Thursday, 29 December 2016

Fa La La La La, La La La La

I have a song in my head and it goes like "Fa La La La La, La La La La."

Christmas comes at a very opportune time. At the close of the year, when however terrible the year had been, everyone hopes for a better one next year. Now, I have been skeptical of New Year's Eves and all the celebration, but one cannot help being delighted at the Christmas imagery.

Some very clever person elf must have guessed that an obese white man in a red coat from the land of snow will win hearts all over. Everything is festive about the pictures of Santa Claus. Snow falls. Fire burns. Shadows play. Gifts are wrapped. Tinsel shines. You cannot be sad or angry at that!

In Kashmir, I am sitting in the cold waiting for snow. It seems difficult today. The water sometimes freezes in the pipes now. The night temperatures fall so low that it is a miracle that air doesn't freeze and become solid. One cannot venture out without longing for the indoors. The window panes frost and cloud. The outside becomes obscure. The one who is gone is lost from sight.

Yet there is no snow.

The schools are closed now for winter vacations, so the kids have nothing to do. Again. This year, the academic year functioned for 5 months. Everything else too. But worse things happened in this little valley of ours in the remaining months. People were killed with impunity, children were blinded with impunity. The curfew stretched on for four months, the strikes for even longer. Everyone blamed everybody else. The summer and autumn were gone in this frenzy. There is no salvation.

Sometimes I make up the argument in my head, "People are being killed on the streets and you are thinking about this?" This could be anything - from nun chai to baking cakes - trivial things like the colour of pheran. But, I confess, I do think about these things. I have a folder on my computer full of cake recipes which I want to try. Sigh! I must be a horrible person.

In the days of the curfew, when you are too full of anger and grief to do anything, I sit almost paralyzed by the happenings of the world. The war came right to the street corner and brought home what it really means to live in a conflict zone. Yet again. The anger came simmering out and you couldn't be non-partisan anymore. So there were protests and there was a huge push of propaganda. The political cycle was played again, complete with visits by the government of India's officials. A few weeks into the crisis, op-eds started pouring in that India needs to learn from its mistakes in Kashmir. While India learns its lessons and acts upon them, is Kashmir supposed to wait and count her dead? Apparently, murder in Kashmir is no big news in India - indeed some have been openly baying the army for killing more Kashmiris. I am tired of these political shenanigans. Enough already!

2016 leaves us in a lot of tatters. And no one knows how the future will unfold. After 2010, such an uprising was unfathomable. And yet here we are! So many children have been buried without shrines this year. By next year, they will be faint public memories but stark figures in history. So many people have been blinded by pellet guns (which, by the way, are still not banned) and will not regain any vision. Sometime in March I had posted that there is no attack like an attack on personal freedom. That was when people in Paris said they were scared of doing regular things because of the uncertainty left by the Paris attacks of last year. For a brief period the upheaval had turned their world upside down. The same can hardly be said of Kashmir. Uncertainty is the way of our life here. We had just celebrated Eid when, as if by design, life suddenly stopped in Kashmir. Day after day, yet again, we were bombarded by the news of death and blinding of people. At the end of the year, I don't mean to keen over the curfew or the city, and I do not want to sway and make grand predictions or write lessons for the future either. They never come true. If there is anything worth panegyrizing it is that when the government abandoned the people, the people didn't abandon each other. From volunteer kitchens in the hospitals and donations to them, to the little acts like hitching rides or tuition for neighborhood children. We survived.

I feel everyone here is debating the Kashmir issue yet again. Internally, in small meaningful ways. This summer has cast a very long shadow. There have been no "inquiries" about the use of pellet guns and the deaths caused by them this year. No army men have been questioned. There is no justice. Just yesterday, a man narrated how his neighbour's son was arrested and accused of burning bikes and rioting. The son is a student of Class 5.

Conflict erodes life. We have seen that this year. Kashmir is a test case, a lab for politics. Most experiments fail. And failures are fatal - for Kashmiris. We saw that again this year. If there is anything I am sure of right now, it is that the year is coming to an end in two days. Indoors, the woollen namda feels hard and familiar on the cold floor. And there is no snow yet. However, in my slightly frenzied mind I would continue to hope for small things, like small sparks to light big fires, like small steps to complete long journeys. When you are lost in the jungle, there is only one way to reach out, to keep walking the trail. I do not wish curfews or strikes or this conflict to sustain and claim more lives. I do however hope for a stronger voice. People have given their time, money and of course lives to see the end of this conflict. I hope their voices are heard. I hope prayers are answered. Like everyone else on this side of the divide, I want the summer carnivals of bloodshed presided over by some bureaucrats to end and the perpetrators punished. I hope the snow falls, fire burns, tinsel shines and continue to do so. I hope to live free from the trappings of guilt. To live free from the mercy of gun wielding foreigners. To live free. To that, my mind rises in a crescendo of "Fa La La La La, La La La La".

PS: I hope to continue blogging in the next year. 

Friday, 16 December 2016

Somehow We Survived

I will be repeating myself when I say that Srinagar is a cold, cold place. The wind blows little needles in the face and waters the eyes. In my dreamy, detached, ever hopeful existence, Srinagar is so many miles away that the only things that anchor me to reality are the cold and tea. And by tea I mean Nun Chai with its ever comforting warmth like a hug from a worthy friend.

Early this year, I remember telling a friend that this is going to be a good year. We were going on the Boulevard Road and the sun was about to set on a day in the prime of spring. He agreed. Now, we are just moving from a curfew and lock down of five months. Everyone who knows anything about us knows that this is a fragile, fragile situation. Kashmir is like a samovar full of tea, with embers keeping it simmering all the time.

Among the many disappointments we had this year, I will remember with gratitude the sanctuary nun chai afforded me as we spent the summer locked up inside our homes, reading and watching the leaves turn. Outside, the curfews raged, and so many young men were killed. Everyday we mourned for them. Everyday we died a little. Everyday we made tea and thanked God that we are getting by. The leaves faded from green to gold and then left the trees barren; and the skies shifted from blue to gray. The colour of my brew was still pink. Like roses the colour of broken promises.

But somehow we survived. My friends (and sometimes random people one meets by happenstance) from India ask me how did we manage for so many days with no markets open and little money. I have no answer. We just did - with patience and some luck. And lots of resilience. I spent some weeks of the year in Delhi. I had nun chai over there too. A pale, milky brew it came out. Quite out of place. Like the stranger in me. Its flavour lost in the heat of India's plains. There is no decent way to reconcile to the disappointment of a vile cup of tea. I needed to be back home.

As we end this year on a very somber note with the war raging in one part of the world and uncertainty looming over ours, I look at this empty cup of nun chai. The spent dark brown leaves have collected at the base. Someone may stare at the shape to read the tea leaves. Will the coming year lose its promise in the prime of spring too?

This has been a long, long year. The summer never seemed to end and the autumn dragged its feet - its cold, beautiful, scarred feet. I don't want to sound pedantic. On days like these I find heart in the fact, that when everything goes wrong there will be nun chai to fall back to. It is the promise of a very old custom. It shall forever bring me back home.

(PS: Today is “International Tea Day”, and thank you Mr. Ross Chambers for suggesting that I write something about Nun Chai on this day. I must thank the shared joy of nun chai for being the source of many a conversation on social media with strangers and a lot of inspiration. On that note, I had this year before the curfews began a memorable occasion of having nunchai in the huts of very friendly nomads in a meadow tucked somewhere in the mountains of Baramulla. Prepared freshly on a wood fire, the tea was as buttery as salty it was and had a very subtle but distinct aroma of smoke.)

For a recipe of nun chai check this post.



Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Emperor has No Clothes


There was recently a fashion show in India where pellet gun injuries were used as an "effect". To showcase "Kashmiriyat", none the less.

It takes time for such things to go down!

In other words, "an Indian fashion house used injuries caused by Indian forces to Kashmiris as a make up effect to sell expensive clothing".

I can feel the lump in my throat.

India for long has been trying to appropriate Kashmiri culture, but this level of insensitivity is irksome. And frightening. There were simpler times when we had to deal with movies which dealt with Kashmiri stereotypes and Indian directors' fancies of Kashmiri people, like belles in heavy costumes singing in shikaras, to the pretty shepherdess or people who live lives so isolated they cannot exist outside the movies. Now, it has become plain sinister.

This summer, Indian forces indiscriminately shot pellet guns at unarmed people destroying lives and families of victims, and now some random designer thought it appropriate to use the injuries for "effect". Using a form of torture, or a fancy weapon used to blind Kashmiri populace en-masse, to represent Kashmiri culture may be a new low, but somehow fits in the unequal relationship India has with Kashmir. Since India has been hunting Kashmiris, and allowed its laws to do so, for the last 26 years atleast, it is just collecting trophies now. 

A model walking down the ramp with a bandage and a faux wound may look dramatic, but where is the empathy in that? In April when Chetan Bhagat wrote a mindless (and heartless) letter to Kashmiri youth, the imperialist over tones were barely veiled. With this fashion show, the designers have sought to normalize the torture and victimization of Kashmiris. So as if patronizing was not enough, India seeks to trivialize and mock the suffering caused by its armed forces. If I am reading this correctly, is death the new fashion? Death is a part of Spring - Summer collection? I would be amused at how this sounds, had it not been so tragically accurate. Death was a part of the Kashmir's spring and summer this year, and instead of apologizing, or as we keep repeating, empathizing, India has designers making light of it.


It is this culture that allows the unsuspecting Indian to continue with the occupation of Kashmir and churn newer and fancier justifications for it. That the whole culture of Kashmir can be treated as a commodity to be modified and sold as per convenience. In this is a sense of superiority that the military occupation affords the creative minds, where voices unheard cease to exist.

We cannot however ignore the morbidity that the designers chose to imply. By calling pellet guns a part of Kashmiri culture, they have given it the all the necessary justifications an imperialist would like. Had this been done as a protest, it would have implied that India is forcing the pellets on people of Kashmir and thereby brutalising their culture and history. But done otherwise (and with commercial intents), the implication is that "we rule Kashmir with the stick and guns, and that is so ingrained in the discourse that it is an acceptable facet of the populace." The fashion show is a celebration of this gift to Kashmir by India. Perhaps the designers thought the pellet would be the new paisley, just another pattern from Kashmir, no matter  how removed from humanity it may be. And to draw this connection between the motif and the macabre is the 'achievement' of their art? The very idea that the lives of Kashmiris can be so cheap that injuries inflicted by an unpunishable army can be glamorised and weaponry used to blind and maim be celebrated is a major element of this nationalistic pride that people gain by "holding on" to the territory of Kashmir. In the same sense, it is also the cause that lends rationale to calling for a genocide in Kashmir (as done by an official handle of a Govt agency and a journalist with mainstream media, among others).

This is utter disgrace. An affront to humanity and indeed, art.