Monday, 28 March 2016

Things Like These

I condemn the Paris attacks. By I, I mean, me. Just me. (Because Muslims, apparently, don't condemn terror enough.)

We condemned France, when they banned the head scarves for Muslims. But now we condemn the attacks and their perpetrators. By we, I mean, Kashmiris.

In the same breath, we condemn the attacks on civilians in Baghdad and Beirut. All this happened in one night, while we were asleep. And Ankara, Brussels and now Lahore. And all the attacks that happened on civilians anywhere in the world in between. Or in the future. Or in the past.

We condemn things as a routine. Because we, the inhabitants of this poor nation, know this: There is no terror like the terror of the unknown. No attack like the attack on the freedom of will.

When we were in the 90s no one spoke about that second thing. The attack on the freedom of self became prominent much later. That time it was all about survival. Getting through the day. Getting back home. Making sure everyone got back home. 7 o'clock used to look like the dead of night.

But as the time passed on, we moved out of nightly shoot-at-sight orders, into restive periods which were full of lazy curfews and strikes. The stone pelting came much, much later. Deaths in this period took time to be reported as there was no social media back then. We spend a lot of time discussing death in Kashmir. Or rather murders. Every now and then a dead body turns up to remind us that the price of life is not too dear. Its only now, about twenty years later, that one can reflect on all that was lost and how. A systematic annihilation of a generation. Slowly everything dimmed in a grim sunset of a winter evening. Srinagar, once a well to do city, started to crumble. Becoming a city of barracks and funerals. A rich city of poor people. Srinagar has come to be defined by distinct marks of tragedy, which is open for political exploitation.

We stand on different sides of the divide. Fear of the unknown is a very real thing in our world. Not knowing when   or by whom will you be attacked. After the Paris attacks, the media went on a rigmarole of asking people 'how do you feel?'. They questioned a lady wearing a red coat, who said that it scared her that she doesn't know what to be scared of, where and when it will attack. It happened when Parisians were busy with everyday life - out in cafes, theaters or just having a stroll, and it terrified her to think that it may happen again.

I too want to answer that question. For people who had never known a different life, this was the way of life for us. We used to gawk in surprise and horror at people who would work late. Or at cities, where there were no military men standing guard. We never knew a world without war, and its sudden outbreaks. We accepted it as a given dimension of life. So, later on we had to learn to be scared of it - to treat it as an outside force which was not normal. With that came new found humiliations in daily acts, like showing I-Cards to alien armymen, being paraded and ordered by people who do not belong here. That  is what wars do, they add to the shame of existence.

We grew up with this lesson in fear of everything - instructed in distrust and disorder. It becomes second nature, like the paranoia of feeling vague when a stranger approaches for a conversation. Since we grew up like that, we assumed that freedom lied somewhere outside the borders of the Valley. It seems that there is no place like that anymore. I moan this loss of freedom everywhere.

I started writing this after the Paris Attacks and then put it away. I thought I will complete it after the blasts in Ankara, and later Brussels. And now Lahore.

I don't think there is a perfect time to say things like these. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Coffee Tables

Ambitions. Srinagar is too small a place for ambitions. Across the table, at Books and Bricks Cafe, B told me how he lost his job abroad and how the dimness of Srinagar wears him down. He had to return when the floods came and destroyed his house. Then he had decided to return for good or temporarily. He wasn’t sure. 

Outside, the large windows of the cafe, constables in a police Gypsy were shooing away cars to make way for a VIP vehicle. Civilian cars were lined on the side, as a guarded procession passed by.

Sigh. Let your ambitions accommodate this too. This is a police state.

We have noticed with delight how one cafe after another opened in Srinagar and we discovered how much we loved coffee. Coffee, in Kashmir, had lived for a long time under the long shadow cast by Nun chai and 'Lipton' tea. It was the drink your father or the busy uncle had once in a while and the one your mother never liked. Yet somehow, now we have one cafe opening after another and coffee is the new cool in Srinagar.

No. We are not complaining.

At Books and Bricks, a cafe opened by two friends, the ambiance is warm and inviting. The walls are lined with old Readers' Digest's pages and the ceiling is of old apple boxes. And there are books, lots of them. Charles Dickens to James Patterson. "Pride and Prejudice" to "Narrow Road to The Deep North". Also the music. The first time I was there they were playing Sweet Home Alabama which was nice. But the second time I was there, Adele was on, and it was symptomatic to my friend's tale of woe.

There is so much yearning in that cafe, that I may return there just for that (and the burgers, of course). The owners of the cafe are around and approachable. They even requested for a Facebook review in passing, and I said to myself, "Boy! You are getting a blogpost!". (Though then I had planned to write an entirely different post.) It is the new breed of entrepreneurship in Kashmir, well educated professionals with a desire to succeed, and if coffee is what they are pinning hopes on, I say it is a clever choice.

I wish this duo all the luck and also hope they expand into a slightly bigger location which would really help with the "reading cafe" ambitions.

By comparison Coffea Arabica is an old haunt cafe. On an extremely dreary March day, I was to meet a friend there for coffee and pasta. He wasn't pleased. He had hired a new assistant, Asif, in his office and was appalled by the standard of education the kid had been put through. But instead of firing the kid, my friend decided to coach him in the basics, things he should have already learnt in two years after tenth and three years of college. He wanted to give Asif a chance, despite his lack of basic skill and clouded thoughts. Everyone, must be given a chance, after all. He said he had had assistants slow on the pick up before, but there was something about Asif that made him skeptical. I thought he was just too involved, being a Kashmiri.

We are not risking anything; we are gambling away our life. It was 7:30 in the evening and Srinagar was closing down. The last few Tata Sumos were ferrying the last few people back home. Two coffees later we left, wondering if everyone else found this city of tourists that difficult to live in.

PS: This is not a review of the restaurants. 

PPS: While the events described are mainly/broadly true, the names are not.

Monday, 14 March 2016


We have all gone through the good feeling when people try to strike a conversation with you for no reason. Not intrusion of privacy, just decent conversation - perhaps when bored in an office or at a seminar.

But things turn interesting when the other person comes to know that the good looking stranger hails from Kashmir. From being asked the reason behind fair skin to requests to be introduced to Kashmiri girls there are all sorts of things people want to know. There are the staples, why do you want independence? why do you support Pakistan's cricket team? And there are the awkward, how can you speak English so well?

Our culture may be unique, but is not isolated. Nor are Kashmiris as a people. One can argue for people from distant places not knowing where Kashmir is, or as blogger Faysal saw, confuse the place with the song. But for Indians and Pakistanis, who have very precise ideas of what Kashmiris want or should want, not knowing what Kashmiris are is ironical.

Here is a selection from the Twitter trend of 13 March 2016 where Kashmiris joined in to share the experience.

Yes, that one.

The list goes on and on. If you have heard any interesting question or been asked any, write in the comments.

Monday, 7 March 2016


Let us abandon.
Leave. Run. Fly.
Close the door lightly.
We may want to come back.
But we wont.

We shall escape.
This city. Life.
For better lives
As we see it now.
And live.
Without compromise.