the collective pride of millions after years of political struggle and broken promises, when the Sher-i-Kashmir meekly walks into Indira Gandhi’s rat-trap, also known as the Indira–Sheikh accord. His cubs now publicly say what Kashmiris knew all along: the exercise of the agreement was never actually completed. Less than a year after signing on the dotted line, Madam Gandhi had the Sheikh conveniently removed from power. You see this whole democracy business is somewhat messy, sometimes.

Thirty years after his death (died this week in 1982), one is astonished at his lion-logic that pushed us to these strange crossroads. By what alchemy, one wonders, did the Sheikh expect to change the conviction of Kashmiris? What then explains his volte faces? Was it spunk or silliness that led him to hobnob with Nehru even after the old boy had him thrown into a dungeon for eleven long years? Did he dig his own ideological tomb when he famously gave up Kashmir’s earnest demand for plebiscite? Did he really think that after Nehru’s chicanery, his daughter would accord Kashmiris genuine political space? It is difficult to say, even in hindsight.

So what really did the Sheikh bequeath to us? Was it Farooq Abdullah, the prince boy of good times, whose only claim to fame is that he was born to the right parent? Or was it the plough— a pastoral totem, hugely symbolic of our peasant past and an emblem that Sher-i-Kashmir efficiently tilled our consciousnesses with? Cutting short his first and only Pakistan visit, the Sheikh rushed back to cry at Nehru’s dead bed. Did he willfully dismiss from mind his humiliating arrest in Gulmarg in 1953 on Nehru’s orders? Pray, Krishna Menon, Nehru’s sidekick, famously likened Abdullah to Leon Trotsky. Not surprisingly the way Kashmir’s tallest leader was put out of countenance by the Delhi gang was not too different to what Stalin did to poor old Trotsky, before exiling him to Mexico.

Even if one were to excuse Sheikh’s strung-out flirtation with the Indians, how come he erred majorly in collecting a team, every member of which was a Marcus Junius Brutus in the making? The core team of Bakhshis, DP Dhars, Sadiqs plied Delhi with all the intel that was required on the Sheikh. And when the time came, his very team, trusted lieutenants like Bakhshi, hailed as Khalid-i-Kashmir within the NC (famous for saying all Muslims follow five tenets of Islam, I follow six; the sixth being Sheikh Abdullah’s command) stabbed him in the back. Multiple times.

There is a possibility that Sheikh Abdullah was a secular democrat. IB boss BN Mullick, India’s eyes and ears in Kashmir during Sheikh’s time, thought that Sher-i-Kashmir perhaps envisaged semi-independence for Kashmir. Howbeit most historians are agreed that from the very outset the Sheikh became disillusioned with India’s selective secularism but somehow got on with it. Nehru and co, on the other hand, knew their cards well. They knew exactly how to checkmate the lion with a semi-literate Bakhshi (eight-class pass), who in turn was given a simple brief: glue Kashmir, like a girl, to the couch.

Idealism, it is said, is the despot of thought. If Sheikh Abdullah really felt that independence was a ‘charming thought but academic and impractical’, then why did he wander all the way to Saudi Arabia and Algeria to garner support for Kashmir’s right to self-determination? Why did he seduce an emotional populace with slogans like ‘Throw my body in the Arabian sea, do not bury me in slave country’? A few years thence he simply gets up and concedes that the Instrument of Accession, ratified under the slimy Khalid-i-Kashmir, was no longer subject to challenge, meaning all those demands of plebiscite were nil and void. How many marks for that genius? 370.

Not surprisingly there are those who would say that his lion-roars meant nothing. No matter how earnestly he started off on the promise of delivering Kashmiris on the road to redemption, he ended up badly misjudging the route. His quislings ensured just that. For many he was a lion-heart who truly emancipated the poor with his socialistic zeal, gifting land to the tiller, something the feudal Pakistanis are still unable to do. In the end the Sheikh probably traded lions for lambs.

That September Indira Gandhi (not taking off her designer sunglasses for a millisecond) came for the funeral. Who knows what brought her to Srinagar: schadenfreude or sorrow? The Sheikh’s body was wrapped in a tricolor, perhaps fittingly in some parting thank you gesture from India. A million Kashmiris marched that afternoon, beating their chests, howling. The lion was dead. It was time to lionize him.

Less than six winters later, Kashmiris rose in a massive armed struggle. Millions marched again. There were no tricolors this time.

© Sameer
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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

SRK and other familiar charms in Srinagar

Kashmir has been hot as a thousand devils this year. Yasin Malik, with his trademark grim grin, thinks that it is due to our sins and the unresolved ‘Maslay Kashmir’. In absence of any metrological connection between sin and the sun, many would say that it could be about the ‘core issue’ only. As both parties – India and Pakistan – get busy with other non-essential stuff, where is the time to follow through on Kashmir? Alas Manmohan Singh, that clean fellow, always spotted in spotless white cotton Kurta Pajamas, turned out to be a coal dealer. Coal, of all the things. No class. Any which way, in Pakistan, the Supreme Court continues to play a game of dumb charades with prime minister’s office and the presidency. Ergo, the stalemate on Kashmir and the unseasonal heat-wave.

Into the sinning little valley of ours, strides the 46-year old heartthrob of India and baadshah of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan. Local papers are totally g-spaced. ‘The King is here’, the biggest English daily in Kashmir screams in a somewhat excitified headline. Since he can play a college kid no more, SRK is playing the next best option, an armyman. So our superstar takes a chopper and all, rappels down in Pahalgam, by the Lidder, gives one of his politically correct quotes (my grandmom is Kashmiri; eh, explains the looks) and lo presto. Peace returns. The Kashmir of Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Barsaat reappears. Where peaches hang on low-lying boughs in orchards and Shammi Kapoor runs furiously in meadows (no, no dogs chasing him). The romance is back in our lives. Everyone should clap.

Since this is the season of returns, there is another ‘Return of the Jedi’. The interlocutors, too, are back: Radha, not a day older than last year with her hair nimbly argentate along with Padgoankar, French in his tastes and Indian by temperament. Since the government of India has decided not to implement anything that the interlocutors painstakingly suggested in their high-profile report ‘A new compact with the people of Kashmir’, another talk-shop will be opened. Only the duo understands the futility of this new exercise. Everyone else has moved on. Chidambaram has since given way to Shinde in the North block. Omar’s Twitter handle has been taken over by his uncle who perhaps forgot the password. Kamal is currently in viva voce mode.

Back in Pahalgam, Yash Chopra is busy filming. A crew of 100 has turned the woods into an extended outdoor film set. Everyone is twinkle-toed. Security is reportedly fool-proof, leaving loads of SRK fanboys, in scores of Tata Sumos, very heart-broken. It is, sort of, tragic that a middle-aged Muslim star with a local grandmom should not be allowed to meet his well-wishers. There might be a secret agency hand involved in this step-motherly treatment meted out to the valleyites. Not everyday do people get to climb on top of a bus in Kashmir to catch fleeting glimpse of a star who plays an armyman (whether or not the character enjoys immunity under AFSPA being wholly immaterial here).

In related news, an eleven-year-old student was arrested -- and subsequently let off on bail -- in Srinagar for indulging in violence against cops on the eve of Eid. By law anyone under 18 is a minor. One thing is sure: 11 is the first number which cannot be counted with a human's ten fingers. Why the spectacle? India’s own Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act states that publication of a child’s name or picture in any newspaper, magazine, news-sheet or visual media that may lead to the identification of the juvenile is not allowed. Clearly someone is not following the law.

Law is for the lawless, the Bible says. For the time being hoteliers and hawkers near Dal lake are planning to get their act together and write to Yashji to film on the famed Boulevard with SRK for a few minutes, atleast.

Everyone deserves a chunk of the peace pie.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sick notes

I am a little unwell. Nothing much, just going through the throes, I guess. Happens from time to time. And then it goes away. Lets say one is in no mood to be mischievous, for a change. 

I eavesdropped on someone saying no expectations, perhaps in a dream. I know the words. I recall the exacting meaning they convey. There seems to be a dash of restrain, some amount of agony and a delicate sprinkling of logic to them. It provides the person a perfect get-away. A clean-chit. You can’t blame. You can’t complain. You can’t look askance. Period.

In hindsight it is perhaps not a bad idea not to expect. Unnecessarily you lose sleep. You begin to dream half dreams. You begin to care. You tend to be protective. Quick reveries occur to you. Suddenly you feel tasked. You start liking daffy things. That is what darned expectations can do to you.

Dale Carnegie, one of the biggest thinking heads of his times, once told a massive audience: When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion. Somewhere Carnegie attempts – and probably manages to – put his finger on the exact mash. That is because all instances of sharing, every act of laughter, whenever we shout, when we canoodle -- unknowingly we are forking out a slice of that sacred sentiment, called emotion. Logic comes in much much later.

Then there is a soft globule in most of us. Plebeians call it heart. It is forever inexperienced. We may attempt to grow. Grow up. Grow rich. Grow wise. Grow smart but the heart always remains naive. It stays captive to memories. 

In reality life is hard. Mean. Unpredictable. The unreal is often more powerful than the real, because reality is not always real. Without meaning to sound philosophical, it would be safe to assume that all perceptions of reality are just opinions.

You look for support, camaraderie, comfort, love. There are times when you aren’t looking for anything in particular and suddenly you have it. Such sudden, magnificent relations often offer you the confidence to walk on the defenses of your own heart. The matchless moments you think you might spend playing pranks. The circumlocutory silly philosophizing that you would like to spray each other with. The unmooned darkness you reckon – foolishly –can be deciphered together. But people move on, wittingly and unwittingly. Remembrance grows on yew trees.

Bernard Shaw was an influential thinker of his times and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. He wrote to his friend:

I hope you have lost your good looks, for while they last any fool can adore you, and the adoration of fools is bad for the soul. No, give me a ruined complexion and a lost figure and sixteen chins on a farmyard of crow's feet and an obvious wig. Then you shall see me coming out strong.

I dreamt last night that your heart was my piñata. I am sure vocabs aren't always good. You might have to look up for Piñata!


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tales from the valley

When the attendance in mosques starting thinning out and people start speculating whether Ramadhan is going to be 29 or 30 days, you should safely assume that Eid is around the corner. A report in the much respected Business Standard -- the other day -- stated that an average Kashmiri household will consume six kilos of mutton on Eid. Devils shall be unlocked and immediately possess mortals. The queues outside butcheries and poultry-walas are going to be long. Bakeries will work all through the night. Suddenly everything shall be more expensive. Men will flock to Eid-gahs in new Kameez-Yazars. Only poor Mr Geelani will stay at home.

The little debate over whether Mr Geelani is free to go around or stays perpetually incarcerated in his home refuses to die. Media reports suggest that despite the Goebbelsian spin, Omar – with those cute blue eyes – is fibbing. You see it is a simple scheme: let him go attend the funeral of an old friend – to give out an impression of some democratic layout -- but don’t let him in the mosque across the road. Who knows what dangerous ideas he preaches the peaceful this Ramadhan?

Curiously when I visited Kashmir this summer and went to meet the ageing leader, he appeared quite prim even at an early hour. Mr Geelani sat on an austere sofa surrounded by books in English and Urdu. In absence of a bookmark he had turned a corner page of one book to enable him to return to it with ease. A keen listener, Mr Geelani allows you the space to talk and nods along even as you mildly criticize some of his positions. I was respectful of the gap in our age; the leader being more than five decades older. Mr Geelani’s ideas, it turns out, are both intuitive and sharp. Ofcourse the cops were there, to ensure that none of those ideas come out.

Meantime in related developments, the bickering between mainstream political parties has suddenly spiraled. Is it due to fasting or some bad omen -- in the shape of Prof Soz’s tooth-brush moustache -- could not be immediately known. Apparently Kashmir’s first family – the much venerable Abdullahs -- has unleased their motor-mouth son, Mustapha Kamal, to drown anyone from Mr Geelani to the opposition PDP in verbal-carnage of the worst manner. Mufti Sayeed, the other claimant to Kashmir’s throne, is naturally finding it hard to duck the volleys. Poor Dr Koul and Mehbooba Mufti are no match to Kamal. He is like the Usain Bolt of valley’s dirty political track.

Oh, and, there was this wooden bridge over Dal lake in the interiors of Srinagar that collapsed when some government babu and an entourage of cops and mohalla elders and a few stray dogs crossed it – all at the same time, perhaps to inspect the structure. Everyone fell into the lake, the commissioner, the cops, their guns and the party of elders. The dogs howled madly and bystanders promptly dived in to save the group. Since the chief minister has gone mum on Twitter, it would have been nice to vex him with some mid-Ramadhan ribbing.

The little wooden bridge stays broken as August 15 dawns. It may remain unusable till the next Eid, God knows. Now is the time for sharp salutes. The security grid must be antsy. Omar will salute the flag in Srinagar while someone will do the honors in Jammu. New Delhi will smile a benign smile. A rented crowd will clap. Be as it may, Kashmiris will busy themselves for Laylat al-Qadr or the Night of Value. They shall pray for freedom.

© Sameer
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Friday, July 13, 2012

Kashmir's defiance day

July 13 is the closest we have to a national defiance day. It marks the beginning of our assertion as pretenceless, independence-seeking, audacious people. Most historians agree that on July 13, 1931 the sky was tenderly overcast in Srinagar and there had also been a dust storm that morning. But no tempest could stop the fervor in the hearts of people, who had gathered outside the Central Jail in Srinagar. They wanted an open trial for the mystery man – Qadir – who was being tried by the Dogra ruler’s [Hari Singh] kangaroo court.

Qadir, now relegated to the margins of Kashmir’s vicissitudinary history, still has historians confounded. Most chroniclers of our nation’s narrative cannot agree on where he came from or what happened to him after July 13, 1931. All we know of him is that he was a butler to Major Abet, a British army officer, British Resident in Kashmir. On June 21, 1931 Qadir gave a rousing speech to hundreds of assembled men at Khankah-Mohallah in Srinagar. Kashmir had never seen such upfrontry. Pointing to the Maharaja’s palace in the Zabarwan foothills, Qadir hollered the famous words: Demolish the edifice of injustice, cruelty and subjugation.

The immediate provocation was the desecration of the Holy Quran by Maharaja's troopers in April that year. The Dogra feudatories would often treat Kashmiris like shit and had no regard whatsoever for their faith. A huge resentment was already brewing against the vainglorious rulers for years of persecution and all it needed was a sharp spark. Infact people had assembled to find a way to channelize their sentiment on the June day when Qadir gave that fiery speech. Before he spoke, a committee was formed to continue the fight against the Dogra oppression. Seven wise men were selected: Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Sa’ad-ud-Din Shawl, Mirwaiz Moulvi Yusuf Shah, Mirwaiz Ahmadullah Hamdani, Aga Syed Hussain Jalali, Munshi Shuhab-ud-Din, and Khwaja Ghulam Ahmad Ashai. [Yes Mirwaiz’s and Omar’s grand-dads too. We share a collective legacy, don’t we?]

Four days later Maharaja’s men zeroed in on Qadir and put him in chains. He was swiftly charged with sedition and waging war against the state [yes the same sections of the Ranbir Penal Code, Omar still slaps on the pro-Freedom guys]. Qadir was to be tried on July 13, 1931. But he had already kindled a fire, which was going to consume Kashmir, in its enticing warmth.

Around noon, as more and more people encircled the Central Jail in Srinagar, Maharaja’s troopers panicked. Matchlock guns were cocked. People refused to budge, demanding the release of Qadir. Never before in almost 350 years [since the Mughal annexation in 1586; the vain rule ended 1753] was such an angry defiance palpable in the airs of Srinagar. Soon gunshots pierced the rebellion. Khaliq Shora, a feisty man from Srinagar, was the first man to fall. Kashmir had its first martyr. Crimson blood spilled. Twenty seven others died. Two women among the martyrs. Scores lay injured. The magnitude of Dogra brutishness was such that no one attended to the injured hours after they were shot.

July 13 marked an epoch in our assertion of a bold, new, chivalrous defiance. Hitherto called cowards and slaves, Kashmiris rose to the occasion and attempted to storm the ugly walls of tyranny, just like the French did in Bastille, on July 14, 1789. Sadly we couldn’t breach the walls.

What was to follow was a murky trapeze that involved a series of compromises and deceits and charades. And as years went by the committee constituted in Khankah mohallah to take the struggle to its logical conclusion split. The Mirwaizs went their way, the Sheikh ofcourse we all know, walked into the glory-land, only to fall later. Ever since both sides have staked a claim to Kashmir’s past, its martyrs, its patch-work history. Both have dibs on a sentiment which in reality belongs to no one person. It is a collective legacy.

It was a spontaneous, collective act of rebellion, of revolution, of uprising which was to give an impetus to Kashmir’s centuries old yearning for freedom. Not that we were not rebels before but July 13 perhaps made revolutionaries out of us.

And we were never ever the same.

 © Sameer
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Monday, June 25, 2012

Who set our shrines aglow?

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 Gilan province in Persia is lush green. It is called the city of rain. A beautiful river known as Haraz flows quietly nearby. Nearly a thousand years ago, one fine morning, an old poet who lived nearby decided to send his emissaries to Kashmir. It was the 11th century, most historians agree. And we were never ever the same. He made Sufis of us all.

Soon enough the old poet became our Dastageer. People started calling him Gaus Al Azam (the Supreme Helper). He travelled in the day, visiting hamlets and hillocks, and wrote at night in beautiful Persian, his elegant prose matching works of such eminences like Imam Ghazali. The mystical universe of Sufism had a new patron saint.

Historians trace Dastageer Sahib’s lineage directly to the last Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, the blessed. Folklore has it that when he was a young man in Gilan, he was sent to study in Baghdad. Since dacoity was common, his mom sewed up 40 gold coins in his jacket. When his caravan was ultimately intercepted by robbers, he was hauled up, like everyone else, and asked to declare what he had on him. Gaus Al Azam truthfully said ‘40 gold coins’.

The dacoits took his honest reply for a kid’s joke and dragged him to their chief, who repeated the same question with a more fearsome growl. Abdul Qadir Jilani said the only thing he ever knew: truth. The dacoits, lore has it, were so impressed by the bright sparkle in his eye that they decided to give up high-way robbery. Ordinary folks, by extension, were totally consumed by Jilani’s message of harmony.

In Srinagar, a grand structure was raised where Dastageer sahib's remarkable philosophy was preached. Two beautifully calligraphed handwritten copies of the Qur’an adorned the mosque, which was done up in grand trellis work. The blend of Persian and Kashmiri architecture created a splendid floral motif with exquisite calligraphy on the walls and carved pillars. Bohemian songs reverberated in this abode of love each year.

Born in a tiny Mazandaran village, Dastageer sahib is buried at a shrine in Baghdad. A poet, who wasn't born here, didn't come to Kashmir but somehow mystically helped us fathom love and tolerance. No wonder Kashmiris enmasse soaked up both his philosophy and message of fellowship.

Boatsmen in the Dal lake, when the winds are sometimes fast, and waves appear dangerous, hold their oars in air and holler: Ya Peer Dastageer.

And we just lost that token of love. The spiritual watering hole of millions. In Khanyar.

Like so many other memories, dear and profound to us, we lost another chunk of our heritage, our innocence, our past. We must indeed be a sad lot.

© Sameer
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Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Moslems are coming

Azad Essa is a very rare tribe. With an unusual chutzpah, he dons several hats: that of an Al-Jazeera journalist, blogger and a keen observer of peoples and cultures around the globe. It is not surprising that his first book ‘The Moslems are coming’ cuts through the usual fakery about the most pressing issues that confront us. In simple words the book has balls.

Divided into seven major chapters, each of which is further sub-divided into mini-chapters, Azad launches into a no holds barred account on assorted themes that range from the Burqa ban in France to the brisk business of cricket bats in Kashmir. But what holds the book together is its spiky sense of humor. ‘The Moslems are coming’ is sharp as a tack.

The chapter on Kashmir, which is actually a set of three needle-like blogs, is simply dubbed ‘India, Pakistan or Azadi’. The self-explanatory title perhaps tells us much more about the Kashmir conundrum than the joint efforts of Indian bureaucracy in nationalistic ties and media men blabbering away on Kashmir in self-righteous tones, holding somewhat grimy mikes. The essays, as part of Azad’s Kashmir barnstorm, are bluntastically delicious.

Make no mistakes ‘The Moslems are coming’ shoots straight arrows. In the interpolation to the vexed Kashmir problem, something that has intellectuals and policy-makers confounded since the start of mankind, Azad waxes eloquent. ‘What then of a place like Kashmir? Stuck between Western diplomacy and Indian ascendancy, Kashmiri ambitions for national self-determination suit no one. They have little power, little coordination, a disjointed leadership, a history of an armed insurgency and scant media swagger; their cause is like screaming for a lost donkey in the Himalayas.’

So many times I have wondered if we lack a common symbol. Some hornbook or an emblem that we could all feel strongly associated with. We do not have, the truth be told, anything in the tiny valley of ours, which we can relate to, in our quest for whatever we have set out to attain. The author’s hawk-eye notices the void. ‘Of course, Palestine and Tibet, despite their banners, bandannas and flags, are going nowhere rather slowly, but Kashmir does not even have that recognizable paraphernalia one could use to pick up chicks with.’

‘The Moslems are coming’ isn’t hard as nails, though it might appear so, given Azad’s condition, last diagnosed as acute humoroid. There are deadpan serious passages when he writes about a father’s anguish in Kashmir. The son, of course, like thousands of poor Kashmiris has gone missing. A mere statistic for the fat government babus and a perpetual psychological torture for the families who haven't given up hope. It requires a certain humanism to articulate this dichotomy.

May it be the dervish looking poplars of Kashmir, the abandoned homes of Pandits or the fine willow trees lining the valley’s beautiful hamlets, the book skips nothing. Azad’s rendezvous with the owners of willow factories could make sociologists’ green with envy.  How the Himalayan conflict affects the overall cricket bat business in Sangam makes for some very interesting cheese!

‘All we need is for Pakistan to win every series, and we’d do well,' a cricket bat factory owner, somewhere in the heart of Kashmir, confides in the author.  

The head says India, the heart whistles Pakistan. ‘The Moslems are coming’ snorts all scents of the conflict.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why is there no outrage?

More than 359 babies have died in Srinagar's GB Pant hospital in five months. 35 newborns died in the last fortnight alone. This is the city’s only paediatric facility. Mind you we ain’t backward. We have two world-class golf courses in Srinagar. The grass at Royal Springs is of different shades with a famous par-3 fifth, professional 18 hall, par 72 track, besides comfort stations and massage parlours, not to speak of the ultra modern underground sprinkler irrigation. There are only three ventilator machines for more than 1700 patients in the nearby GB Pant. Must we cry or clap.

Newspaper reports quote over-worked doctors saying that asphyxiation has been the cause in almost 98 percent of the deaths reported in the hospital. It is no rocket science. The facility needs more ventilators and staff. Instead it will get red-tape and bureaucracy. It will almost immediately get a thick minister visiting the wards, expressing his sympathies with the bereaved families and praying for eternal peace for the departed souls. Departed souls: What a text-book mortuary tribute!

What about the infants who died? Isn’t it grossly unfair that babies must die in a tourist brochure state, where indigenous civil servants and government ministers outdo each other to be propaganda babies? Why should Kashmir’s lone paediatric hospital be allocated an annual budget of Rs 13 crore only? Some of the homes of senior bureaucrats and ministers cost more than that. Why, even chopper sorties to ferry the CM around (on non-holidaymaking trips) cost much more.

Indeed blame-hammers aren’t helpful when babies are dying in our hospitals for the lack of better infrastructure. But questions haunt: Just why do we need more tulips in the city gardens when we have no ventilators in Srinagar hospitals? Why is there no outrage? Why should the union health minister, a son of soil, not apologize? Why should heads not roll?

Why are we forced to cheer a million tourists when we should be mourning our inefficiency?

© Sameer
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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Noori and I

Kashmiri scientists recently cloned the world’s first Pashmina goat and named her ‘Noori’. Omar Abdullah, of local genus Shera (lion) – a very Kashmiri codification of our political creatures – visited the animal this morning. (Dropping by achievements has historically been classy. Next stop: traffic light at Lal Chowk) The CM got a few pictures taken with Noori in his lap and quickly shared the same on Twitter, captioned: Noori and Me. While puritans would say that ‘Noori and I’ would serve as the compound subject of a sentence and hence a better usage but there are no grammar-fags here. Let’s not get Omar’s goat.

A Bakra (goat) camp has also traditionally existed in Kashmir. The current head is the Mirwaiz in a short boxed beard. It appears that his flock is kicking at each other and not holding together. Apparently an ex Persian professor (who was fired as the Head of the Department of Persian at Baramulla College on charges of corruption in 1986) is bleating the loudest. The classified US embassy in India cables to the state department in the United States (made available by Wikileaks) thus describes the professor: Has little political following in the Valley and has been outside India only twice in his life, a visit to Kathmandu and Pakistan.

The professor, prone to wild gesticulation of hands when he speaks, is backed by Bilal Lone, whom the US embassy calls one of the "four musketeers”. Newspaper reports say that the Mirwaiz-Professor-Lone camp indulged in a verbal slang fest yesterday with Shabir Shah, who as per the confidential cables, regards many of the Hurriyat leaders as "Johnnie come latelies". The meeting to decide if UN is irrelevant or bedrock – to the K-issue, whether to truck with NC-PDP-Congress or go it alone, sadly ended in a lot of yelping and bleating.

Ex-RAW chief AS Dulat, who has loads of friends in Kashmir across the political spectrum and is seen as someone who makes very accurate predictions, like Michel de Nostradamus, recently soothsaid that Hurriyat will participate in the 2014 assembly elections in J&K. That is Hurriyat M (not G. The old man is worth a king's ransom and won’t budge). Omar added to the drama, yesterday by saying, well my dad is on record in the state assembly that if the Hurriyat leaders were ready to contest the elections, the assembly will be dissolved to facilitate their participation. The ping-pong never stops.

Meanwhile scientists at the animal biotechnology center of the Sher-e-Kashmir University who brought Noori into the world say that it could be another six months before the region delivers another clone. Already we have so many clones, one daresay. Why make more? Goats are some of the most curious and independent minded animals, as scientists and ordinary folk would agree. However they have a special characteristic: that of escaping their cages and pens. Goats often test fences, to spot a weakness in it, and escape at the first opportunity.

The honorable CM should hold that goat tight.

© Sameer

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kashmir is gay

Before the knives come out, let us come clean. Gay used to be the same thing as happy and carefree before Englishmen sexualized the term in the early 20th century. Be as it may, many a commentators on Kashmir these days, in their bouts of journalgasm (happens by the Dal and also in Potato farms) think that there is some embargo on ‘being happy’ in the tiny little vale of ours. Pray, we never stopped lining up for mutton, even in times of daily gun-battles!

Now that the barrel of gun has fallen silent, weak sequels have begun. It is a very familiar curse. Basically Delhi based K-experts and journos from mainland India turn up in Kashmir like early summer mushrooms. They are NEVER sent back from the Srinagar airport. Well, to cut the crap, anyone eulogizing Bollywood and KFC is welcome these days. Kehwa will be served free along with a clutch of intelligence reports. Go, paint it rosy.

An evening stroll on the Boulevard, followed by a sugar-free latte in one of Srinagar’s new-age café’s, has its desired effects. The feeling is often happy high. Who needs liqueur? Suddenly Kashmir appears littered with yellow flowers, butterflies and all, someone playing Santoor in the backdrop (long silver hair blowing in mild breeze) and gentle natives sowing potatoes in a distance. The happy Kashmir of Yash Raj films.

Meadows full of yellow flowers sometimes hide mass graves in them. Besides the bustle of everyday life and hawkers selling their wares and kids going to schools in clean uniforms, there is a deep lament, not necessarily obvious to K-experts on early summer visits. And this loss is not physical alone – bodybags, graves, tortures, arbitrary imprisonments, orphans -- it is profoundly emotional. We have missed a step in the staircase of our memories. It is okay, perhaps, to want to look for it.

Surprisingly you have a horde of extraordinary gentlemen from the plains talking down to you in a patronizing manner. Like Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea, most of them terribly uncomfortable with the thought of an indigenous Kashmiri expression, young men and women, who grew up in the conflict, telling their own stories to the world. So suddenly having a memory is like dropping a condom in front of your dad.  

Truth be told there is nothing wrong in ‘Moving on with their lives’ kind of pontification. End of it all -- the last credit in the cell phone used, the final group of tourists ferried to their Houseboat, some concluding quote from an IAS-walla, the closing coffee downed at Coffea Arabica with the same creatures you met at café Robusta, the question lurks. Does KFC preclude the desire for the right to self determination?

© Sameer

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Look who is here

Zardari is a hard and nailed man with a slightly off-color outlook. Apart from leading a local polo team known as the Zardari Four and owning a cinema called Bambino in Karachi, his only claim to fame has been his marriage with the daughter of the east. That graceful Ms Bhutto, who was sadly assassinated by some loser many years back. Over the years Zardari has made institutional corruption a byword in the Pakistan political lexicon. Not that others are saints in the land of the pure but with a president as smug as him, everything else dwarfs. And now Zardari is visiting Ajmer.

How this latest religious urge emanated in Zardari cannot be deduced. In any case there is little religious about these mausoleum trips. They are at best a cultural affair. Something that is more traditional than theological. Although it is difficult to winkle truth out of Zardari, one would like to hazard a guess. The TV chaps in India are going to go on an overdrive over the next 24 hours: There you go, as you can see only four buttons in Zardari’s Gala-band are visible. One hole, a gaping crevice, is buttonless. Is that a hidden message to Manmohan Singh? That kind of poppycock.

On my way to office this morning, I browsed through the Times of India App. The first news, expectedly, was the carte du jour for Zardari. The spread includes, India’s best newspaper informed, jaitooni murg seekh, kareli dal gosht, tori bhujia, sarson ke phool, makai palak, paneer jalfrezi, avail, vegetarian shami, murg kofta makhni and sikandari khusk raan. Desserts will comprise gur ka sandesh, phirni and blueberry mousse. And we thought Zardari recently got a heart attack.

There are other necessary tidbits likely to submerge the subcontinent over the next day or so. Jawaharlal Nehru’s great grandson, a certain prince charming waiting to be India’s prime minister (sometime soon) shall meet Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s grandson, currently being groomed at Oxford to be Pakistan’s prime minister (when he comes of age). Comparisons will be drawn. Rajiv and Benazir. Indira Gandhi and ZA Bhutto et al. The fine pedigrees. Firang girl friends. Caviar with pals, in foreign lands, away from the toiling masses. High office. The dynasty curse shall continue.

Some right noises about Kashmir made in a hurry and a threat or two to Sharif brothers invoked, Zardari, aleck smart and hair gelled back for hours, lands in New Delhi. To break bread with the gentle sardar, who hasn’t slept for a week now after some newspaper spooked him with a nightmare report about a Pakistan style coup in 7 RCR, since rubbished by everyone and their uncle.

Zardari, as supreme commander of his country's armed forces, should have been in Siachen where more than a hundred of Pakistan's soldiers lie buried in ice, due to the screwed up policies of leaders, tucking into blueberry mousse, a thousand leagues away.


© Sameer

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Geelani's Karakuli

Ladies and gentlemen, the season of screwballs is officially here. All retards are competing. Yes it includes TV anchors and college drop-outs with nothing but nuisance value and gawky paunches on them. And they are outdoing each other to decide on the biggest loony of them all. The winner of round one is a sick little joker, who does not frankly dignify a mention, and whose only claim to fame is lunging awkwardly at elderly people.

Since they think that everyone outside their groupings – with abbreviated names such as BSKS and all – is a traitor, this league of extraordinary idiots is forever busy deciding upon the next gate-crash for their moment of glory. Over an endless diet of cheap Samosas, they have pledged to salvage Kashmir for India. Once the act is performed, some doucebag is send rushing to Bittu’s net café to upload the day’s exploits. Democracy’s trolls.

Geelani Sahib is an old man. He sure does make extraneous noises from time to time. Ofcourse we won’t throw our expensive phones into river Jhelum, neither shall we asunder our classrooms into male and female units. However that takes nothing away from our respect for him, for while he may perhaps not be the prophet who delivers us onto the promised realm of Azadi, only he has the gall to tell the emperor that he has no clothes. Upfront.

It does not take much to attack an individual. After all a weak old man, aged 83, surviving on one kidney, with a history of cardiac ailment, a non-functioning liver and bronchitis, stands little chance in front of a dozen thugs screaming like chimps on fire. With no idea or context of the history or narrative of Kashmir, leave alone its resistance struggle, they charge at Geelani, making a hash of his lamp-cap, besides kicking him.

A Karakuli signifies honor in our culture. It is not a religious symbol like a Sikh’s turban. It means a certain eminence that is part of our daily lives. Knocking it off an elderly person and stepping on it is no pride. I just don’t see how some street urchins from the bylanes of Delhi can attempt to rescue India’s policy on Kashmir through this hatred. The juice of their deeds is communal.

It also begs a larger question. Is this just a gang of louts behaving in isolation or is it part of some larger effort at hurling indignity where appeasement does not work? No matter how many tourists mistake horses for mules and not withstanding attempts of black-out by the free media in the world's largest democracy, aspirations cannot be abolished.

The Karakuli bows to none.

© Sameer

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bekari and Balls

Reality is slightly off-color sometimes. Close to 40,000 young men and women scrambled for 48 jobs advertised by the state handicrafts department in Kashmir recently. The posts are all low-grade or Class-IV in officialese. Media reports say that among the applicants are B.Tech degree holders. That is like rocket scientists applying for horticulture jobs. To grow carrots, perhaps.

Meantime at the JK cricket association (JKCA) millions have been swindled by fat cats, reports suggest. It is a league of extraordinary gentlemen. There is a fellow called Ehsan Mirza, neat and bearded. There is Aslam Goni, a NC crony from Doda. Then there is Farooq Abdullah, cheeks the color of almond blossom. So who created the bogus accounts to siphon off sackfulls of money from the BCCI, we may never know.

Keeping in with our first family, Kashmir’s youth National Conference (NC) found a unique way to celebrate Omar Abdullah’s birthday recently. One wannabe politician, youth president of some district and other NC supporters cut a 42 Kg cake (according to the age of the Chief Minister) and fed the cake to Omar’s poster. Excited eye witnesses told media that the ‘young’ CM’s picture actually appeared to eat chunks of the cake. The rest was distributed to party workers.

Celebrations apart, more than 600,000 young men and women in Kashmir, according to government’s own records, are educated with no jobs. The figures are updated to end-2011. Contrast with the yearly expenditure on the security et al of the silly Durbar move. I reckon it is a staggering Rs 2 billion (200 crores). In the last 20 years alone, that is Rs 20 billion (2000 crores). How many jobs is that?

Makes one wonder, did Omar, surrounded by his yes men, none of whom has ever been bitten by one of Srinagar's 99,000 dogs, virtually teleport himself to Kathua to lick at bits of the 42 Kg cake. He was last heard frenetically scouting for his 'cake eating' picture on social media.

PS: The cake was baked in a local store called 'Vanity'.

© Sameer

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Akbar’s court

All hail the Emperor. He is wrathful and angry and his fingers slither. There is no particular reason for his state of annoyance. He gets angry for no reason and he drowns you in the choicest of abuse in chaste Kashmiri. There must have been a nursery of compulsory curses the Emperor attended. He is a complete natural.

Talking of fingers, it is to his credit that showing middle finger is again fashionable in august gatherings. Not that there are no females around but you see when the going gets tough, they say, the tough get going. Mastoorat due to sheer dint of the fact that they made themselves available in the court have no choice but to crane their necks and look at the ground beneath their feet.

You may be a Molvi or a miscreant, the Emperor’s vituperation is abounded. He sees no class or creed. He asks his men-at-arms to bundle you up like good old school ata-savaair (piggyback) days, regardless of your age. So the next time you wish to stand up on your feet and question him about the poor quality of his hair-dye, remember he can run roughshod over you and your observations.

And my poor scribes (the ones who sit in the court taking down notes, which I frankly reckon is a boring proposition) don’t think you are immune. Be careful with your quills and inkpots. Hell hath no fury like a bespectacled Emperor scorned. We know that you are just doing your job but bear in mind that the Emperor controls everything. Including you.

© Sameer

Monday, February 20, 2012

Kierkegaard in my plane

On a plane recently, flying somewhere over the Persian sea, I buried myself in Kierkegaard, a gift by an erudite friend, whom I have come to like. The Danish existentialist whose work was hugely inflected by overtly theological colors (he attacked the Church but believed in faith and creator), claims that the praise of erotic love and friendship belong to paganism. In Kierkegaard’s other book Works of Love, perhaps, he contrasts natural loves to love for God, I recall. Thinkers!

From the corner of my eye I detected a bright orange glow had lit the wingspan up. Looking out of the airplane window at the unending, irregular clouds, I felt an urgent twinge in my heart. The big maroon sun had just set and the sky appeared like wounded twilight. Sometimes the beauty of nature brings poetry to mind, by itself.

I visualized stepping out of the plane, walking on the half-orange bits of clouds, singing Emily Brontë:

Love is like the wild-rose briar
Friendship is like the holly-tree
The holly is dark when the rose briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?

Ofcourse I didn’t get a chance to take the head-trip. Modern airplanes are very fast and they land smoothly even in cross-winds, even when the golden sand is flung hard and fast by a seriously riled God. Soon enough I was back in the opulent town, to the grind, with the predictability of everyday life.

In life there are situations, however, when you wish things you love to stay with you, by some magic. Some alchemy. It is hard to let go off some connections but the meaning of life is that you have to learn to unfetter. It is the invisible threads, that remain the strongest ties, Nietzsche the madman, once quipped.

I guess, I’d agree.

© Sameer

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Peerzada's socks and shoes

Approximately 70 kms from Srinagar, there is a beautiful touristy hamlet called Kokernag. There is a spring in the middle of the place called Papashudan Nag or sin-cleansing spring. Kashmir’s education minister was born somewhere nearby -- in a village called Damhal. Unfortunately the minister never got the opportunity to wash his misdeeds in the neighbourhood spring. Instead leading by example he got someone in the state board of school education to write his son's exams.

That was two years ago. Newspaper reports suggest that his son recently bagged a distinction in the senior year or first year of A-Level certification (locally called Bahim jamaat). When your dad is a minister of education, who gets a dozen schools sanctioned in tiny Damhal -- if only to improve upon the 13,000 votes he polled last time -- you cannot afford to score a lower grade. How can you invoke the Kashmiri-accented Urdu bluster in cafés, without 85% marks?

There is something odd about old Congressmen in the valley. One they do the best shaves in the whole world as if they have all the time to primp and prink their double-chins. Two they make moral corruption look like meat and potatoes. There are so many mini-scandals stacked up with skeletons in Congress (and NC) closets that one would easily lose count. A dozen leaders were implicated -- one of the main accusers being a minor -- when the 2006 sex scandal surfaced. Nothing ever came out of it.

And here we are in the beginning of 2012 with the usual middle class gibberish being regurgitated at regular intervals in the corporate media. A million tourists this year. One for each vine and weed in the Dal. Regulation politicians in Karakul caps, neck deep in corruption, ruling the little valley of ours slyly eyeing the next election, completely unmindful of the ethical decay slowly eroding us. It is almost sad.

Thanks to Julian Assange we know what the US embassy in New Delhi wrote to the State Department in the US in their classified cables on Kashmir. “Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed behaves like a traditional Congress machine politician, one who asks his staff to put on his socks and shoes for him.”

Sometimes the Americans get it bang-on.

© Sameer
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Operation Rooster and other conspiracies

Wintry woes continue in the valley. Last week cops, on the basis of some solid info, laid siege to a mohalla, a country subdivision, in Baramulla, North Kashmir. These days, owing to the extreme weather, the police swings into action only when the intel is fully reliable and the target is clearly achievable. A high ranking officer led the offensive. Crack teams took position at vantage points. At the appointed hour the police assault was launched. Codenamed operation Rooster, it was swift, efficient and successful.

Three men were arrested. All young. “Case FIR # 12, 13 and 14 of 2012 under Section 3/7 has been registered against them,” newspapers screamed. What is all the more interesting is the huge body of evidence collected against the perpetrators. For once the police is uber-confident that they have a water-tight case. Oh and by the way the boys were booked for selling chicken at exaggerated rates. A few things can be more heinous. Period.

One doesn’t really want to get into the nuts and bolts of the poultry pricing mechanism in Kashmir. We have seen many a chicken being abducted on cold nights by feral cats, locally called laesh, never to be returned. Often the australorp feathers, lying about in the yard, are the only evidence of the overnight struggle. So many hen coops in the damp little valley of ours have been vandalized by both -- feral cats and CRPF in the past. To even think of raising the prices of our ‘happy chicken meal’ stinks of conspiracy. An elaborate Judeo-Christian one.

While the chicken fight continues in marketplaces of Kashmir, fisticuffs of a different kind seem to have spilled onto the virtual world. Ergo in various online platforms Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) and Kashmiri Muslims (KMs) slog it out over the most mundane of matters. It is a relationship that fluctuates betwixt love-hate to hate-hate and is replete with a jarring narrative. Online KPs think that they have been wronged by offline KMs while online KMs feel that offline KPs are belittling their suffering via their online trolls. It is very complicated and doesn’t get any moderate than that.

Due to huge snowfall in the hills leopards are on the prowl in the hinterland of Kashmir. Authorities say there could be about two dozen of them. Real hungry. Meantime small children and an occasional adult gets bitten around by bitches in the streets of Srinagar while the municipality blokes sit around rusty bukharis (furnaces) wondering why the government takes an eternity to release funds for salaries. Yes there is a direct correlation between wages and inertia.

Some Harvard dude is training cops how to be politely tough with people. January 26 is approaching. An old man is preparing notes on defiance.

© Sameer
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Monday, January 16, 2012

Snow Sparrows

We may have our iPhones alright but the first sprinkling of snow in Kashmir upends just about everything. Power transmission lines, roadside trees and civil administration cave in on each other and in that order. Ergo -- light, water and most means of communication disappear. The winter of 2011-12 is no exception. Local government was caught with its pants down, God knows doing what, in the season’s first – and subsequent – snowfalls.

Tourists from mainland India, with monkey caps fitted on them, like executors, can be seen wandering around Srinagar’s only fashionable lakeside road, Boulevard. Since the authorities have somehow managed to restore light for a few hours each day in hotels and houseboats, coupled with CM’s cut-my-light-also dramaturgy, things have begun to look touristy again. Picture postcards show snow, not the absence of glow in bulbs.

While it might still take some time to get the glow back in hamlets of south and north Kashmir, the general public has been asked to carry their cell-phone chargers in Pheran pockets, just in case. Great improvisers, as Kashmiris are, they put hospitals to good use this winter. In perpetual absence of ‘regular electricity’ cell phones were powered on by ‘essential services’ supply and car engines. Then people say we don’t ‘ideate’. Not fair.

Talking of fare -- no Kashmiri household can ring the snow in without the quintessential local fare -- Razma (kidney beans), called Razma dal and Kashur anchar (Kashmiri pickle) in our neck of woods. So when it snows outside, like it used to in good old days, there is no joy better than sitting around with your folks in the old kitchen, finishing off platefuls of rice with Razma and anchar (and fish, if you are in Sopore). Else a duck meal with spinach will do, if you live, let’s say in Sajad Lone’s little village.

Although Harisa is available in many towns of Kashmir these days, it is still a bit of novelty. The original inhabitants of old Srinagar are somewhat skilled in the craft. If you have a hovel or home along one of Srinagar’s notable bridges – Ael Kadal, Fateh kadal, Razeh kadal, Zeen kadal, you are likely to be teased in the bed by the near-seductive aroma of Harisa coming from one of the pinds. Nothing comes close. Milk in Kashmir, like our smutty politicians, is adulterated these days.

Besides taking potshots at the CM, who wears 70’s style English sweaters and hop scotches all over the valley, while people find it hard to walk to the local mosque in 10 inches of snow, the winter talk is invariably bound to throw up that moth-eaten annual question. Why is Mr G in Delhi while we shiver in the bitter chill? Well, may be, because he does not have a Hamam like some of us and unlike all of us he is not allowed to step out, around summer, the time of dangerous ideas.

Winters are exclusively for nader-mounjas. And brown-grey sparrows, pecking at yellow crumbs of rice, on the staircase of Makhdoom Sahib in Koh-e-Maran.

© Sameer

Friday, January 06, 2012

A town torched

There was sound of a huge bang that morning, like someone blowing up a cartful of dynamite. Just before the cockcrow. Most of the townspeople were asleep. The dawn prayers had thin attendance, mostly because it gets very cold in January. By nine o’clock a military patrol was out, doing rounds of the main marketplace. Suddenly gunmen emerged from a narrow alley and shot random bullets at the party before quickly disappearing in the maze that old Sopore is. Taken rather off guard, the security detail ran back to their barracks only to emerge again as Frankenstein’s monsters, spitting hell fire. In the next fifty odd minutes, they murdered fifty five people in cold blood. And burnt the town down.

Even after all these years nobody knows for sure what transformed the BSF party into the heartless creatures that they became -- that cold January morning. Hapless people, trapped in flames, had only two choices to make and both, it turned out, cost them dearly. Stepping out of their shops meant getting bumped off on the spot. Those who hid in their shops were roasted alive. Many people who were killed on January 6, 1993, were buried without their families being able to see them one last time. The dead bodies had faces -- that smiled, loved and beamed a few hours back -- too disfigured to be kissed a final good bye. Monsters seldom heed tears.

An unfortunate bus, half-full with passengers, on its way to Sopore got caught up in the frenzy. The driver, oblivious to the savagery of the 94th battalion BSF, was flagged down. Soon charcoal gray powder blew into the vehicle. Terrified passengers froze in their seats, their hands still inside their Pherans. A stash of gunfire lit the bus up. The ill-starred men and women banged at the window-panes, begging to be let out, but their screams met no saviors. The nearby shops were burning in maroon fire with real people in them. A hundred thousand books in the local women’s college were turning to dark dust in the library. The foot soldiers of the world’s largest democracy looked on with a ghoulish glee.

Entire families were wiped out on that January morning 19 years back. A respected Sufi Pir [spiritual man] lost six members of his immediate and extended family. His two grandsons, two nephews and two cousins. The old man was unwell in his bed when news of the doom came. Women began to pull their hair out and grown-up men wept inconsolably in his mud-and-brick three storey home, often frequented by devotees. Later when the corpses of all the six young men were lined up in the lawn, someone asked the Sufi if he wanted to come out and have a last look at the lads. ‘Oh yes’, the old man said and as someone walked him outside he whispered in the most feeble voice, ‘I had a dream last night and they told me that we shall take you to hear things I never imagined. I think this is the Taebeer [interpretation]’.

I feel somewhat uneasy writing this, recalling mostly from memory, from the pastiches of ugly nightmares of growing up in Kashmir of the 90’s. Ofcourse I was too young to comprehend how people in flesh and blood could get so godawful and burn fellow humans alive. It smelled of fear and flesh. We heard the wails coming from a distance. That evening the smoke’s twist was awfully slow.

In memoriam
To my fellow townspeople,
cut to merciless death on January 6, 1993.
We remember you.

© Sameer

Twitter: @sameerft

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

An inauspicious start

I’m sure justice is a concubine. The poor are like nutmeg. They are always crushed. One such boy, as he was being wheeled to the hospital, had this soupcon red in his eyes, like wanting to hold onto dear life. Moments later he shut them forever.

In a matter of few minutes he became the latest statistic in Kashmir's murky tale. Thankfully there was no electricity last night for the parents to see each other's eyes.

Why do the poor always die? While the rich get away.

Rich boys ski. They drink coffee in plush cafés. They wear au-de-perfume. They blog. They debate on intellectual constructs. They eat caviar. And Harisa. The less privileged, almost always, get killed. That is a given.

By habit politicians burn a lot of gas in trying to out-do each other to reach the families of those who get killed. The dead are often hailed as martyrs in presence of their un-dead folk, in a certain reassuring way so that their loss looks acceptable.

It is so awfully ironic that while alive no one wants to die and yet when you get shot in the head, you become an instant martyr like Saint Sebastian. Redemption is attained in death at least, if not in life -- in the valley.

I often think of Kashmir as this distant Arcadia – snow falling on antlered hanguls. Intrigued that I am with its pastoral simplicity, I cut the blood part out.

© Sameer
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Filed under: Mini-blogs

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011: Kashmir's kick-ass year

The final dying moments of 2011. What an eventful year it has been! The Americans killed OBL, go-go-go Hollywood style and NATO got poor Qadafi cornered, like a desert rodent, only to be impaled by the loutish thugs from Misrata, who then put his body on display, similar to some medieval pillory.

The Arab spring, powered on by ordinary people, astounded everyone. Elsewhere ordinary people – the now-famous 99% -- got their act together and sat down -- in Zuccotti Park, NY, laying mental siege to the slimy edifices of capitalism. Occupy Wall Street was almost synchronous with the Euro zone stumble, something that is bearing on, as we put our stockings on to ring the new year in.

Kashmir stayed relatively peaceful in 2011. Early on in April, village folk lined up, pherans upon shoulders, Geelani Sahib’s boycott call notwithstanding, to elect their Sarpachs. Sociologists admitted at that time that human memory is forecasted to remain short-term and God knows Panchayat-ghars were notorious make-shift interrogation centers not so long ago.

One of Kashmir’s foremost lobbyists in the US, Dr Fai was caught this year feeding carrots to rabbits in Virginia, near DC. Caught up in heavy diplomatic cross-fire, the Kashmiri doc – who has since revealed the color of all rabbits – was America’s style of humiliating Pakistan which had – earlier in 2011 -- outted and thrown the CIA agent Raymond Davis in prison. The Pakistanis released Davis after he paid blood money; subsequently the Americans let Fai off on bail -- with an electronic contraption strapped to him. Bad blood remains.

In the run up to fall this year, there was ballyhoo in badam-orchads and Indian news papers. Glad that the first nine months of the year passed off relatively smooth, lit-lovers thought it fit enough to dust their Fab-India Kurtas and head off to Srinagar. Since Zabarwan makes stunning backdrop in autumn, it was time to sit back over 'yellow as quince' Kehwa and discuss freedom of expression with local men and women of letters. Alas no one took the bait.

There was murder in the Gupkar castle in 2011. TV channels went berserk, especially Arnoub, the oily haired Indian telly anchor who has successfully discovered the G-spot of Kashmiris and jerks them into a mad frenzy every time he begins mouth farting. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the prince of Denmark’s dad drinks a potion so potent that it immediately causes bubbling scabs on his body. Something similar happened. Some commission was set up and then winter set in.

The debate on the abrogation of AFSPA gathered momentum this year with both Omar and Umar on the same page for a change. Many weeks of hue and cry later, the debate drowned in liquor. Rather than promising something substantial – to be named after Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah – on the late Sher’s anniversary, Dr Farooq asked for opening of beer bars in Srinagar. Sheri-Kashmir must have turned in his grave. What a spirited wish on someone’s tomb?

They say life is about looking forward. As 2011 melds into 2012, one can only wish that there is more power in Kashmiri homes this winter. Let the flute and the lyre of peace replace the paranoia and bluster of those who administer us. And though we may seasonally be unretentive, one cannot burn memories.

Happy New Year, folks.

© Sameer