Saturday, 6 October 2012

Bridges from Where to Wherever

Look what the wind blew into Kashmir! Autumn winds are notorious. They blow all sorts of things hither and thither. People catch cold. Sneeze. Cough. And then all is forgotten in the falling auburn chinar leaves. 

In the past two months two prominent politicians from India have visited the Kashmir University. Impressive, one would say. Looking at also that this second visit carried top industrialists too from India, Kashmir could rejoice in their blessed presence. But this year, Kashmir has already rejoiced quite a bit. And romanced too, with Shahrukh Khan’s movie shoot in Pahalgam and Ladakh (- well, as much romance as he could do while playing an army officer - which, knowing him, is more than enough to last a lifetime.)

But, two weeks and two politicians later Kashmir’s autumn air is no richer. I don’t feel it. The industrialists didn't add anything much too. But surely the air in Kashmir University, their playing field, would have felt different. Choked with so many policemen inspecting everything from mobile phones to writing pens. The policemen have their way of checking things. I was once asked to show my cell phone for ‘checking’ at an event where the Chief Minister (not Omar Abdullah, a different one) was visiting. The policeman took my phone turned it around, opened the flap, closed it, opened it again, pressed a button or two and was assured that it did neither exploded nor triggered any explosion. So he returned it to me. I asked him if it was necessary to frisk me every time I passed by, and he said, in an irritated voice, “Haan, chief Minister aaya hai. Koi lallu-panju nahi aaya hai.”

So naturally security over mobile phones has to be beefed up when the visitor happens to be the President of India or the General Secretary of India’s ruling party. No lalluing-panjuing there! The university was turned into a garrison, replicating the crackdowns of the 90s with policemen beating every track. Policemen on every entry point. On every exit point. On watch towers. On tree tops. Policemen in the conference halls. In civvies, camouflaging as students. This lead to the belief that it was a police university, but that view was quickly exchanged for one favouring a police state. And things were, in general, 'settled for ever'.

Both the visits were boycotted too. But the university succeeded in finding some students to attend to the visitors. For the second visit, the guidelines were clear and well worded. Taking care of natural allergies of the visitors no bearded students were allowed. Also, the university wanted some ‘neutral students’. (Neutral, not neutered. Mind the gap!) Then there were guidelines regarding the questions to be asked. The foreigners were not supposed to have come prepared for a difficult test. So there should be no questions like ‘why are SMS still banned in the Valley?’ easy questions, may be from the book, “100 ways to Understand Kashmir’s pain”, or “Kashmir’s pain for Dummies” which fulfilled their purpose of visit.

Did the University take choreography lessons for making the students stand up for the Indian National Anthem? Last time the university had trouble finding students who would stand for the ‘Jana Gana Mana’. Reports were, the students had gathered outside the convocation hall where Rahul Gandhi was giving a speech, and sang the Pakistani National Anthem. Standing.

Meanwhile Rahul Gandhi did his bit in 'connecting' to the youth. The middle-aged bachelor wore jeans and a jacket to the venue, shunning his white kurta - a complete university student costume. Talked of a student exchange program. Got the industrialists to talk of jobs and employment, and how the one wish they had was to see Kashmiris working for them in various locations. However, there was also a small talk of an upcoming cement plant in Kashmir. (Natural resources, well, of course!) The word "trust" was thrown around a lot, but it wasn't explained to the youth how trust and PSA went hand-in-hand. But those were difficult queries  and were not allowed.

And thus they concluded Building Bridges. From where to wherever.

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