Thursday, June 5, 2014
Friday, August 23, 2013
to say that one thing
that needs to be said,
that sits like a rock
- not large, just large enough -
within my throat
and makes all life
just a gasping of breath
a long desperate set of wheezes
pleas upon pleas upon pleas
that they do not admit
the space for despair,
I would like to speak,
just the one thing,
Monday, July 5, 2010
As the airplane tyres touch the tarmac and I break the rules by turning on my mobile phone while the announcer is still saying, “Please do not turn on your mobile phones until the plane has come to a halt…” It takes a few seconds and then the signal comes up, immediately followed by an sms saying that I have a missed call. Just at that moment a pretty airhostess comes by and gives me a dirty look. “Sir…” she says disapprovingly.
I grin, apologise, and pocket the phone. For the first time I shall have a phone connection while travelling in the Valley. Mobile phones were banned in
The Price of a Call
Five years ago, when I was visiting
I hate running, and since my little hotel was only twenty feet away, I leisurely strolled over, watching how the people on the street scattered. The Dalgate area, just as you turn the corner from the city to the beautiful lake, is always a crowded marketplace. It emptied within seconds. Even the heavily armed J&K policemen that had been joking around in the shop were gone, disappearing into their pickets, or towards where the firing still continued. The hotel manager looked up at me when I came up the stairs, and exclaimed, “Dekho Hindustan hum pe kitna zulm karta hai! (Look at how cruelly
This was not an argument I was going to win, so I retired to my room. Once there I realised that the wall full of windows that I had so liked seemed rather unattractive when there was firing happening down the street. The only place that was cemented was the bathroom. I could always hide there. But what if a bullet ricocheted in through the bathroom door, how would I explain being shot in the loo? The potential for embarrassment was far too great. I opened up “The Brothers Karamazov” and started reading. An hour or so later, while the firing still continued in a sporadic manner, I had fallen asleep.
The times had changed since 2005. Or so I had been told. I was not so sure. While the central government had made a number of good noises removing bunkers and some small number of troops, the Amarnath agitation in 2008 and the Shopian case in 2009 had led to massive negative campaigns. Worst of all the dual peace process, between India-Pakistan, and New Delhi-Srinagar seemed to have come to a standstill. In a violence hit area like
A young Kashmiri politician, one of the more dynamic and intelligent men in the Valley, had said to me a few months ago, “Two years back, I would have told you that militancy is finished. Now I know of militants finding shelter just out of
Irony on Earth
I snapped out of my reverie as the airplane came to a stop, and in the true disciplined style of South Asian air passengers, we fell all over each other. It was worth it when we got out. Coming from the 40C plus heat of
Outside the airport a driver was waiting with my name spelled incorrectly among a huge number of people looking hopefully touting names scrawled on pieces of paper, the smarter ones with little boards. One of them had a handwritten sign which said, “Welcome to heaven on earth” in permanent marker. I wonder if he was being hopeful, or ironic. Probably he was doing neither, just using Shahjahan’s favourite quote as it has always been used: as a sales pitch.
To see real irony you have to get further ahead. The airport was attacked by the LeT some years ago so there is a now a security gate about a kilometre away from the airport from where the checking starts. And here, on a large billboard, the quote is reproduced, “If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.” It is not ascribed to the Mughal Emperor, instead you have the name of the Central Reserve Police Force.
If this is our strategy to win hearts and minds, no wonder we are failing.
Within the town, where the heavily armed police and paramilitary are either on the street, or behind barbed wire enclosed bunkers, you find the same ham-handed attitude. On the bunker is scrawled something along the lines of: Aap ke suraksha, humari pratibadhiyata (Your protection, our determination). Somebody obviously thought it sounded snazzy; except it is written only in Hindi, and in no other language, not even Urdu, the state language of J&K. And who uses words like ‘pratibadhiyata’? Even a fairly proficient Hindi speaker would stumble over such a word. It is obviously not a message for the Kashmiri population, and it is also contradicted forcefully by the reality. If you are hiding in a bunker behind barbed wire, the only person you are protecting is yourself, not the people outside reading your graffiti.
Not all things Indian are so thought out, or so badly received. The new ‘happening’ place in
I suggested that I might not be made for greatness, and excused myself. What really interested me was the train.
It takes me half an hour to go from the centre of town to the
The price of the tickets also reflects this reality. The most expensive ones, from Qazigund to Baramulla, cost all of 22 rupees. My ticket to Qazigund from
Thodi Si Azaadi
Each cabin has about 90 seats, and there is standing room only. The only security people are Railway Security Force personnel armed with submachine guns that stand in the space between cabins. This is the one place where I have seen such a large group of Kashmiris who do not have police/paramilitary/military personnel looking over their shoulders. The ease, laughter, and lightness is new and surprising. The boisterousness subsides slightly when the Ticket Inspector arrives and the Railway Security Force man peeps in. But as soon as the door closes, the high spirits resume peppered with jokes even, or maybe especially, at the expense of the Ticket Inspector as he goes about his business, half-joking himself.
Most of the passengers disembark in Anantnag and I have room to breathe, and relax. The train tracks curve up towards Qazigund, the snow covered peaks not too distant, and I am struck again by this train. For once in this stupid conflict, at great expense and probably for many ulterior motives, the government has done some good directly for the people. Who would have thought it?
The next day a boy in the hospital dies, protests and killings resume, and I am left to wonder why good things are so very difficult to come by in this lovely place.