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. (
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)

Thank God for Little Pleasures – VII

For the time we spend with our dear ones. Friends. Family. Loved ones. Every minute that passes in pleasure. We shall remember it fondly after its gone. And hope, in vain, that it comes back.

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Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;

O Death in Life, the days that are no more!

Things of Old

I first came upon this poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson on a blog someone had written has an obituary. The writer there had quoted just two lines. And ever since I had wanted it to post on mine too. 

Tennyson talks of a memory. Remembering a time that you have spent with a friend, who is now gone. And gone with him is the time you spent together. People change, time moves on. Relationships change. With all the transformations, the old charm of things dear, gets buried deep into the layers of the heart. It lies there, never spoken of. Quietly. It becomes an archive of your life. To transfer you, into the space you left behind, at your beckoning. Like a magic carpet.

Tears, Idle Tears

 Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,

Tears from the depth of some divine despair

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,

In looking on the happy autumn-fields,

And thinking of the days that are no more.

   Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,

That brings our friends up from the underworld,

Sad as the last which reddens over one

That sinks with all we love below the verge;

So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

   Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns

The earliest pipe of half-awaken’d birds

To dying ears, when unto dying eyes

The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;

So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

   Dear as remembered kisses after death,

And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign’d

On lips that are for others; deep as love,

Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;

O Death in Life, the days that are no more!

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Theories of Sweet Nothingness – Written for 14th February

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk in my garden forever.”
~Alfred Lord Tennyson

Valentine’s Day is pointless. We all agree. Its not religious. Not from our culture. Not from anyone’s culture. But is still, may I say it, the day of love. Note that – day of love. Not of lovers. Technically, there is a difference. But isn’t love too blind for the study of technique? 

Well, you can’t be serious on Valentine’s Day or about it. Until, of course, you are a businessman (or his daughter).

Until this winter I had never been to the Botanical Gardens in Srinagar. It is apparently a very popular place to go, especially if you are in love. Only in love, some people may protest, but that would be an exaggeration. You need a ten rupees ticket to enter the garden, not a valentine. I had gone there with a friend (not a valentine) when he couldn’t drive all the way up to Pari Mahal because of the snow, and we decided to take a detour to the Botanical gardens instead.

Since everything was covered in snow, it seemed even more beautiful than, I presumed, it would usually look in summer months. The walkways were all covered with trampled snow, and foot marks.  Lot of them going in one direction only, and not coming back.

Since Botanical garden is a showcase of botanical wonders of Kashmir, it is not much of a sight when the flora is gone post-autumn. The trees were all barren except the evergreens and the firs. The beds were covered with snow, and hard to locate. We trampled many, I am sure, but no one could tell. The snow covered them all.

(Note the S and A)

Apart from us there was only one group in the park. They were three, I guess, two women and one man. At one point we heard one of the women shout, “Suno gaaon waalo!” (“Hear O villagers!”). Apart from that there was not a soul. (Except the bored men in the ticketing booth!)

Come spring and the Botanical Gardens are abuzz with star crossed lovers sitting behind hedges and trees, idling their time away. Mostly college and university students who are, in most cases, supposed to be attending classes. “Whisper sweet nothings in my ear, O Beloved.” Infatuated teens who are basically just fooling themselves into believing the love that doesn’t exist. Moving from tree to tree, and hedge to hedge – finding all of them occupied with love birds which came in early to roost, the beloveds take a walk further up towards the hill until they come right up to the boundary wall. There they find solace, away from the noise of parking cars, and from the sights of other lovers, they are free to whisper as many nothings as they wish – or deliver a lecture on the theories of nothingness, if they please.

The lovers’ games are one such sight. The beloved never looks into her lover’s eyes. Or into the eyes of anyone else.  This love is just too much ridden with guilt and shame. She will cover her head, hair and face in hijab when in public, but when alone she will let her hair down for him. (Not that he knows what to do with it.) On roads they will walk together, but a few feet apart. Modestly, pretentiously. In buses they will sit together, one seat apart, and communicate in loud whispers with heads bent.

Overlooking the garden are the many small hutments of the tourism departments. Till recently these were given out to top-notch bureaucrats for their official residences. The scenes the local varieties of Romeo and Juliet play are visible from such huts. I remember a conversation I once had with the wife of one such top-notch bureaucrat. She was giggling within herself while narrating the scenes of lovers in the garden. Like a TV serial. Take a cup of tea, sit back, and watch the daily matinee. Mrs. Bureaucrats obviously don’t have much work to do.

In bigger cities – it would perhaps be better to say in newer (not necessarily modern) cities – on Valentine’s Day, Love is spilled across the streets.Inflated in heart shaped balloons. Heart shaped key chains and car hangings. Heart shaped hairpins. Anything that can be heart-shaped and still be saleable.  And very attractive, very interesting heart-shaped cakes.

Obviously, this has repercussions. Kashmir’s women in black, Dukhtaraan-e-Millat (Daughters of Faith) are famous for their protests against this day and roughing up a good number of girls.

But St. Valentine’s day is losing its reverence slowly. In the Islamic world only, though.  In Uzbekistan Valentine’s Day was banned this year, and instead, a day to celebrate the birth of Mughal Emperor Babur was put in place by the state. In Iran, the people were warned against celebrating this day. Saudi Arab is obviously against the day. To me, personally, the day never held much significance. It never defined romance or love, or anything relevant. Somehow Valentine’s Day never brings up images of love as we know them from epics and literature. Juliet and her Romeo. Laila’s Majnu. In fact, it never brings up any idea except pink teddy bears and Archies cards. 

So what is this thing called love? What is the obsession with 14th February, anyway? And the days preceding it – Rose Day, Promise Day, Teddy Day? What-not-day Day?  If someone were to ask me what heart I would take, it would be this  – a heart of foam on coffee – taken with my friend, the one  from the Botanical Garden, of course.

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The year is dying in the night

The year has died. Coffined and buried. Or may be for some, it will never be buried. Or buried after some time.
Two thousand twelve is finally here. Even though the government had snatched Hurriyat’s calendars for the year 2012 early on, they couldn’t stop the year from coming in. And finally it is here, albeit a snowless one in Srinagar. I spent the New Year reclining. Resting. Reading on Wikipedia how they recite Lord Alfred Tennyson’s ‘Ring Out, Wild Bells’ every year on New Year’s Eve in Sweden.  And thinking how appropriate a poem it is for such an occasion.

Ring out the old, ring in the new, 
Ring, happy bells, across the snow: 
The year is going, let him go; 
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

In Kashmir, we don’t have any New Year traditions for the one which begins on January 1. And of course we don’t have any ‘national’ New Year celebrations – thankfully. But there is some kind of hullaballoo every year in Gulmarg – one which I have never visited. But the Indian media and the tourism department do surely make a big deal of it. Some folks tell me there were almost fifty thousand people there this year, many of whom couldn’t find a roof over their heads and spent the night in tents and cars. Of course, for the tourists who couldn’t join the throng over there, hotels in Srinagar make up for the missing noise by parties. From what I have heard the parties are mostly for debauch bureaucrats and college students to get drunk and shout. I reckon some people consider that to be an auspicious start to a year.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind, 
For those that here we see no more, 
Ring out the feud of rich and poor, 
Ring in redress to all mankind.

An eight year old kid, who had gone to Gulmarg to see the New Year set in, brought back with him memories of a man (eight year olds cannot differentiate between tourists and locals) who was swinging a green bottle and shouting “happy new year”.  And of men whirling their pherans and yelling happy New Year. Gulmarg also had fireworks, Sydney and Taipei inspired perhaps, and Omar Abdullah (the Chief Minister and son of party president Farooq Abdullah – ‘party’, of course, is for NC). 

Ring out false pride in place and blood, 
The civic slander and the spite; 
Ring in the love of truth and right, 
Ring in the common love of good

Ring out old shapes of foul disease, 
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold; 
Ring out the thousand wars of old, 
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

I never was much game for New Year resolutions. I don’t think we need to start changing with each year beginning. One can adopt the good when one wants. If at all, one wants, that is. You don’t need to get drunk on New Year’s Eve and then decide to quit from thereon. I don’t think resolutions work that way. And by the way, it’s Kashmir. Resolutions don’t work here anyways.

But we can always hope.

The larger heart, the kindlier hand; 
Ring out the darkness of the land,

So how did you spend your New Year’s Eve? And yes, Happy New Year to those who believe in such greetings.

Lines of poetry are from Lord Tennyson’s “Ring Out, Wild Bells”.

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