Fa La La La La, La La La La

I have a song in my head and it goes like “Fa La La La La, La La La La.”

Christmas comes at a very opportune time. At the close of the year, when however terrible the year had been, everyone hopes for a better one next year. Now, I have been skeptical of New Year’s Eves and all the celebration, but one cannot help being delighted at the Christmas imagery.

Some very clever person elf must have guessed that an obese white man in a red coat from the land of snow will win hearts all over. Everything is festive about the pictures of Santa Claus. Snow falls. Fire burns. Shadows play. Gifts are wrapped. Tinsel shines. You cannot be sad or angry at that!

In Kashmir, I am sitting in the cold waiting for snow. It seems difficult today. The water sometimes freezes in the pipes now. The night temperatures fall so low that it is a miracle that air doesn’t freeze and become solid. One cannot venture out without longing for the indoors. The window panes frost and cloud. The outside becomes obscure. The one who is gone is lost from sight.

Yet there is no snow.

The schools are closed now for winter vacations, so the kids have nothing to do. Again. This year, the academic year functioned for 5 months. Everything else too. But worse things happened in this little valley of ours in the remaining months. People were killed with impunity, children were blinded with impunity. The curfew stretched on for four months, the strikes for even longer. Everyone blamed everybody else. The summer and autumn were gone in this frenzy. There is no salvation.

Sometimes I make up the argument in my head, “People are being killed on the streets and you are thinking about this?This could be anything – from nun chai to baking cakes – trivial things like the colour of pheran. But, I confess, I do think about these things. I have a folder on my computer full of cake recipes which I want to try. Sigh! I must be a horrible person.

In the days of the curfew, when you are too full of anger and grief to do anything, I sit almost paralyzed by the happenings of the world. The war came right to the street corner and brought home what it really means to live in a conflict zone. Yet again. The anger came simmering out and you couldn’t be non-partisan anymore. So there were protests and there was a huge push of propaganda. The political cycle was played again, complete with visits by the government of India’s officials. A few weeks into the crisis, op-eds started pouring in that India needs to learn from its mistakes in Kashmir. While India learns its lessons and acts upon them, is Kashmir supposed to wait and count her dead? Apparently, murder in Kashmir is no big news in India – indeed some have been openly baying the army for killing more Kashmiris. I am tired of these political shenanigans. Enough already!

2016 leaves us in a lot of tatters. And no one knows how the future will unfold. After 2010, such an uprising was unfathomable. And yet here we are! So many children have been buried without shrines this year. By next year, they will be faint public memories but stark figures in history. So many people have been blinded by pellet guns (which, by the way, are still not banned) and will not regain any vision. Sometime in March I had posted that there is no attack like an attack on personal freedom. That was when people in Paris said they were scared of doing regular things because of the uncertainty left by the Paris attacks of last year. For a brief period the upheaval had turned their world upside down. The same can hardly be said of Kashmir. Uncertainty is the way of our life here. We had just celebrated Eid when, as if by design, life suddenly stopped in Kashmir. Day after day, yet again, we were bombarded by the news of death and blinding of people. At the end of the year, I don’t mean to keen over the curfew or the city, and I do not want to sway and make grand predictions or write lessons for the future either. They never come true. If there is anything worth panegyrizing it is that when the government abandoned the people, the people didn’t abandon each other. From volunteer kitchens in the hospitals and donations to them, to the little acts like hitching rides or tuition for neighborhood children. We survived.

I feel everyone here is debating the Kashmir issue yet again. Internally, in small meaningful ways. This summer has cast a very long shadow. There have been no “inquiries” about the use of pellet guns and the deaths caused by them this year. No army men have been questioned. There is no justice. Just yesterday, a man narrated how his neighbour’s son was arrested and accused of burning bikes and rioting. The son is a student of Class 5.

Conflict erodes life. We have seen that this year. Kashmir is a test case, a lab for politics. Most experiments fail. And failures are fatal – for Kashmiris. We saw that again this year. If there is anything I am sure of right now, it is that the year is coming to an end in two days. Indoors, the woollen namda feels hard and familiar on the cold floor. And there is no snow yet. However, in my slightly frenzied mind I would continue to hope for small things, like small sparks to light big fires, like small steps to complete long journeys. When you are lost in the jungle, there is only one way to reach out, to keep walking the trail. I do not wish curfews or strikes or this conflict to sustain and claim more lives. I do however hope for a stronger voice. People have given their time, money and of course lives to see the end of this conflict. I hope their voices are heard. I hope prayers are answered. Like everyone else on this side of the divide, I want the summer carnivals of bloodshed presided over by some bureaucrats to end and the perpetrators punished. I hope the snow falls, fire burns, tinsel shines and continue to do so. I hope to live free from the trappings of guilt. To live free from the mercy of gun wielding foreigners. To live free. To that, my mind rises in a crescendo of “Fa La La La La, La La La La”.


A Letter

Dear Rich Autumns,

You should know that even though I am writing this letter, I am not appreciative of your blog (or whatever you call it). It’s pointless, and I hate pointless things. But since you have asked me to write something for your readers, I want to know something. Don’t your ‘readers’ have anything better to do? 2012 is dead. So will we be. And this neighbour’s dog (the dog, hopefully, sooner than the rest), and if I am lucky, the neighbour too. But I am not grumpy. In general, I like the world. I’d like it better with less people in it, but who cares?

Last year, in short, was cold.  The cold does no good to me. The snow came down heavy, but you obviously know it. You wrote two excessively long posts about it. Then came the wind. It blew down the shed’s roof. I had to repair it. The carpenter was way too expensive.

It was all Nature’s play to punish you people. You have lost track!

Am I allowed to write expletives here? Am I? No? Why? Are these ‘readers’ of yours just kids! I hate little kids, you should know. Our neighbour has one. She does nothing but cry all day. I wonder what had her mother been feeding on for nine months. But still, in June last year some retards burnt the shrine of Dastgeer Sahab. They were not caught and nothing came of the government’s ‘inquiries’. I have never believed in the government. And I never will. They burnt the shrine and were let loose. Then they said we will make another one just like the old one, but what about the culprits? Is burning a heritage site allowed these days? Why don’t they burn a few heritage karakuls too?

But these karakuls won’t know. There was no gas and what were these thugs doing? I sent the servant boy to look up the gas queue and he comes back after an hour, saying that there is a line. I knew there is a line. Bloody ass! What does he take me for? It’s a good thing that now we have no gas to run these gas bukharis. People should go back to old times. They can bring back the hearth, but how will they get the firewood?

Then someone brought out a shoe and in the old city people were against each other. Fighting! I said, “Shabaash!” Now you are fighting over Chinese shoes with Chinese shoes? These fools like living under curfew. I don’t know a single person who understood why were the people protesting? Or were they fighting? And all these policemen and armymen! They don’t know a thing. They came like idiots with their guns and fired a few shells of gas. Chillied gas, like those Germans used to do. Of course! What else would they do? All they can do is fire here and there. I have stopped caring about these fires. I simply shut the windows and waited for all of them to die from the fire they were creating. But they didn’t die. My throat choked.  But you perhaps wouldn’t know. You were busy telling people that we drink babribeol during Ramzaan.

There! If you expect me to comment on every damn thing that happened last year, you shouldn’t.

I am,
Samad Joo.


PS: Samad Joo is not the happiest person in the world. He’s never been happy, actually. “But he likes the world.” Doesn’t ‘love’ it though!

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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