The Kashmir

July 10, 2010

Mr Geelani, were you served biriyani for the day?

Filed under: Kashmir — Tags: , , , , , , , — TheKashmir @ 3:37 pm

Mr Geelani, were you served biriyani for the day? -Dr Sanjay Parva

Geelani & Biryani

More than a decade-and-a-half back I was on a photographic assignment to Fatepur Shekhawati, a town in Sikar district of Rajasthan, known for its exquisite havelis and frescos. It was a beautiful, wintry but sunny Friday afternoon at the bus adda in Jaipur. When the bus didn’t leave at its stipulated Rajasthan Roadways timing, I went to the driver to ask why he was delaying the departure. “I am sorry for the delay, bhaisahab,” he said politely and pointing towards a remote corner on the platform, he added, “Some countrymen are offering their Friday namaz.” As I turned around, I found some 8 to 10 Muslims offering namaz in a seamless queue and in perfect synchrony. It was a sight to behold, and to be honest I loved it. For a Muslim in India, and that too in a state like Rajasthan, where Advani et al had left no stone unturned spewing venom against Muslims some years before that on Babri issue, it was azadi at its best.

Since it was only a few years before this incident that I had become a so-called Kashmiri migrant (some Indian dhoti-clad, paan-spitting politicians still call us refugees, not knowing the difference between the two; but that is another story, not debatable here), my instant reaction to this incident was that the bus driver is a Muslim. I could not hold my inquisitiveness and asked him if he was himself a Muslim. Pat came the reply, “I am a Hindu.” Needless to say, I had asked a ridiculous question.

More than a decade-and-a-half later, and some 3 weeks back, as I was taking pictures around old Amirakadal in Srinagar, I found this little boy of around 8-9 years jumping into almost every other frame till he caught me perfectly into one that I intended to have this gloomy-looking but typically-smiling man (a trait wed to Kashmiris – both Pandits and Muslims – despite pain and parch) in thirties selling fresh currency notes in exchange for the old, torn-out currency.

The boy was impressive and innocent, likable to the core, and rather than dissuading him from doing his lovable mischief, I tried to strike a chord with him. Reluctant and shy in the beginning, he walked a step towards me later. “You look pretty smart in the picture,” I complimented. He smiled and came one more step closer, his cheeks growing pink. “Do you want to see how you look?” I asked. “Aa hawkhe haz,” he asked as if doubtful. As I handed over the camera to him for a live view, his doubts shrank and trust grew more. Looking at himself he smiled and tried to frolic away; but before he would, I asked him if he was studying. He gave a vertical nod first and soon effaced it with a horizontal one; seemed to be in no mood to take another question on the topic and freed himself from my grasp and went out of sight.

Long after the incident, the boy was lingering on my mind and I wondered what his hybrid nod meant. Did he mean he was enrolled in a school but because of frequent hartals and official/ unofficial closures he was infrequent to attend; or did he mean school, as it used to be, was nomore a basic right of children in the Valley? I cannot and must not presume answers for this dilemma; because I leave that to Syed Ali Shah Geelani and men and women of his ilk who are so blinded by their personal aspirations and interests that for young boys as these they feel it is wise to let them march from post to pillar instead of encouraging them to go to school. For innocent boys as these – sadly some of whom fell prey to bullets recently – this certainly is not azadi of any sensible kind.

However, for people like Syed Ali Shah Geelani this must be azadi of the very true and ‘kind’ kind. Diagnosed with renal cancer he knows no other country (not to speak of a bankrupt nation as Pakistan) could have been as sumptuous on him as India by providing him free sarkari biriyani and free medical treatment throughout his detentions and doing everything to defy God’s will and keep him up and running against the nation itself. Azadi, for him, is his best weapon to incite vulnerable parents of the Valley to deprive their children of the previous gift of education, exploit youth to pick stones, take out procession and alas, destroy their own futures by what can never be a fulltime, honorable profession; so much so that youth of the Valley have found a good pastime in sanghbazi until CRPF retaliates.

For Syed Ali Shah Geelani azadi, as a Urdu word, would be more sweeter than Kashmiri phirni, since it is this word that helps him blackmail India and extract money from Pakistan to prevent his own fortunes from plummeting. There are reports that Hurriyat chairman has received a whooping 80 crore rupees ever since the “struggle for self-determination” began. Hurriyat is once believed to have remarked that the money was “collected” for “relief and rehabilitation” of “militancy-affected people of the Valley”. Relief and rehabilitation? One may ask where and what did they rehabilitate so far. And can one expect relief and rehabilitation from a party that incites hapless Kashmir’s to come out in to streets, pick stones with an intention to kill or get killed in the process. All this looks preposterous; it may be a human being on one or another side of the fence; at the end of it all, it is someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s husband and someone’s loved one that departs.

It has become an irony in Kashmir that when a sanghbaz gets killed, people who initiate him into the most medieval act actually convey his dear ones a message that he was worth just Rs 50 to 150 a day. Well-meaning, thoughtful people of the Valley realize this; some even want to speak out since they believe it is time to be in peace rather than turmoil, but they can’t since either they fear elimination or don’t have a platform to do so. History is also testimony to the fact that evil spreads fast; trampling goodness on its way.

Goodness in the Valley has been strangulated; but fortunately still prevails. People at the grassroots, irrespective of being rich or poor, still beat with a warm heart; they welcome you, they hug you and they respect you as a fellow human being, a fellow Kashmiri from whom they had departed 20 years ago. Matchless hospitality, as against azadi, runs through these people’s veins. Such people – during my personal and innumerable interactions with them – have come as a ray of hope who might keep the impeccable Kashmiriyat alive.

The general perception that I gather is that people of this understanding are well-informed about all aspects of the Valley as it stands ruined post-terrorism now and as it was beautifully flourishing before murderers started getting glorified post-1990s. That must bring Kashmiri awam to Yasin Malik, whom money accumulated from terrorism landed him from a congested Maisuma Bazar house to a plush new bungalow in Maisuma, not to speak of commercial buildings, hotels, and investments in real estate not only in Kashmir but in United Kingdom also. Renunciation of violence, as he has done, after accumulating so much of fortune is a natural and safe recourse from the movement that took lakhs of lives in what he had promised as “separation of Jammu & Kashmir from secular India as an Islamic Nation”. Ironically the guy who can barely speak sense, whenever he opens his mouth, says now he is looking for “peaceful methods to come to a settlement on the Kashmir conflict.” Sadly no one questions his integrity that he had shown earlier, no one dares him ask his accountability for the personal fortunes he has built over the dead. Average, hapless Kashmiri has been and still is at the receiving end; his mind practically a hostage to a misled thought emerging from a perverted mind. The trend is fatal, and if it continues parents would wish in future if only they could have reverse the past for their children’s good.

Bytheway, it is Friday again, and across the length and breadth of the country devout Muslims would be offering juma namaz peacefully (and surely in complete azadi) in thousands of mosques. In the Valley, however, menacing concertina wires have been put up to prevent any human movement. A friend calls me up and says he has run out of milk and vegetables for lunch; and in the same breath (almost as a salute to his Kashmiriyat) he asks me if I needed anything? I tell him I can live on just oxygen-rich air nonstop for at least 76 hours; but am seriously worried about Geelani whether or not he was served in time his regular biriyani for the day ….

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