Kashmir, Kabul, Kishtwar

Kashmir’s blogosphere much like its biosphere is a much debated topic. In times of less news and more tweets it becomes the media’s favourite thing to discuss. Even Army Generals are called upon to comment and answer questions which essentially sound like, “Why are Kashmiris tweeting this way and not that way?” “See, this guy went and had barbecue on the banks of Dal. Aren’t these pictures threat to National Security of India?”

Somewhere last week, we decided to take the things for a spin. In this limited blogosphere where politics flows on high tide all the year round, a few of us decided to tweak the norms a bit. With some cohorts we found in Afghanistan (of all places) we hit upon the idea that  blogging about food may not be such a bad idea. Every place has its tribe of self-indulgent food bloggers. We have none. That’s not fair!
So was born the idea of “Samavar | Food trails from Kashmir to Kabul”. It all started when a blogger from Kishtwar said that she had nothing to left to do on the ninth consecutive day of curfew in Kishtwar, and when a blogger from Srinagar suggested that she read some food blogs. One tweet led to another, and bang! we were proposing a collective food blog. 
Samavar came into being on an exceptionally slow internet in Afghanistan and a curfew in Kishtwar. 
Here’s the  first post on Samavar written by me:
While we gather up stories to share as delightful as the tea in its bosom. From Kashmir to Kabul, there might be travellers coming along soon. They would like some tea.
Or Kahwa, please. Drop in some saffron, just to remind them of the colours of our company when they have left.
That among the shadows of everything that the world has given us, we have kept a delightful kitchen going on. Where food and love abound, and the dastarkhwan is spread far and wide. We thank God for that. And for the stories we have created in between.
Arrange the breads in trays. Yes, the sheermaal and naans.
Everyone likes a little something to go with tea. And telling stories, too. The travellers are fond of them. The silent locals too. They carry a wealth of never heard histories with them. You may find some here, near where we sit with our samovar – in the gardens of Srinagar and on the banks of Chenab too,beyond Khyber under the fearless open skies of Kabul.
Light up these lamps. The embers in the samovar are glowing red. Finally, it’s time.
Let’s serve.”
Other contributors to Samavar include Francesca Recchia, Nashrah Batool, Sahar, TavseefM and Marryam H Reshii.
Happy reading.

March of The Six Hundred

The Indian media has issued severe cries for war in the past few days when bodies of two soldiers were found to be mutilated. On January 6, Pakistan accused India of launching an attack and killing one soldier. (Times of India, Jan 6). Then on January 8, two Indian soldiers were killed in an attack from Pakistan. Killed and beheaded, the media pointed out. (NDTV, Jan 9).  However, as it appears, there are varied claims to the nature and facts of decapitation. (Kafila.org)
There has been since then a growing clamour of voices (mainly in the press) for declaring war on Pakistan to avenge the deaths of Indian soldiers. War to them, it seems, is just a three letter word. It comes in handy when dealing with a difficult neighbour. “Just two armies fighting, nothing else. Boys’ games and all.” they seem to say.

If I may borrow from Lord Tennyson’s famous poem, Charge of The Light Brigade, I’d say when they march the six hundred into Kashmir, and march six hundred from the other side into Kashmir; they march into the Valley of Death.

Then they shall fight. All twelve hundred of them, or may be more. Man and man, guns and tanks, bombs and planes, horses and asses.

They shall ride swiftly and plunge into the enemy on the other side. When they do all this and more, Kashmir shall still be waiting. After the madness has ended, after Insanity has packed his bags and figured his route, he shall deftly traverse their Line of Control and pass on to the other side. There he shall meet his foul inferior cousin, Vengeance. Vengeance shall appear in much similar form and will again run her thin icy fingers round their LoC and in a shrill laughter play on both sides. Her hair loose and falling in large curls. Both making merry in the terrains where men, strangers among themselves, shall name the other Enemy and run amok for blood.

Over serene foothills and unquiet peaks the cannons will volley and thunder. The people of the hills will move away from their houses to safer and stranger plains until the soldiers cease to storm with shot and shell. Then they will, if they can, return.

Sure enough, the news will spread beyond the subcontinent. Europeans and Americans, may be even Australians and Chinese, will cast a lazy eye over the happenings and call for the hostilities to end. The United Nations offices in Kashmir will give forth a hasty call to its counterpart on the other side of the LoC and hence, once again, establish their relevance.

When the war of Kargil was fought between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, Srinagar was abuzz with military activity. Not that it is anything unusual for Srinagar. The Indian army was ferried up to the wilderness in unending convoys.  So were the mules and horses, and also some miscellaneous weaponry.  People switched off their cars and buses and waited patiently for the green army trucks to pass. From Sonwar to Dalgate to Boulevard to Brein and from there onwards to Kargil and Drass, the army vehicles made a huge queue, while the locals gathered with their elfin minivans and cars waiting to be allowed to pass. The traffic policemen stood aside along with army men watching the traffic gather at the turns of roads. The army had the first right to use it. The convoys kept moving, even at night. Those days there was no tourism, which in other words means, that Indians did not come in flocks to Kashmir. So no one measured the amount of peace in Kashmir, as they do now, by the number of tourists visiting each year. Indeed, there was no peace to be measured.

The bugle of war has been sounded from far away news rooms by perturbed news readers who face their nations every evening demanding answers to formidable queries. Sure enough they will send their emissaries to show the perils of modern warfare to the world at large. A war they had deemed inevitable – a war in which they will not fight. Themselves, they will take on to discuss with people from both sides the vagaries of foreign relations and the war afoot. It will be then that they remember to reason why and make reply. A certain noisy gentleman in an urbane suit and tie will make sure to point to the other side that any excess in war (beheadings et al) is not Indian culture, but Pakistani culture. From the other side, they’ll do much the same.

Plato said that only the dead see the end of war. Those who remain alive of the twelve hundred will return to their barracks. It is doubtful if they will pause to wonder whether they have attained any glory which won’t fade. A war fought to avenge the lost heads of soldiers speaks more of gory than glory anyhow. No one will emerge as a hero. But Insanity and Vengeance shall not be satisfied. They will simply pack their things and disappear for a while. Or maybe just hold their games for some time. Their scores are never settled and they never want them to. Like kids, they want their games to go on forever. Vengeance and retribution require a long time; it is the rule, says Dickens.

The rising crescendo for war may eventually fade away without the war actually happening. The news hysteria will be diverted on to different things. Wars are not easy. They are not just events occurring at the borders, at the LoC in this case. War is like frost on a wintry morning. It touches everything in its way.
But at the end of it Kashmir shall still be waiting. Wars between India and Pakistan haven’t resolved the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. They have surely altered the politics in all three places but never promised a war-less future. 
(PS: the poem “Charge of The Light Brigade” was written on events of the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War between Britain (with her allies) and Russia. The Light Brigade charged at the enemy because of a wrongly communicated order received from Lord Raglan, the overall commander. For the article above, I have freely borrowed from the poem)

On Kashmir

“… it is a life of small things played out amid gigantic surroundings, this existence in the happy valley hidden away from the outer world behind the great mountain barriers. Shuttered-in boats float by on the river, camps of unknown folk pass one on the road, occasionally greetings are exchanged with folk whom we knew not before and shall not meet again. It is a restful, unfettered, unique life amid all the beauties of a country decorated by Nature in her most varied manner, a land that is like a dream when one is in it, that haunts one with the reality of an obsession when its snowy peaks and flower-filled valleys have been exchanged for grey skies and grimy towns.”

Echoes from the Near Past

There is a slight uneasiness in watching movies on contemporary Kashmir. (I am not speaking of the Bollywood type where a well built Punjabi dude can shout whole of Pakistan into submission.) I felt it when I watched Ashwin Kumar’s “Insha Allah : Kashmir“. I felt it again when I watched the much hyped Channel 4 documentary on Kashmir, “Kashmir’s Torture Trail“.

The stories narrated in both the documentaries are essentially Kashmiri. And as Kashmiris who lived in such times, we should have known them. But we don’t. It takes an outsider to come and tell us. And then we agree even more.

These are troubling tales of conflicted times. Narratives from people who, for long, have made it a routine to go about tragedies as being a part of their lives. It takes courage to tell them. Some courage to listen to them. And a lot of courage to work for them. That is perhaps what human rights lawyer, Parvez Imroz, wants the parents of Wamiq (who was killed in 2010, aged 12)  to understand when he tells them that they must see their case through, and not give up hope. Every little movement in any one case serves as a symbol of hope to others fighting against the institutions in similar cases. Many cases do not reach any end. Many are not even started. 

These are events so many in number that its impossible to pick one as a typical case. And then, so much has happened since then that its become convenient to blame the whole turn of events for every wrong. Like Qalandar Kataana, in the documentary. His fingers were broken by the beatings he received at the hands of Indian Army-men and both his feet were cut with a knife. He was made to eat his own flesh. Obviously, he never moved on.

An Indian journalist once remarked that. Trauma in Kashmir is like a heritage building—the elite fight to preserve it. ‘Don’t forget,’ is their predominant message, ‘Don’t forget to be traumatised.’ They want the wound of Kashmir to endure because the wound is what indicts India for the many atrocities of its military.”  Try explaining this to Qalandar Kataana. He is definitely not among the elite (even though I am not sure who this preserving elite are), nor is he trying to give out any message. And it is pointless to talk to him of indictment when his case has been in the court for 20 years.

So it goes for the rest of Kashmir. People who know all that happened prefer not to talk about it. Sometimes its just too painful, and they are thankful that its all over. Other times its just not safe. Like the little family of Parvez Imroz feels and says in the video. And then, of course, there are people who have no clue of the events of the of Valley’s last two decades. And it is here where documentaries like these become important. They are like history lessons from your present, not past. A little glimpse of what shouldn’t be forgotten. 

It’s time for some lessons in modern history of Kashmir.

PS: Related article from The Guardian. The Mass Graves of Kashmir.


Small Things

Social networking throws a lot of people in your path. By the collar, because they have no choice. On Twitter, I came to know a guy from the other side of Kashmir. That was my first rendezvous with anyone who has actually lived on the other side of LoC. Azad Kashmir. Pakistan Administered Kashmir. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Whatever. From Muzaffarad of Kashmir.

I wonder what that part of Kashmir looks like. Not that I have travelled and seen everything on this side. How the people there live? Do they come across army-men as often as we do? Its surprising how little news of everyday affairs travels onto this side of the LoC, which is not even a border. There is a concept that a lot of people from the towns which went with Pakistan administered Kashmir have settled in the West. I wonder how true is that?

Do you have the Kangri for when its cold?
The pheran? Isfand?
Do you hang the czaalan from a thread at the back?
Tell me about your food?
Do you have the wazwaan and the waza to cook it?
Is it same to ours?
Is your meal, too, incomplete without rice?
What about Nun-chai and its company of girda?
In a samovar?
Our bagel, czachwour?
In winters, do you too have harissa?
Do you dry vegetables for winters?
In threads under the roofs?
Do you tell children of our history – together and apart?
Do we appear in your History? Are you a part of ours?
Do you speak the languages we do?
Are you a part of our great Sufi tradition?
Do mothers there tie threads on the Aasthaan doors?
Are your hopes fulfilled? Do you hope for the same things as we do?

Generations ago, we were the same. How different could we be now?

‘The failure of the subconscious was the border. The line of control did not run through 576 kilometeres of militarised mountains. It ran through our souls, our hearts, and our minds. It ran though everything a Kashmiri, an Indian, and a Pakistani said, wrote, and did. It ran through the fingers of editors writing newspaper and magazine editorials, it ran through the eyes of reporters, it ran through the reels of Bollywood coming to life in dark theatres, it ran through conversations in coffee shops and TV screens showing cricket matches, it ran through families and dinner talk, it ran through the whispers of lovers. And it ran through our grief, our anger, our tears, and our silences.’
          Basharat Peer, Curfewed Night.