Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Lovers Shall Love : Reading "The Book of Gold Leaves" by Mirza Waheed

*Spoilers Alert*

I finally finished Mirza Waheed's second novel, The Book of Gold Leaves, last night at 2:40 a.m. and immediately thought of writing this.

I am truly heartbroken, not so much at the fate of Roohi and Faiz, as much at the destiny of all the characters in the book, and indeed Kashmir. First things first, this is a remarkable book - in perhaps more ways than I can express. Its a large story played out in tiny lives. It is an invitation to the life in 1990s as the Kashmir conflict burned like firework, sending sparks into everyone, everywhere. Its easy to generalise, easier than The Collaborator (Waheed’s first book) and may be thats why it is more stirring, though not as shocking.



The Book of Gold Leaves is a love story, but somehow that is not the sum-all of it. It is a premise. It is a story about people who chose to live in hope. The whole 90s construct was based on sheer optimism. People wanted independence so much, that the armed rebellion gave them the hope of immediate release. So, when Roohi and Faiz discuss their future together, there is always a hope that Faiz would settle down, after all. That he will figure out something. That the fight is a task at hand – and will soon end, in victory. That Faiz will return to his masterpiece, the Falaknuma. Somewhere towards the end, Roohi tells Faiz that he is fighting for a dream. It was a collective dream of a hundred thousand people that Faiz had to fight for. It was not going to be easy.

Srinagar seems to be going into a slow freeze to be thawed only when the soldiers return the keys to the city. Then, the lovers shall love, the painter shall paint and the lost will be found. But the freeze slowly turns into a fatal decay, as we descend deeper into the decade. The invasion of Srinagar by the Indian Army was not simply a few hundred trucks to make the militants run away, as Major Sumit Kumar had been led to believe. It was the invasion of an educated (somewhat), largely conservative city by mostly semi literate men who had no understanding and respect for the culture and the people they found themselves among. The results were catastrophic - like the fate of Faate, Faiz's godmother, who was killed when the army opened fire on a school bus. The book brings out this contrast - men from a distant land, fighting an enemy they clearly don't understand - among people, they have no regard for - people who don't want them in the first place - men fighting other men, in their homes. Shanta Koul embodies the difference. The stoic school principal with the graceful walk, who disarms Sumit Kumar every single time he speaks to her. She reminds him, constantly, that he is in her school – that he is an outsider. Waheed's brilliance lies in the strict construct of the dialogue between the two - Koul somewhat embarrassed at being dethroned from her position of power, her superiority compromised by unlettered men; Kumar guilt-ridden at over powering  an educationist, a  woman who reminds him of his mother, who makes him feel powerless and tongue-tied.

A thousand such men were bound to slowly poison the place. As the venom slowly spread, it blackened the heart of the society. Slowly people forgot ties to become ‘agents’ and ‘collaborators’. Rumi turned in his father, unknowingly. His innocent traipses marred by the murder he was led to. Another theme which ran and ruined Kashmir. Paranoia. How could you trust random strangers anymore, if as the book tells us, you could not trust your own? There were and still are spies among people, and you could not guess the games played. Roohi’s father’s special assignment makes a fair game. He wasn’t a spy – until he was. And even then, how could you blame him? In this loosening thread of culture and society, the Pandits are leaving. Temporarily, of course.

Of course, in the backdrop of this time, there is a complete love story – a true and tragic one. Love which is hurled over mountains. Love which survives distance and longing – in uncertain times. Love which causes despair and hope. Love which overcomes society. Love which divides and unites. Roohi is the bold, philosophical heroine who has chosen her own hero. Faiz is the artist she loves, who becomes a militant because he could no longer see sense in his delicate artistry when the world of his inspiration is on fire. In a memorable scene he paints the flowers on his papier mache creation in indigo. In the conservative society of Srinagar, a Shia – Sunni marriage is still a rare occurrence. Waheed makes it plausible, and in the 90s imaginable. The scene of this love story is the seat of Sufism in Kashmir – the ancient shrine of Khanqah Mou’ala.

The Jehlum flows through the book as it does through the city and through our times. Free at first, and increasingly choked as the story progresses. The lunatic, Maharaze, describes souls flowing up and down the river. No one prays for them anymore. Poignant, as no one knows them to be there. The people picked up by the Zaal, in the book a large, metallic, metaphorical vehicle which traps people and takes them to Army’s chambers, are often not heard from again.


Books like Waheed’s are important. They break the barrier of nonfiction journalistic writing to tell smaller, more intimate stories left behind by the conflict. When it all began. Yes, but why should we care about two lovers when the whole city is on fire? Hard to answer, but may be, because the lovers are us too. Their story is also our story. The people embody what becomes of their cities, the cities they live in and the ones they create. 

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Melancholia

Its a cold night. Very cold. And my feet are getting numb. I dont think I can feel my toes anymore. My hands are shivering. My shoulders tremble.

There is a stillness in this night. Quiet. Almost fearful. And I can feel it in the darkness around me.

There is a dog barking in the neighbour's yard. I don't know, will that bring another earthquake?

The silence falls down like snow in this room. Deadening everything, every source of sound. Not even a moth flutters on this table lamp. Not even a moth.

This is not yet spring. Not even winters. We are still waiting for the snow. For hope, in this dark winters. Its been four days since the sun has come up. Everything is grey and Srinagar is so, so dark now.

Will we ever come out of this?

Will we ever move out of this darkness. And the frosty pale light of this , I ask the few sighs that escape, how does spring feel? A bloom of hundred thousand roses, they say. A bloom of hundred thousand roses.

But not tonight. Tonight, the dew has frozen on my lips and everything in death is turning pale.

It seems so close.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Four

I feel profoundly for this blog. From the title, to the words that go in it. It is me in ways I never thought I would be me. Or could be.

Four years down and it feels like home. With rooms to escape and balconies to stand on. With windows to see the world through. And doors to let people in.

I have interacted with some amazing people through this space. And been called names by others.

We take what we get. Thank you for being here. For all the comments, likes, shares and follows.

Happy Fourth, Rich Autumns.
(Four years ago, I was still debate the logic and timing for a blog. But November it is!)




Thursday, 5 November 2015

In Preparation for Curfew

We are in preparation for curfew.

The motor which was not working has been repaired, because we don't want to spend two days without water. The telephone has been repaired too.

I am also hoping that they don't shut down the internet, while the person who made a huge hullabaloo about "Digital India" visits our poor country.

Policemen are everywhere. Stopping cars and checking stuff. I was stopped once, asked to get down and open the trunk. They didnt ask me for an I-Card, which surprised me. He poked around with his rifle in the trunk and let go.

Newspapers are full of people being arrested. I notice some people are off social networking sites. Those are being monitored. Lest some policewallah is reading my blog too, Hi. Cold, isn't it?

We are taught to live in this fear, and I am not especially brave either. Some people were working to shine the board of Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium yesterday. That is where the bureaucrats will sit and listen to him give a speech. No, he isn't new or the first one. Neither is our pessimism.

A lot of posters have been put up for welcome. They read "Kashmir Welcomes...". Yes, from its prisons of hearts and minds, and places, we welcome everyone.


Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Earthquake: Shock, Paneer and Adele

The earth shook yesterday. And we are still here.

At around 2:40pm when people were just settling back after Zuhr prayers and lunch breaks, the ground rattled. And rattled on for the longest 4 minutes ever.

People came rushing out to see the buildings shaking. The minaret of the mosque swinging. The overhead water tank spilling through the overflow spout. A few boards coming loose from the new cement.

And we swayed. And swayed. And since death seemed so close, people were reciting whatever they could. Mainly the proclamation of the Islamic creed. With eyes wide open and ears intent, trying to gauge the earthquake's intensity. Javed, in disbelief, kept claiming "Zameeni buneul chhu" (Its an earthy earthquake), because you know, sometimes the earth quakes in the skies. While his wife who was preparing tea refused to let the earthquake disturb her and only came out to look what the commotion was all about.

A small crowd had collected, and after sometime people were no longer sure if it was still quaking or not. Some people were feeling faint.

The sky was an angry apocalyptic grey. Unrelenting. As people looked above for mercy, there was none in the skies. It was a  thick grey shield over the valley. Let up only after the quake.

The traffic was in a bad shape. Everywhere. A huge honking stream of cars which was not moving. And people who had been buying school uniforms for the new term, were standing in the middle of the road.  Worried. I can hardly imagine what people in hospitals and other critical places do in such situations, disaster management training notwithstanding. But I did see three labourers from India make a run for it, as if the world was surely going to end. For a minute, we all thought so.

(Javed's wife was kind enough to send us the tea)



***

A few hours later, it was business as usual. Not for the traffic though, that was bad till night.

Riyaz, the tea vendor, asked his son to deliver tea to Bashir Ahmed, the advocate. The son refused: he won't go all that way.And he wouldn't go to tuition as well, because the teacher has given him the day off. The only thing the lad agreed to do was fill his father's sugar bag, from which his friend took a fistful. On the Amira Kadal Bridge, a fisher-woman was explaining the merits of her catch. Another woman was buying pulses. Traffic was still jammed, life had returned to normal.

 I could tell you more details of how I was stuck in the car for two hours for a journey that normally takes 30 minutes, but suffice to say this:

I spent the time singing Adele and being told to shut up; and nibbling raw paneer  till one of us decided to get down and buy vegetable rolls from HatTric which were awful. I was expecting the people to come up with rumours of earthquake 'predictions', but thankfully we were spared all that this time.

How did you fare?





Friday, 23 October 2015

23 October 2015

Since I did not have a camera. not even a phone, when it happened, I must write a blogpost for it.

23 October 2015.
Srinagar, Kashmir.

There is a curfew in the city. It is 9th Moharram and a Friday. Also, RSS goons have killed a young truck driver for being a Kashmiri  for no reason, though people say, they suspected him of having beef. (And they are the master of everything, didnt you get the memo!) So it is not clear why the curfew was imposed. Though it is clear that no transport was allowed.

Since there was nothing to do, I was reading on Twitter how @_Faysal, went to buy milk and was stopped by the Indian Army a hundred times way. And watching from my veranda, as the leaves on trees shook in the air before falling down. As my tea got cold. As a giant chinar stood stoic and still. And no sounds came from anywhere, as if the city had gone to sleep. Except the birds.

The sunlight was making patterns on the neighbour's tin roof. A crow was strutting on the wall, trying to avoid my eye. A bulbul perched on the electric wire and caught my eye.

Curfews are an old thing now here. Its a regular feature.

Schools were supposed to finish exams today. Young cousins were looking forward to the days of absolute freedom which follow the end of year-end exams. A picnic had been planned, I guess. Now its off to Monday at least.

I was recently told that a cousin who started Engineering here in Srinagar is still in final year, while her peers have returned from India after completing their degrees. That is at least one year extra in college.

The bulbul flew on to the open door. I shooed it away thinking that it would fly into the house and get trapped in the rooms. But it calmly flew on to the steps and chirped.

There is no redemption from despair in Kashmir. You have to live with it. I guess you learn to live with it. There is a new cafe opening in the city I am looking forward to. And I am sure there will be something tomorrow to look forward to again.

And soon this autumn will end for a colder, truer winter.

I threw a pinch of bhujia  from my bowl at the bulbul. It pecked at it straightaway and flew whence it came to return with its pair.

We should be ready for Spring.



Thursday, 17 September 2015

"Shall We?" - 2

At the end of the trip was Srinagar.

At the beginning of it was Srinagar, too. Like return of Spring in March. A bit unsure, but very much there.

The stranger looked back at the aeroplane that had brought him here. How unromantic is air travel! What story of love if it doesn't travel over rocky mountains and dangerous cliffs. What love if it is not hurled over a precipice!

The stranger passed through the waiting queue of people at the baggage carousel. People were already piling their trolleys when he reached and waited patiently for his suitcase. There are only two baggage claim belts at Srinagar airport. The other one was empty. The arrival terminal is bereft of any glowing billboards and other fan fare. Just a Foreigners Registration Desk and a few policeman. 

A policeman came forward and asked him if he was a foreigner. The stranger said no. 

Confused the policeman asked, "What is your country?". "Kashmir", he said. 

And smiled to himself.

Thats how I saw him coming and that's how he shall appear in my eyes on countless occasions. Smiling to himself, his red lips curled in an unabashed grin. Behind his dark glasses his eyes adjusting to the sunlight outside. I remember how gently his hair had fallen on his forehead. I remember that he had secretly loved his looks. I remember I had done too.

Love is a pointless emotion anyway, he had said before he had left. And now I couldn't help a sinful wave turn inside me as he made his way through the throng of waiting placards. His fair face and red shirt standing out. 

Of course we had coffee. Words and laughter flowed. A lot was said and heard. Autumn was not melancholy after all. I dont think it will ever be. I had prayed for him, and it was answered. Under the falling leaves of the chinar it was all blossoms.

The frail question still hung, "Will you dance with me?"



..to be continued...

Sunday, 16 August 2015

India and the Kashmir Ad

Dear Admakers from India,

There has been a spate of Kashmir-focused advertisements in India media recently. I feel we need to talk. This didnt need to be elaborated, but here is the deal, you seem to not understand Kashmir. 

It started with a benign ad by an electronic payment gateway. A man somewhere in rural Kashmir makes an e-payment for some spare parts and produces electricity so that kids can play at night. (At night? No, sir, not in Kashmir. Its neither safe nor tradition for kids to be out of homes after Maghrib prayers have been called out. Ask around.)

Then came the incredibly cute ad from a bank set to a traditional Kashmiri rhyme. Personally, I dont find the ad to have much in common with Kashmir except the background score, but anyway.

Then it became sinister. As all things Kashmiri tend to do, when India starts meddling.

A telecom operator thought it would be a good idea to sell phones by embarrassing Kashmir shawl merchants. The ad was the subject of  a law suit and was taken off air. I am not sure if the people behind this ad apologized, which as professionals they should have. 

Then came the this ad which conveniently chose to ignore the army's atrocities in Kashmir to portray them as friends of Kashmiri villagers.


Not to mention, the Kashmir tourism ad which so calmly ignores Jammu. Eh? (The background score is gorgeous!)

This latest ad which uses the Indian Army is what got me to this table with you. As a Kashmiri, who is appalled by the level of knowledge Indians in general have about Kashmir, I find it to be an attempt to portray Kashmir as a village utopia which it is not. The address is all wrong. It of course creates a good impression on the target audience, but ignores certain basics about Kashmir. 

On a side note, one still deals with people (highly qualified professionals) who ask "Kashmir has its own language?", "Isnt Kashmiri and Urdu the same thing?" etc. etc. Off the topic, but yeah, that happens.

Unlike what people see in these ads, a pheran clad man running towards an army camp is more likely to be shot at or arrested. Not to mention, denied entry into the camp in the very least. I am sure your research would have brought up the difficult dynamics of the relationship locals share with the Indian Army. Can I tell you a secret? We are not really fond of the army. 

For an Army camp to be set in the background of a "life long" friendship will require a collective forgetfulness of last so many years in Kashmir. The ad is a convenient brush over the disturbing realities of living in a place so militarized that it is constantly at war. Indians on an average are blissfully unaware of the undercurrents of the relationship between locals and the army. It may appear neutral and accommodating, but beneath the tranquil facade is the relationship of distrust forged by fear and reinforced by the history on Indian Army in Kashmir. Men like Bashir of the ad have been murdered by the dozen by the Indian Army with impunity. The fact that the other person is allowed to kill you on any frivolous basis is hardly the ground for life long friendship. See my point?

But the problem is set deeper. The ads have hardly any value in the contemporary Kashmir setting. Kashmir is at best a prop. A mountainous background giving the idea of a far flung place. A place with limited access. It ads value to the brand, of course, and simultaneously beats a subtle nationalistic drum, I know that. But then, why in Kashmir? You could have done it at some place in India where people are actually fond of the armymen? 

The friendly Army and the friendly villagers using a friendly online portal to share baby pics on Whatsapp. It is a furtherance of the propaganda posters which the Army puts up every now and then around Srinagar. Of course, Srinagar is of least interest to you. It is neither rural nor inaccessible. We have cities too, you see. And contrary to what you may assume, we do have people who speak fluent un-accented English and have an immaculate Urdu pronunciation. I wonder why no one finds them. They are all over.

Granted that the tragedy of Kashmir is not going to sell you any products, the least you could do is not to use it to sell any more. A little perspective is all that I am talking about. When you speak of Kashmir and your army in its context, see it how Kashmiris would see it. At least try. Your ads will come out different. 

A funny thing happened while I was writing this letter, you have come up with another ad. There are two kids in this ad, running after an army truck waving them goodbye. I am reminded of two episodes from my life in Kashmir by this scene. Want to hear? (You dont have much choice). Once, I was on my way to school and an army truck passed by me. There was a little boy, no bigger than the girl in the ad (if memory serves, he even looked similar). The truck scared him so much that he ran and hid himself behind me. Seeking refuge behind a stranger was, to that small child, the better option than just walking alongside the truck. Another incident happened when I was 12 years old. I was going by an auto rickshaw, one wintry day and an army-man stopped the auto and directed us to come out. Being only 12, I thought he must be calling the driver and not me. But, boy oh boy, was I wrong. First he scolded me for not getting out when called, to which I apologized. And then he asked for my identity card - which I did not have. I tried explaining that I didn't have one and he could check with my school and all, but to no avail. He wanted to detain me or something till the auto driver stepped in and pleaded. Showed his identity card and assured the armyman that I was just a kid (because pre-teens sometimes can be mistaken for adults, you know). The armyman let me go finally but not without a tremble in my spine which had nothing to do with the cold weather. 

Enough of nostalgia, but do you get my point? Next time if you want to place your product in the Kashmiri context, find a theme which is less embarrassing.

Laughing all the way on the hilarity of your ads,
Rich Autumns



Wednesday, 29 July 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 his tea cup. Empty again. It was Eid 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, 22 June 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, 15 March 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, 28 February 2015

Zareef Ahmed Zareef on the Floods

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



Saturday, 17 January 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 some time 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 led 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 many 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.

Update:
Read a blogpost by Francesca about this: A Wealth of voices in Kashmir




Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Dawn of His Day

Ya Nabi Salaam Alaika
Ya Rasool Salaam Alaika
Ya Habib Salaam Alaika
Salwatullah Alaika

On this Milad un Nabi, God on the day of the birth of Your Beloved, more than any other day answer our prayers because they have nowhere else to turn to.

Light the candles of our hope, for no one else will.

Bless us with happiness and joy from your boundless treasures.

Shine Your light, for its dark in the world we live in.

And warmth, because cold surrounds us. We are frozen.

For the love of Muhammad (SallaluAlaihiWassalam).

Please.

Ya Nabi Salaam Alaika
Ya Rasool Salaam Alaika
Ya Habib Salaam Alaika
Salwatullah Alaika