Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Porcelain

The waiters had appeared, setting glasses upside down in preparation of early evening diners. But mainly the restaurant was empty. Tea. A cup of tea is a good idea at this hour. The tea arrived brimming hot in white ceramic. the waiter laid the cup slowly, and delicately like an artist, took a step backward to examine its position at the table. Like still life, in which the stranger was just an object. An object in someone else’s painting.
As if acknowledging this idea, the waiter nodded at the stranger and smiling went away.

A few tables away a young guy with blue spectacles sat looking prettily at his date. A light jazz played in the restaurant. “Strangers in the night” the stranger could hear in his mind. It was hot day, by Srinagar standards. And the air was dusty. The many ornamental plants and the air conditioning did nothing to improve the air. Across the lawn trimmed to perfection, beyond the edge, traffic rumbled by. Its many sounds barely audible over the music in the café. A small marquee had been set up inside the hotel to give it a Middle Eastern feel. The curtain around the marquee looked untidy and unwashed.

The stranger had wandered into this place looking for company. He realized that he stayed there for too long. He looked at is tea cup. Empty again. It was Eid and he and he had nowhere to go.



After the Eid prayers, a random person stepped forward from the throng of strangers at the congregation and hugged him. The stranger hugged him back. It was Eid after all. But the man was gone before the stranger could see his face. He was lost in a throng of onlookers and bored people waiting to get out of the mosque. He had thin shoulders and deep black eyes. He disappeared in the crowd.

There was a moment of happiness and the plain joy of it bounded onto him. This would be over soon, he said to himself. There is a fire on the mountains. A long road leads up the hill. If you make it through, the air is fragrant with burnt roses. The singed petals pave the way up.

The stranger smiled at the empty cups. The top of the mountain is an unknown place. It may have roses, luscious and covered in dew drops. Or nettles, grown over the years.


The music in the café changed, to a deep soulful violin. The boy across the table was still smiling at his date. The stranger thought of the man who had hugged him. In a city of unknown people, someone had tried to make a connection. But then he had disappeared. May be for all the warmth of his heart, he had found the stranger cold, and withdrawn. The stranger was still thankful for that. In  the weepy sky that overcast the city  that day, he wrapped his hand round the cup of tea. It had gone cold. Now it was just porcelain. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Last Beautiful Dregs


I have been trying to recreate a Sehri from the past, and I must write down what remains of the last beautiful dregs of the time in my memory. Memory is a fleeting, floating channel and we can only be children once. Alas!


The past when as eager-to-fast children we would wake up to calls of hurrying parents. When Sehri meant having a full fledged meal (because, you know, what if you felt hungry?) followed by tea. 

The mornings were dark. That is the first of few. And cold. We would pile on sweaters and jackets; just enough in number that the cold wouldnt get inside yet not as many that would restrict movement.

We would tread lightly over the floor as the cold bit into tiny feet, with mother's directives, "slippers, slippers". And rush from the kitchen to the small room for eating by the gaslight. Electricity would still be sleeping when we woke. The sound of Sahar Khan's bugle affirmed that we were on time. No other sound emerged from the valley, except the heavy army convoys moving at that hour. Instantly and instinctively we would ignore them. My memory bids the same.

Someone would vaguely and uselessly try to rekindle the kangri. Few things are as disappointing as a kangri gone cold.  We would warm our hands on the gas burner and rub them to feel the heat spread. 

Half a jug of water was heated up and mixed with cold water to make it drinkable. One couldnt drink cold water without catching a cold. A little hot water was swirled in glasses too, to keep them from cracking.

The rice wrapped up in shawls and blankets like a baby and kept in the bedroom to keep warm through the night. Even then it wasn’t hot – warm just like the water, which meant that everything else needed to be hot. The kitchen was cold, cold and dangerous to visit. The air would make the spine shiver, literally. And yet, mother would stand at the cooking stove in her blue shawl, to heat up everything, in the candle light. Warming her hands on the utensils when it got very cold.



She would leave the nunchai on while we had the rice. The tea used to be perfect. May be the darkness that ripened the taste or the cold that added the flavor, the tea was never a letdown.

Behind timidly parted curtains, the morning was still night. The frosted window pane admitted no light, and the sounds from the mosque were distant. Those days, announcements from the mosques were frequent and inaudible. And outside, it was all frost. G would steal out a moment and light a secret smoke in the darkness outside just before the Azan. We all knew.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

To Keep it Relevant

On a fine day, we shall choose to talk about art.

But right now, we shall talk of something else.

On January 12, 2015 when a bunch of artists opened the first art gallery of Kashmir, Gallerie One, it generated a small buzz in a very profound city. There were bureaucrats in long overcoats and golf caps, in shawls and stoles admiring the art work. Some old shriveled-looking artists explaining the works and their meanings.

Gallerie One was the brain child of Syed Mujtaba Rizvi, a twenty something Goldsmiths art graduate. Its website (which is quite beautiful in itself) describes it to envisage as a space for artists to express and create. The gallery, the website shows the gallery as a spacious lit up room of khatambad ceilings and minimalist furniture. While I never visited the gallery, I did intend to go. Soon.

That seems difficult now. On February 23, a few officials from the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation hit the gallery and not for admiring the art. They took away the furniture, some equipment, destroyed a few art pieces and wanted to call it a day. The gallery managers documented this on mobile phone videos and put them on Youtube. The owners allege that no prior notice was served for closing down the gallery, and the actions of the officials amount to hooliganism.

The video is infuriating in parts, but Kashmiri to the core. There is a sense of unaccountability with which the ‘department people’ handle the issue ordering their men about which bespeaks of years of government service where the only accountability is to the officer above you.

There is a young woman who decides to inject some discipline in the tense air and says, “Please keep your tone down!”

Her simple reply to questions of vandalizing the properties of artists is “We also respect art. We will put it back.”

“What is your qualification in art? What do you know about art?” yells a frustrated person from behind the camera. I agree, but can see reason in her words. We rarely respect art – artists and their expression. For her, they might have just torn down a canvas or broken something made of plaster of Paris, something she can just seal over and it still would be good enough to put in a corner of her drawing room. That’s the idea of respect for art.

The idea of art is more and more alien to the urban youth. It’s something the  students who could not study science or commerce do. Or something which can be purchased from a handicrafts shop. The idea of academic excellence is excellence in science and mathematics – not literature, not arts.

A small stocky man comes forward and seems to have only one answer for every question. That it is his will and that is the way things happen in Kashmir. Also, he adds without failing, that it is the government’s policy. Then he moves on, giving orders to his men to take things and throw them out.

The question here hardly seems to be of artistic freedom as there was no issue raised on the content and the art works– though one can’t be very sure. It’s more of the official morass that stifles every aspiration in Kashmir. In a place like Kashmir, you cannot escape censorship of one way or the other. But vandalism, is unwarranted. Official hooliganism has no place in a civilized society. If there was a policy decision to remove the art gallery, the officials should have given a prior notice. A month’s prior notice, to say the least. But the gallery owners have consistently denied this. At one point a person asks the small stocky man, who identifies himself as Joint Director – Tourism, feels offended at being asked who he was, refuses to talk and sulks away like a school bully.

The art gallery owners keep asking for paperwork, and the officials keep denying it. Was there an eviction order? Apparently, the officials turned up on the spot without any warrants to evacuate the space. I also wonder, why no one (neither the officials nor the artists) call the police in.

Official high handedness is not new in Kashmir. Or news worthy. It’s a corrupt place, run by corrupt officials. What I admired in Gallerie One was the attempt it purported to be – to make contemporary art from Kashmir visible. To make art relevant to the everyday life of Kashmiris. And that is exactly why a gallery was important. And the fact that it was an indigenous attempt, made it all the more admirable and relevant.


I hope the gallery opens soon. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Zareef Ahmed Zareef on the Floods

Kashmiri poet Zareef Ahmed Zareef pens down the story of Kashmir floods of September 2014.



Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Blogs of Kashmir

In 2011 when I started blogging, I looked around the room of Kashmiri bloggers. There were many, for sure, but not all were to be found on their writing desks. So many people had created blogs and forgotten. That was disheartening. As a novice blogger having a quiet blogosphere meant that there would be no readers too.

But there were some who were still around. Sameer Bhat was not blogging as much as he used to, but his blog is one of the most beautiful to read. I spent hours browsing his old posts. (Read his description of Delhi's Chor Bazar and Sopore's Fish Market and the more recent post on the epic love story of Habba Khatoon and Yusuf Shah Chak). Then there was Speaking Chinar, writing longish articles on mainly politics (though there is a delightful one written on the politics of pheran and another on the uses of kangri). There were others too though it took me a long time to find them.

In sometime I found out the blogs of Muhammad Faysal, Sabbah Haji, and many more.

Francesca Recchia, who collaborates for the  Samavar blog, had asked me once about other Kashmiri bloggers. The result was a small list which we maintained on a Google Doc. But, a later Twitter discussion lead to more discoveries for which we are largely thankful to Dr. Haamid Peerzada. The full list can be seen here.

There is an enormous wealth of bloggers from Kashmir craving for readership. Even though, there are many to choose from, Kashmiri blogosphere suffers from a few limitations. Most of the blogs are political in nature - have something or the other to do with politics. This might be expected, as politics is the most significant aspect of everything that has to do with Kashmir in the contemporary world. People do try to make sense of this overbearing arches of politics by turning artistic, but there are limitations to that. So may of the bloggers dissect the political climate without mincing the words. There is another reason to that as well, one that appears to be more pertinent. Since the discourse on Kashmir is handled heavily by those sitting on the other side of the fence, there is little heard from the Kashmiris. The blogs give air to that voice and sense to the crumbling world of Kashmir's partisans. And in that every little squeak counts.

Poetry and politics seems to define the blogs of Kashmir, as in much of Kashmir. Sadly, there are few bloggers writing the stories of contemporary Kashmir. Vinayak Razdan, however, maintains an impressive blog about Kashmir's contemporary culture and kitsch.

Digital SLRs have been however very kind to Kashmir. Though there are no dedicated blogs or Tumblrs for the ancient pics of Kashmir (there are a couple of Facebook pages though), new photography blogs abound. Check out Sajad Rafeeq's blog.

There are a lot more wondrous voices from Kashmir. I hope someday we will be able to hear them and heed to them.