Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Independence Day?

[Part 4 of 7 writings on Kashmir]

The beauty of the Jhelum is enhanced today – it has been raining incessantly since last night, and the river looks swelled up a bit, with a renewed energy in its generally tardy flow. The mountains in the backdrop are barely visible – greyish white fluffy clouds, which almost seem to be touching the brownish green earth far ahead, allow only a silhouette of the peaks of those Himalayan Ranges to pass through them, more prominent visibility being granted only to the foothills. There is no rainbow, but the freshly washed houseboats and shikaras dotting the banks seem to radiate enough colours to the sky compensating for any apparent lack of them. The rains have been reduced to moderate showers, and the tiny droplets fall softly and clumsily, narrating the fact that the sky is tired by now, and this downpour isn't going to last much longer. There is no wind, but the smell of green, wet trees and chinars soaked overnight and standing lazily fills the air – it's everywhere, and a breeze isn't really needed to carry that smell around. The surroundings are characteristically quiet, and peace seems to be more than normal. Mentally, I classify this as a beautiful day.

I am taking a longer route to the Lal Chowk today. It's past 11 in the morning, and after watching Delhi's flag hoisting on Doordarshan and listening to the compressed versions of fake promises and thoroughly useless speeches from the two highest offices in India (one guy who is generally mute, reads out neat Hindi passages with no touch of inspiration from this important podium, the other guy who used to be the 'troubleshooter' in North Block until few days ago, reads out boring English passages in his own accent apparently from an electronic display besides the TV camera), I decide to rather get on with my more-or-less indifferent life. I walk by the river, through the Jhelum View Park, soaking in the beauty around on a lethargic day in my Kashmir trip, hoping to buy a cup of Kahwa in this weather as I reach the marketplace. With an open umbrella above my head, khaki coloured shorts, a plain t-shirt, hawai chappals, and a characteristically "North Indian" face (after all, Kashmir isn't North India), I probably look like a walking confusion between a localite and a tourist.

As I reach the Zero Bridge of Rajbagh, I observe the surroundings more carefully. There are no private vehicles crossing the bridge, but after every few minutes, a cavalcade of Flying Squads, Vajra Vaahans, J&K Police buses, Ambassador cars with red beacons and Jeeps with square openings on top and armed men looking out, crosses by. On both sides of the bridge, and onwards, there are numerous men in uniform toting guns – apparently automatics, which look like capable of firing multiple rounds on the slightest touch to their triggers. As I reach the marketplace around noon, I am greeted by deserted roads, closed shutters, and of course, no tricolors anywhere – what I was classifying as peace on a beautiful day, now seems like a mourning, and the whole valley in the rains seems to be crying at its fate in silence. This is the stark reality of Kashmir.

What went wrong with the land which inspired countless poets, writers, painters and artists for centuries? As I walk back to the hotel, and ask Abdul to cook paranthas and some curry, I wonder at the people who thought about firing a bullet in this paradise on earth. The very idea of driving tankers and carrying firearms amidst this beauty is violent, actually using them is probably as criminal as throwing acid on the pretty face of a 12 year old girl. It all might have started with the selective greed of certain men, transpiring into a collective suffering for the masses. To this day, the whole of Kashmir region is devoid of basic progress compared to the rest of the country. You wouldn't find modern cars, branded clothing, retail chains, extended electronics, comprehensive bookstores – people everywhere have aspirations and Kashmiris have them too, and they are denied. There are very few banks or ATMs outside of Srinagar, prepaid cellphones aren't allowed by law, and I'm surprised at the number of people who ask me what time it is when I walk on the roads – the people are basically poor, largely due to stymied trade which could develop markets and an economy.

The "Kashmir problem" is purely political, of course. And probably the solution is simple – let Kashmir be. I wonder if a referendum means anything either. People like Abdul, the guy who struggles with less than 20% occupancy of his hotel even in summer months, or the shikara owner, who hardly gets his ends to meet by manually navigating boats (it's real hardwork, I can tell you by experience) with dwindling traffic, or Irshad, the guy who climbs up and down the hills and doesn't understand education beyond "graduation" which he hopes to do someday, or Amarjeet, the 55 year old man who runs a 1-room shabby dhaba slightly away from the touristy area in Pahalgam and manages two meals a day with difficulty – I wonder if any of those people would care about their nationality, identity, faith, or anything beyond letting them be at peace.

Kashmir is an "issue" which select people wouldn't want to kill. And collectively, what we are doing to the mother nature in its most beautiful form can be described by the filthiest of words - gangrape.

Abdul tells me that the markets will open up in the evening by 4:30 - 5:00, and I decide to go back again, shop a bit, and spend a lazy evening by the lake. Buses will be operational again tomorrow, and people here will move on with their lives, thanking that the "Independence Day" is over.


The markets didn't open up in the evening either, but the medical shops, sweet shops and restaurants opened – the latter, probably to cater to the Roza keepers. I ended up at Aadoo's, another restaurant in the recommendation list, and tried the Mirchi Qurma (I had Gushtaba on my mind, but the waiter suggested against it.)  Goes without saying, I ended up stuffing myself yet again, and couldn't resist the temptation to eat another phirni either. It's just so damn delicious!


Nupur said...

politically correct! :)
the Beauty of Kashmir...vividly painted... waiting for more..keep blogging!

Anonymous said...

"The "Kashmir problem" is purely political, of course. And probably the solution is simple – let Kashmir be"

Yes, and there exists a 9 and three quarters station number in London and we'll all meet Harry Potter there. :)

Unfortunately, the fallacy of nationalism entails that the three nations surrounding Kashmir, would not think about letting Kashmir be, all at the same time. Maybe it is not so outrageous an idea to break that state into three - give it hard borders than those soft Indo-Pak and Indo-China ones. Kashmir needs some belonging- it's outrageous that it exists as a special Article 324 case even now. Whatever each nation owns of Kashmir, own it well, own it like it owns its Delhi, Beijing or Islamabad.

This "soft" nonsense gives Kashmir the nebulous air of a beautiful woman everyone wants, but noone's willing to stand up for and take care of. None of us love our Kashmir, we have instead, only made it our ego problem.

Anonymous said...

I was searching for description of 'people' in your last 4 posts.. You quenched it beautifully. Kashmir.. @ Anonymous Beautiful woman who everyone wants but none to marry. KV puts it brutally as a 'Victim of Gangrape'!

KV said...

@Nupur: Thank you. :)

KV said...

@Anonymous 1:
Would agree with you - simple solution does sound almost dreamy. But well, the valley is crying for liberation.