Tale of A Young Man When He Kept Long Hair for The First Time

If I remember it clearly it was the summer of 2006, I was a young man in my early twenties, and I had just returned home after some nine months being away. In 2005 I had entered famous north Indian institute (and perhaps safest refuge of Kashmiris in India) Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

Living away from my family and my homeland Kashmir for the first time was not so hard, for in AMU three of my cousins had established themselves there like Dandelion roots in soil, providing the much needed sense of security and support. I was emotionally insured.

As an entrant to the world of literature my susceptibility to new ideas – radical and conservative – was high. I was, I can say with the benefit of hindsight, somewhere in the middle path.

But still within this latent moderated domain some radical thoughts would make momentary forays only to be shooed away by the invisible scarecrows of the university. You can call it orthodox culture or maybe it was just my perception drawn from university’s arched Baroque buildings. Whatever it was, this orthodoxy endeared it to me.

In November 2005, following the bidding of my mother, my younger cousin Nimmy Bhaya asked me to get atop a rickety Rickshaw. “We are going to a barber” he informed me on the way. The wiry rickshaw man was pulling the carrier with great effort, thick veins of his bare legs propping out under the sweaty shine.

The hair cut was my last one; but within four or five months I could see my black hair forming soft curls on my forehead. I felt delighted. It had been my teenage wish to grow long hair and push them back by running my fingers through. I suspect, in my teens, I had seen Afridi doing it before starting run-up to bowl his fast paced leg spinners. Good God! Eight years have passed Afridi has stayed same with the same hair, while I can feel my receding hairline now!

In the evening I would put on unorthodox khadi kurta over blue jeans, take a stroll in my sprawling hall of residence called MM Hall, take measured steps and pay respect to my seniors, “Salam u alykum Bhai”.

“Kya haal hai, sahi lag rahe ho, bhai” (How are you, dude, looking cool in that), compliments would be showered by my batch mates and elders alike. I had reason to feel good and I had good reason to keep the long hair.

Any thoughts that I would entertain before in favor of a haircut were now eschewed. There was no need to shy away from my freedom. I owned it to nobody.

In the sultry and excruciatingly distressing weather of north India, I took care of my burgeoning hairdo on my head – oiled, curly, and shoulder length. It irritated sometimes when it created that itchy feeling around the sweaty neck in the heat of the summer. But I endured it without complaining.

Looking at my long hair and audacious knack for putting on weird clothes, someone told me that I was bringing JNU culture here. I agreed. I said “we should”.

JNU was another north Indian university but it shared nothing like north in its outlook. Located in Delhi, the capital of India, it was imagined in AMU as a Disneyland of unorthodox nerds, whose societal (and sometimes cognitive) dislocation came from the entrenched Marxist tradition – the warp and woof of their ideological superstructure.  I viewed them favorably. Because before ending up in AMU, I had tried to get into that Disneyland of nerds but, as my good luck was shining on me in unwavering intensity, I ended up in the class of Prof. Rahatullah, who would be too busy with his acute sinusitis to tell us what really moved T.S Eliot to write the Wasteland. Mind you, Prof. Rahatullah was no no-sense professor, but only he was generous enough to finish his class before official bum-paining 55 minutes. He was really not a Wasteland stuff.

In my outlook I was still on the middle path, clinging on to the traditional values and yet at the same time exploring (or attempting) new and fresh idea and paths.

In the summer of 2006 I returned home. Fresh cool air of Kashmir would bring even a dead rooster to life, says an Old Persian proverb. I was just in my early twenties, this proverb made a lot of sense to me post my experience of the sweltering heat of the north Indian plains.  On one Friday after finishing prayers in open air I had to run quickly to the water cooler to save my arms from turning into a flat half-meter igneous rock.

Well, back in Kashmir during the first few days of my first summer holiday at home my family did not mind my new avatar. But gradually, this initial magnanimity gave way to volleys of soft taunts “mast kall”, “Junglee”, “Mast Gul” “Danny” (roughly all these meant weird guy). But I presented an epic resistance to this emotional coercion; I stayed the course. As my maternal throw his weight behind me I was emboldened. “You look better this way, you dude”, my uncle said.

With my friends I would take a daily dose of wanderings around my town, spending a good deal of time in quintessentially giggling Namblabal (our town has some six neighborhoods that have “Bals” in their names like my own neighborhood is called Kadalbal).  Every late afternoon, me and my friends would stroll around the markets of Namblabal and return home late to the harmless admonishes of the family.

Everything was going fine till that one particular day (I don’t remember exactly the position of the sun) somebody grabbed my wrist in the busy market. As I turned I was taken aback to see it was an army guy. But what helped regain my posture which had reflexively assumed a default position of surrender, was his small height and boyish countenance.  “Kahan se hay?” (Where are you from?)his tone was not that threating. His complexion was fair with fresh whiskers sprouting around his mouth. He was with a gaggle of soldiers wearing khaki fatigues and holding assault rifles. His colleagues gave a mean smile like those subway vagabonds stalking a lone girl.

“Kadalbal se”, I replied.

“Yahan kya kar raha hay?” (What are you doing around here?”

“Bus kaam tha yahan” (Had a work here)

“Ye lambe baal kyun rakhe hain? Hero hai kya!” (Why have you kept this long hair? You acting a hero here!)

Before I could reply, he pulled me, “Chal naiyee ke pass” (Come I take you to the barber)

Incidentally the barber shop was right there few meters away from us, I thought he was serious and would really take me there. I imagined a north Indian barber with a scissor and my lowered head coming out through a meek body wrapped in a silken covering. I was reluctant to follow, but there was no way to say no to him.

I must have looked silly when I sputtered out, “Me bahar tha, me bahar tha” (I was out of town) as if he would have behaved less strictly, as if he was a school principle and I was a naughty student presenting a lame excuse at the sight of a scale.

Perhaps he was not aware that there was a barber shop, perhaps he knew and just wanted to scare me – a new guy in the town for him.

He let me go with a warning, “Ye baal kal nahi dikhne chahiye” (by tomorrow you must have cut your hair).

They were from the local army camp and there are very few Kashmiris who can do otherwise.

After eight years when I recall that moment I ask many questions to myself. I know for many Kashmiris this would be obvious, but still i think over it, like what made them behave like they did. Was it just for fun or a serious warning?  I know Indian soldiers can and do exert their authority over us like this and like many other ways, but still what makes them take away those freedoms of young Kashmiris which barely harm their national security? Does it say anything about their sense of entitlement over our personal freedoms? Does it say anything about the kind of militarized rule Kashmiris are forced to live in?

Perhaps I should have realized that Kashmir was not AMU, nor was it north India, nor even India. Kashmir was Kashmir.

When I went back to north India, I must have looked around and found many young Indian guys sporting long hair and I must have asked myself how many of these guys have brothers in Indian army serving in Kashmir?



On Nayeema Mehjoor’s Deceptive Talk

On January 10 when BBC Urdu’s broadcaster Nayeema Mehjoor joined the People’s Democratic Party, the party patron Mufti Syed welcomed her with these words: “I invite intellectuals, professionals and educated people to join us. The People’s Democratic Party offers a respectable space for such people who want to contribute in changing the political narrative of Jammu and Kashmir” (Greater Kashmir, 2014). The party president Mehbooba Mufti outlined the mandate that PDP had accorded Nayeema: “Kashmir Resolution and Governance”.

Now given the checkered history of Kashmir and abiding expectations of its people, this mandate simply is grandiose, and Nayeema must be talented enough to earn herself this job. Seems Kashmir has its own Richard Holbrooke now!

However, while Nayeema’s induction into PDP was hailed by benefactors of pro-India constituency, her decision had made supporters of resistance movement react with utter surprise. The Kashmiri social media momentarily buzzed with the issue. Because, she had been writing regularly on Kashmir with apparent non-partisan and pro-people position, the pro-resistance readers of her columns had come to recognize her as one of their own. But the news of her joining PDP demolished the fine line of ambiguity that she had drawn on their perception of her political leanings.

Sensing that her decisions had not gone well with pro-resistance people she immediately came up with a clarification, affirming she will never contest any elections. However, at the same time she argued “we have to be within the system to change the system” (Vox Kashmir, 2014).

“Why would the world accept our view point when we can’t even stand united” she asked rhetorically.

Perhaps as a corollary to her prodigious mandate, Nayeema wrote an opinion piece “What to Expect from Modi” in Greater Kashmir (March 14, 2014). I would briefly summarize her points:

Modi is certain to win because of favorable media coverage and “blessings of the outside world”

If BJP comes to power it should carry forward “Mission Kashmir” of A.B. Vajpayee, the erstwhile BJP leader and PM of India. Vajpayee had promised “sky” in a Srinagar Rally and his policy was “to win the hearts and minds of people by resolving the Kashmir dispute”

BJP is seen by people in Kashmir as the genuine broker of peace and they believe that only BJP can resolve the Kashmir conflict.

“People still believe that if Modi comes in power, he will work hard to place the Art.370 in its original shape”

Well, apart from the article’s PRish tinge, it presents some rather naïve arguments that are bereft of any substantial evidence.

Modi’s rise is more an assertion and acceptance of Hindutva ideology in Indian body politic. The pro-Modi mood is not merely media-generated hype it is the reflection of larger ideological projection striking primal chords among the majority community in India. From late 1980’s the vote share of right wing Hindutva parties has been growing exponentially. From 1991 elections onwards BJP has continued to garner over 20% of total vote share in Indian parliamentary elections. Come 2014, you may see further rise. It has been elected in as many as eight states in India. In a “secular democracy” extreme right wing is voted to power regularly, it certainly says something. Ironically, right wing parties in Islamic Republic of Pakistan, often denounced for “religious extremism”, remain a marginal force garnering not more than 2% vote share in national elections.

The second point that Vajpayee was a messiah of peace and wanted to free Kashmiri people from agony and suppression is a credulous assumption.

In the Liberhan Commission report Vajpayee features among 68 people who were responsible for the demolition of the historic Babri Masjid in December 1992. In the vitriolic speech (available on internet) he incited the karsevaks (volunteers) to demolish the mosque. After Babri Masjid demolition around 3000 riots broke out in 16 states in India; in Maharashtra alone 900 people were killed, most of them Muslims (K. Pokharel and P. Beckett; Wall Street Journal, Dec 2012). Years later Vajpayee would still say Ram Mandir is “expression of national sentiment… still to be realized”. As the Liberhan report rightly says Vajpayee was a “pseudo-moderate”.

BJP was in power from 1998-2004 and in Kashmir it not only continued the repressive policies of the previous governments but also introduced new black laws like Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). A carpet weaver from Srinagar, Ghulam Mohammad Dar, became its first victim in November 2001. Dar was arrested and kept in jail for 18 months while his aged mother and wife along with two sons thrown out of their house. Over 100 Kashmiris were charged under this draconian law, including political activist Anjum Zamaruda Habib.

In February 2002 Gujrat riots, around 2000 Muslims were brutally killed (C. Jaffrelot, 2003). Vajpayee as a Prime Minister of India did not prevent the riots and rather wickedly said, “Wherever there are Muslims in large numbers, they do not want to live in peace.”

Chattisinghpora Massacre, Pathribal fake encounter, Barakhpora killings, “collective conscience” verdict on Afzal Guru, these are the legacies of the same period.

It was the same BJP who pressed for appointment of Jagmohan as governor of Kashmir in 1990. Jagmohan’s anti-Muslim policies are well known even to some Indian people. In Kashmir, he encouraged repressive tactics to terrorize the Kashmiri people.

Moreover, I would like to ask, If Vajpayee, as a Prime Minister of India (at the apex of “the system” I would assume) failed to move anything beyond martial hands of Pervez Musharraf and a bus ride to Lahore what makes you feel you can pull off a resolution? Wasn’t the same BJP (you seem to admire as a genuine peace broker) responsible for scuttling the Agra Summit in July 2001?

Lastly, as Geelani sahab says, “Azmaye hovay ko kya aazmana”, policies of all the Indian political parties are informed by majoritarian and imperial attitudes and prejudices. While you are naively expecting miracles and glad tidings, BJP and the larger Hindutva brigade (of all colors in rightwing, leftwing and liberal elite) are planning more sinister policies.

The “system” you audaciously say you seek to reform is actually called nation-state, a construct of so formidable and violent nature, that those who get drawn too close to it not only get sucked into it but their remaining moral and ethical fragments are squeezed out from their souls.

Late Kashmiri poet Mehjoor (who ironically happens to be Nayeema’s father-in-law also) expresses it like this: “There’s restlessness in every heart, /But no one dare speak out -/Afraid that with their free expression/Freedom may be annoyed.”

First published in Greater Kashmir (March 21, 2014)

Tale of a Political Fugitive


If latest reports are to be believed, then it is no surprise to inform you that Jersey-cow-turned-political-fugitive Victor Yanukovich has been seen drinking Russian Vodka in a palatial Dacha (Villa) of Big Brother Putin somewhere on Black Sea coast. Intriguing indeed!
Chuvak (Russian for ‘dude’) is a term seldom employed by Big Brother Putin in his informal conversations, as it is reserved for his rarest of rare buddies, like that showpiece of Russian politics Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Mr. Zhirinovsky is famous for publicly, which is his default setting any ways, showering generous praises on American leaders, especially Condoleezza Rice. Once he even threatened President Bush by saying that Russia can alter the gravitational field of the planet to sink America. Now without vodka shot that is a big thing to imagine! Elsewhere he offered free vodka for men and better underwear for women in his prime ministerial race. Anyways, whenever Big Brother Putin feels bored of his burgeoning Gay fans or high adrenaline Caucasian games he often invites him to his Dacha to showcase his multiple talents, chief among them being riding a polar bear with dude Zhirinovsky as a pillion.
“Chuvak, hold on tight, else you will break your stupid Polish bum!” Big Brother has to repeat on every ride with vodka-mouthed Mr. Zhirinovsky.
Now let me come back to poor Yanukovich here. When he mysteriously arrived on Putin’s Dacha, Big Brother literally sprung up on his sofa on seeing him.
“What the heck are you doing here! Fella!” Putin’s eyes had opened wide in surprise. Momentarily he floated in air over his leather couch.
Poor Yanukovich was gasping for breath, he looked dejected, and protruding his mouth he cried “Kashmar, Kashmar (disaster), Cooo….cooo, Bolshoy brat, cooo!”
“What cooo…cooo!, what happened to you!”
“They tried to cooo me, Bolshoy brat, Kashmar, kashmar, cooo”
“Who the hell is this cooo? Filthy poking CIA, M15! Who? Would you tell me?” Putin looked with enquiring eyes at two KGB guys standing nearby.
Unsure, they looked at each other. Nodding their sunglasses mounted heads sideways, they shrugged and stood still.
“That boxer, that famous Gorilla, Bolshoy brat”
“Ah! Ha! That Goliath of a guy, what is his damn name….yes, yes I got it….Vitali Kalashnikov, right!”
“Klitschko, Sir” the nearby KGB guys corrected him.
“Yes whatever, Kalashnikov or Klitschko, it doesn’t matter. Even the name of his party is violent, what is it called?”
“Udar, Sir”. KGB guys informed.
Yanukovich now recounted his story to the Big Brother. He told him that he had called KGB to get him out of the mess and they smuggled him out of Kiev in a Soviet era four-wheeler called Zaporozhets or ZAZ 965. (Better half of India’s Ambassador Car)
KGB told the President that Zaporozhets was used because no one could suspect it for any clandestine use and besides only in Zaporozhets’ spacious trunk could portly Yanukovich fit in.
After Yanukovich made his Bolshoy brat (big brother) understand the reasons of his escape, the President decided to impart some Judo skills to him to make him ready for a comeback to his country.
“Look Chuvak, if you want to fight that Gorilla, learn how to hit him in the right place, ok”
“Got it, Bolshoy brat”
“Apart from Judo I will teach you how to tame a polar bear, you got to tame lot of Gorillas out there, right, Chuvak?”
“Got it, Bolshoy brat”
“And you got to be fit. You will be served special Lincolnshire beef cooked on special Gazprom fuel for four times a day and Lincolnshire sausage and Lincolnshire beer and Lincolnshire milkshake also prepared with Gazprom fuel”
Yanukovich was baffled. “I have taste of Gazprom but why everything Lincolnshire, Bolshoy brat!”
“That is the problem with you, eastern guys. Our efficient scientists – our own Russian scientists – already proved that Lincolnshire food stimulates geostrategic thinking. Remember that old British guy Mackinder he was born there, wasn’t he?”
“And this time when you get hold of that old blond, what is her name, ah Yulia Tymoshenko, send her to our Siberian jail. I am sure frozen Olympian braid will look much prettier on her”
“Sure, Bolshoy brat”
“And besides, get rid of those smartphones immediately, you cannot trust poking nose of Washington nincompoops. And always keep a watch on Kerry’s Brussels honeymoon, got it!”
“Bolshoy brat, you are a genius!” Though, Putinian metaphors seemed to him tad heavy to grasp.
But Yanukovcih was convinced and now according to sources, he has already started to follow Big Brother’s dietary prescription called Heartland Diet. He is yet to learn the bear taming techniques but he regularly takes Judo lessons to have a smack down with the Gorilla Klitschko. Reportedly, he will begin his encounter in favorable Crimea ring first.

Published in Greater Kashmir (March 1, 2014)