A Requiem

Its been 101 days since the last bus plied in Kashmir, ferrying people still in Eid festivity to their homes. How much can memory serve?It was still summer then and Ramazan had just ended. When the curfews began, all life disappeared. Overnight Kashmir was at a sort of war – with India, make no mistake. People protested, the Indian army killed. You can use any verb that floats your boat – retaliated, killed in self defence, killed in extreme conditions, blah, blah.

This may sound a bit extreme to you, so let me bring in the autumn here. The chinars have just started to shade – a little brown at this time but mostly green.

So, summers were gone in a whirl of protests and chaos. But, overtime, we have learnt the art of survival in this chaos. Remember the floods? We lived through those with  massive civil cooperation. Kashmiris all over the world sent in aid and people organized camps for distribution. The government was nowhere to be seen, at least initially. Civilians rowed boats through the waters to rescue trapped people and deliver food to those who didn’t move out.

This time too people were where they were needed. In hospitals. As volunteers. Assisting the medical staff in relief operations. A person donated a five lakh rupees which saved on his son’s wedding by having a simple ceremony to a hospital. Quintals of meat were donated to SMHS hospital on Eid.

There is some sadistic pleasure derivable from the suffering in Kashmir. This was very apparent in the last 100 days. Many blamed the victims. “Why are they pelting stones?” “Why are people out in a curfew?” “If you throw stones, don’t you deserve to be fired at?” Some gentleman also compared stones and bullets, saying that the stones were hurled with an aim to kill and the bullet was fired in self defense and to deter. People who have never lived more than a day (if at all that too) under curfew argued how Kashmiris should live under a curfew – peacefully, without raising a voice. Safe to preach from a distance? Easy to suppress a voice that has no force? We were lectured by a minister from India what being a Kashmiri means and how we should behave in general. Why must we not protest, I ask? There is nothing peaceful about a curfew. Phones and internet were blocked, to a point that phone companies wulled over closing offices in Kashmir. For India’s populist media this is a routine exercise. Their failure to understand that Kashmiris have been demanding an end to a brutal, cruel conflict was showcased again and again. Painfully. In the initial days, injured kept pouring in. Thousands were injured by pellet fire. Hundreds lost their eyes to it. Even the dead were attacked. Funerals were tear gassed and people were not allowed to shoulder coffins.

Briefly the army was called in again. And then taken out. Thousands of people were arrested and are still being arrested, every night. Their future is uncertain.The state creates its own demons and seeks redemption.

But the chinars, are slowly roasting their hues to rouge. The gardens are filled with the fallen leaves. Like gold.

As if in an answer to itself the government killed a 12 year old last week. In July, the CRPF personnel pierced the eyes of a five year old boy. I don’t know where to place this grief. Again curfew was imposed, and the empire placated.  At what cost? The continuous lock down has meant losses in education, business and so, so many opportunities. The grounds of Kashmir University are largely empty. And yet there is not a squeak from anywhere.

Of course, some people were very keen on sounding the trumpets of war. In Delhi, I am sure, they must have sounded musical, but in Srinagar they sounded dangerous and sardonic. News channels made a full circus of it and if there was a spark they were keen to turn it into a flame. A Whatsapp group of which I am a member had a person from New Delhi proclaim something like “WAR…WAR…WAR…” as if declaring war on Pakistan was the only way left to save his sanity. There was no mention by the gentleman of the Kashmiris killed by the Indian army. Another Indian friend (and more who know me only through this blog) sent a “stay safe” message. In all the mess, that curfew was still not lifted from Kashmir was forgotten. Conveniently.

The city is full of the aroma of roasting chestnuts. The fragrance wafts under the blossoming chinars on the Residency Road. There are no dull moments.

The last hundred days also brought out the essence of life we lead. There is a chasm that India and her people haven’t quite crossed to reach us yet. On this side of the Pir Panjal, she somehow ceases to exist. And as she considers her force again and again to enter, she fails again and again. So has been our story, ever. People don’t give up their cherished desires and aspirations for nothing – howsoever romantic they may sound to others, especially if they are any bit romantic. The much vilified “youth of Kashmir” does not, and cannot, exist in a political vacuum. Denial and force haven’t gotten any results thus far. And the autumn is fading fast.

(c) @zikrejaana. Used with permission

To read more about the 2016 uprising, follow this link.


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)

An Account of India Vs Pakistan ODI at Eden Gardens.

An India-Pakistan match is a war, no less. In Kashmir, the zealotry flows towards Pakistan, in all things cricket. People (including policemen) gather outside shops and around anyone with a radio to listen for good news that Pakistan is winning. People feign indifference if they are not. Mobile phones do make it easier, say Amen for little pleasures. The discourse is of and for Pakistan. The other team doesn’t really matter.

I am not a cricket fan. Not a big one at least. But this last ODI between India and Pakistan (played on 3 Jan, 2013) I was in a peculiar position. I wasn’t watching the game, but there were two blokes sitting near to me.  They were close friends and sat with their individual computers and net connections. They were live streaming the match from two different sources. Both had the same name, Imran, and both were supporting Pakistan (of course). Imran M and Imran K. A Shia and a Sunni.

The setting is a public place but there weren’t many people around.

Imran K: Out, I think?
Imran M: Really? Who? Shoaib Malik?
K: I think so.
M: Watch carefully, dumbhead. I’ll break your limbs if its true.
K: It’s buffering.
M: Here come Drok-mal? (Syed Ajmal)
K: (laughing) Drokmal! Kyaha goi.
M: Naar ha kodukh Pakistanas. I will kill these *******!
M: Four.
K: Yes.
M: Go ha byakh.
K: Naah! Waar wuechh.
M: Choakh gova? 
K: Yes. 

There is some commotion which among all the flow of passions is very hard to make sense of.

K: Ajmal ha gov?
M: Gov ha? Gaessin!

(There is a sudden drop in interest in the match. I guess they have gone to surf different things on the interwebs.) When suddenly…

M: Bowled! Lanath wessin yemin.. Ye gov Laanath wessin.
K: Umar Gul. (Somberly)  Irfan? He is a new player. First time batting.
M: Must be a righthanded player. Should be. They will lose the match easily. Easily. Retards!
(a momentary silence)
M:  Bowled!
K: Naah?
M: Wallah!

Pakistan was bundled for 250 and India was yet to bat. Imran M was sad that the score was less than 300, and Pakistan would lose easily. He wouldn’t have dinner if Pakistan lost.  Imran K was hopeful that Pakistan could still win.

PS: Pakistan won.