Thursday, 27 February 2014

Hans Christian Ostro

             Even today there are no trains
             into the Vale of Kashmir.

And those defunct trains – Kashmir Mail,
Srinagar Express – took
pilgrims only till the last of plains.
There, in blue-struck buses, they forsook
the monsoon. What iron could be forged to rail
like faith through mountains

star-sapphired, by dawn amethyst?
It’s not a happy sound...
There is such pathos in the cry of trains:
Words breathed aloud but inward-bound.
Bruised by trust      O Heart bare amidst
fire          arms turquoise with veins

from love’s smoke-mines            blessed infidel
who wants your surrender?
I cannot protect you: these are my hands.
I’ll wait by the deep jade river;
you’ll emerge from the mist of Jewel Tunnel:
O the peaks one commands –

A miracle! – from there ... Will morning
suffice to dazzle blind
beggars to sight? Whoso gives life to a soul
shall be as if he had to all of mankind
given life. Or will your veins’ hurt lightning –
the day streaked with charcoal –
betray you, beautiful stranger
sent to a lovelorn people
longing of God? Their river torn apart,
they’ve tied waves around their ankles,
mourning the train that save its passenger
will at night depart

for drowning towns. And draped in rain
of the last monsoon-storm,
a beggar, ears pressed to that metal cry,
will keep waiting on a ghost-platform,
holding back his tears, waving every train
Good-bye and Good-bye.

- Agha Shahid Ali
From "The Country Without a Post office"

From Left to Right: Hans Christian Ostro, Dirk Hasert, Paul Welles, Keith Mangan and Don Hutchings

PS: In July 1995, Al-Faran kidnapped 4 Western trekkers from Pahalgam. They demanded that in return of the hostages, 21 of their jailed comrades be released by India. Four days later one hostage escaped. But on that very day, 2 more trekkers were abducted. Hans Christian Ostro from Norway was one of the two. The other was Dirk Hasert from Germany.

Hans Christian Ostro was beheaded and his body found in the upper reaches of Pahalgam on 13 August. He was 27. What became of the other hostages is not known with certainty. 

Monday, 24 February 2014

Thank God for Little Pleasure XXIV

To stay the homesick, homesick feet
Upon a foreign shore,
Haunted by native lands, the while,
And blue, beloved air -

Emily Dickinson

Thursday, 13 February 2014

A Curfew in Peace

9th February.

 Last year Afzal Guru was hanged in Delhi on this day.  Early in the morning curfew was imposed, the news channels blocked and internet services cut down by the government to save people from the terrible onslaught of the news. Still, the government despite its good intentions and good humour could not save the people from hearing the news. People heard and, much to the agony of the government, reacted by getting angry and throwing stones. The defenceless security forces finding no other option to save the integrity of the curfew which they had imposed with so much devotion murdered a handful of people in protests and arrested a handful more.

After a few days of turbulence, just as the government had planned, peace returned to the Valley and slowly the curfew was withdrawn, the arrested people forgotten and the dead, well, were found to be really dead. They were put in a long list of martyrs, nameless for the most part, where they join others from 2010 and sundry massacres.

This year, on the anniversary of the hanging, the government displaying an unusual foresight blocked the internet and clamped curfew, thereby saving the last remaining of human race in Kashmir. The internet was ostensibly down for three days and curfew was having a little snow party. Even though not much snow is left. With Maqbool Bhat’s annual strike just round the corner on 11th of February, these two hangings could very well become Kashmir’s official (or unofficial) way to welcome spring. A sort of Koshur spring festival, only more grotesque and one utterly lacking in festivities.

Internet is usually the first casualty of anything that happens in Kashmir. Being one of the two things totally under the control of government (the other being curfew) it is frequently blocked or scrutinized or both simultaneously. The government looks out for events, or creates an event, and then extends a neck out of a little window and yells, “Stop the internet. Just do it!”
They hanged Afzal Guru. Block the internet.
It’s 15th August. Block the internet.
A mufti issued a fatwa against a local all girls band. Block the internet.
The minister has taken a blue pill. Block the internet.
(Okay, I made the last one up, but one can’t be sure enough – of blue pills and internet blockades).

When this government came to power, one of the first things it did was to ban the local news channels. Those days, it used to be fashionable to throw around words like “law and order”, “security’ and hence establish that the new government is not only bringing new censorships but also comes with a better vocabulary. Then the SMS were banned in 2008, but were started again a few months later. For two more years petty crimes and little “wars against the state” were waged through SMS and, finally, in 2010 the government rid the people of their menace. Since so many people were dying that year, it was no longer considered adequate or sensible to question the ban. People just accepted it and made do. The old tricks of changing “Service Centre” numbers that used to work in 2008 for sending texts during the ban no longer worked in 2010 and haven’t worked since then.

And now, we have the unique situation, where the government has blocked the internet, thus leaving people without Twitter – to which they were paying as much attention to know the reason for blockade as to Pakistan’s Ruiyat-e-Hilal Commitee for moon sighting on Eid. However, the justifications didn’t come. The internet being banned and all. Like all true democracies internet was blocked for three days only after a public announcement giving local media a chance to inform the people. And in a wonderful display of timing, it was snapped five minutes before the clock struck midnight just as ordered.

Despite all these measures, the people still complained. Some patients who had been let off were forced to spend another night in the hospital as if they were sick and the doctors complained of being treated like civilians when they were asked to show their identity cards repeatedly on the roads. In these perilous times, one cannot even have a curfew in peace without someone complaining to not being able to buy medicine or not being able to shift patients from one hospital to another or the University postponing its exams.

But one can’t get too feisty about a day of restrictions. It is, after all, a regular thing. The government opposing factions had given a call for strike. A mark of protest and anguish. The undeclared curfew changed it to a mark of oppression and police control. The protest it still remained, even under the iron gauntlet.