Peer-ing into the Abyss

Last month, we learnt from highly placed sources that the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mufti Sayeed was undergoing hallucinatory experiences; his advanced age of 79 summers taking a toll on his old mind and bladder made him see ghosts of the bygone era called 2002-2005.

Now just last week, our sources told us that Mufti was feeling dizzy and then, in the next few moments, whirling like a (very slow) dervish. He was almost going to fell down but Naeem Akhtar, the crusading education minister of J&K, emerged like Shaktimaan and caught him mid-air.

“Thank you, Naeem,” Mufti told him in a meek old man’s voice.

“Mention not, Mufti sahib. Anything for you.”

After recovering from this momentously sudden fall (which was kept under wraps by the PDP’s clever PR men and women), Mufti asked for Mehbooba Mufti, Syed Altaf Bukhari, Syed Basharat Bukhari, and Naeem Akhtar Andrabi.

No one knows what transpired in this highly secretive meeting, not even well-known PDP acolytes like Waheed Parra. However, the meeting has particularly piqued the Srinagar press colony where Mufti’s falling health has set tongues wagging and rumors mills churning.

Recently, over a cup of tea, senior journalist Naseer told me in no uncertain terms: “I always told my friends and colleagues that PDP is an upper-class syndicate. Did you hear about the recent secret meeting Mufti called? I heard that he only called Peers into that meeting. He’s at the fag end of his life; he probably wanted to pass on some message like those Freemason and Illuminati types.”

Naseer is of the firm belief that politics in Kashmir is actually dominated by a few influential groups. For example, the PDP, which Naseer calls the “Peers’ Deceptive Party”, is dominated by people of what are called Peer surnames: Andrabi, Mufti, Bukhari etc.

Isaac, the naysayer, has a different view. “By saying that a pro-Indian party like PDP is peer dominated, Mr Naseer is implying that all Peers and Syeds in Kashmir are pro-India, which is factually incorrect. How can he say that—no, no, I would say how dare he say that? If you look at Hurriyat, yes Hurriyat Conference, you will find Peers there also, that too on top positions, like Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Not only that, even the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen is being run by a Peer, Syed Salahuddin. So how can you try to malign Peers like that?”

Naseer argues that Isaac is saying what he too wants to drive at, that the Kashmiri political, cultural, and educational institutions are dominated by certain influential groups. As an example, he points out that Board of Directors of the resource-rich Muslim Wakf Board, which takes care of the shrines and the mosques in Kashmir and the donations and offerings to them, has nine members, out of which five are from the Peer group.

“Peers and Syeds are like the Kammas and Reddys of Kashmir,” he says. “If they are in ideologically opposite groups, that still does not make any sense. It is like Manish Tewari blaming Arun Jaitley blaming Barkha Dutt blaming Sudhir Chaudhary blaming blah blah blah…but at the end they are all upper castes.”

“He is actually jealous of Peers for their intellectual superiority,” scoffs Isaac. “Peers achieve top positions because they are intelligent; why should there be a problem with that?”

Naseer believes that is hogwash. “Meritocracy is mostly overrated. Success depends not solely on one’s merit but considerably on one’s network and access to resources. If Basharat Peer was any other ordinary Kashmiri and not one from a privileged background with a cultivated network,Curfewed Night would probably not have been published by Random House.”

In the meantime, the information gathered from the media and snatches from tea vendors and barber shops tell us that Mufti Sayeed may pass on the chair of Chief Ministership to his beloved daughter Mehbooba Mufti anytime soon.

“Mehbooba is in the town, she is seen everywhere, and she is making all the right noises,” says Gul Kak, the most impartial political analyst in Kashmir. “Walla! Something is cooking!”

Sul Kak, a longtime comrade of Gul Kak, adds, “Mufti will die with a big regret though, that Manmohan’s Aman ki Asha was turned into a big nirasha by the 56-inch chest of Modi sarkar.”

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Published in Kindle Magazine, September 2, 2015: http://kindlemag.in/peer-ing-into-the-abyss/

Welcome to the Jungle

Once again, the law has taken its own (murky and dubious) course, and once again, the ‘collective conscious of the revenge-seeking society’ has been satisfied—if it can ever be satisfied! Yakub’s body, like Afzal Guru’s, lies cold under the six feet of earth called the Indian justice system. And there on the naked streets, we have the Hindutva brigade celebrating the hanging of a Muslim body, singing their ancient anthem: “Na Koi Marta Hai, Na Koi Maarta Hai [No one dies, no one kills].”

The infamous “collective conscience of the [Indian] society”, like criminal syndicates the world over, has now become a notorious entity. Its hunger for blood is never satiated. As my friend puts it, “Collective conscience na hovi koi chudail hogi. Kitna khoon piyegi? [Is this a collective conscience or a witch? How much blood will she drink?]”

Now, some of us already know—and some of us dread to believe—this witch is always running after biryani-eating children called Muslims. Such is the terror of hers that every time a Muslim child pesters his mother she warns him, “Beta so ja, warna collective conscience aa jayegi. [Sleep now, kid, or the collective conscience will take you away.]”

After Yakub was snatched away by this notorious witch, some nincompoops were seen singing paeans to the Supreme Court of India on gut-wrenching shit masquerading as news channels.

“Where else would you find Mr. Justice staying awake till late night without having a cup of coffee?” said an assholish panelist. Of course, you don’t take coffee before committing a judicial murder, else you will throw it up immediately afterwards.

“What a verdict! This is the beauty of our justice system. You have doors of judiciary open for 24 hours”, said a Muslim former jurist. Of course, you could not afford to speak otherwise, lest this beast of the beauty beat sedition out of your ass, like they did to Owasi and Salman Khan. If we ignore the moral vulgarity of your “What a verdict!” quip, it sounds more like T20 match commentary, “What a shot! The noose tightens around the neck, another Six!”

“We welcome this judgment. Today, the Supreme Court has sent a very strong signal. Whosoever commits acts of terrorism will be hanged to death”. Of course, Babu Bajrangi is an anti-amnesia ayurvedic churan and Maya Kodani is the name of a Japanese company that manufactures memory-boosting tonics.

In Kashmir, the government is on a grand mission and working harder than NASA scientists to achieve its objectives. It wants to turn Kashmir into a genuine Republic of Police State (ROPS) as soon as possible. For this, it has launched a number of policies.

If a young Kashmiri is travelling in a car accompanied by a female—who can be his mother, daughter, sister, wife, colleague or just a friend—for example, the men in uniform will not ask for his identity card but ask in a rather peculiar tone, “Who is the lady in your car?” Then they will take turns to walk up to the car door and have a close glance at the woman to see if her hands are really nervous at their sight.

If you tell them, “She is my wife,” they would like to send greetings to your father-in-law and will ask for his phone number.

If you tell them, “She is my sister,” they would like to ask your father if he could really produce two kids.

If you tell them, “She is my friend,” they would like to know why the hell she is your friend.

If you tell them, “She is my girlfriend,” they will be pissed off. And then may the Taliban save you!

Another people-friendly policy in the ROPS is called multi-tasking engagement. For example, the state deploys small ‘naka’ [cordon] parties composed of police and counter-insurgency STF—“Tass Force”, in the local parlance—on all the roads, big and small, which randomly stop people and vehicles throughout the day, and ask them rapid-fire questions.

The multi-tasking part in this whole engagement is that they don two roles: that of a cop and a traffic police. They check your identity card as well as your driving license. They see to it that you have your helmet on your head as well as that you don’t have anything else inside that helmet. And like that famous show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, you also get options to choose from, such as between calling them Sir/Jinab and watching their nostrils huff, or between producing all your documents quickly and watching their nostrils huff, or between asking for reasons for their misbehavior and walking away unharmed.

This engagement is so popular at present that almost the entire population of Kashmir is playing it every day on the roads with the generous and warm-hearted officials of the ROPS. If you are lucky enough, you get to play this game a number of times during a single day with different players at different places. Although you get to see different temperaments and different nostrils, the rules of engagement remain the same everywhere.

Yet another generous policy is the pre-emptive swoop. This policy has been launched particularly in the post-2008 period to stop people from harming their voice chords. As soon as people gather at the press colony in Srinagar or in any other place to raise their voice, they are asked to go home. If they do not relent they are bundled into a van and taken away to their second home: the police station.

The instruments of pre-emptive swoop down are luminous metallic cans, sleek oak gun butts, solid five-fingered hands, and wagging tongues. As they say, the law is equal for all, hence these instruments of ROPS are used indiscriminately and everyone is treated equally, sufficiently, and immediately with them, whether they are daily wagers, teacher’s associations, differently-abled people, women’s organizations, student bodies, or any damn living Kashmiri.

Welcome to the Republic of Police State.

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Published in Kindle Magazine, August 4, 2015: http://kindlemag.in/welcome-to-the-jungle/

Flood Notes

Usually, I do not make regular entries into my personal dairy; writing about mundane and trivial things everyday does not make sense to me. But then September 2014 was no ordinary month. To paraphrase Eliot, it was the cruelest month.

As soon as I was able to climb a wooden portable stair through our neighbour’s and enter my room on the second floor of our house, I grabbed a fresh unused notebook and started registering my thoughts and experiences for the next two weeks.

Today when I leaf through the pages of my dairy, I can see traces of anxiety and hurriedness in my badly executed free style handwriting; the incoherence of my sentences perhaps reflect the tremendous burden one felt, during those trying moments, to survive through the calamity, and hold each other’s hands so that one didn’t succumb to the pressure but stand it doggedly.

What I infer from the words and ideas I was able to capture in my dairy is that the flood of September 2014 – while rendering the life awry and making the infrastructure collapse – had a particular bearing on the public discourse. For example, in my dairy entry dated 14 September, 2014 I write: “The one particular proverb that I hear from almost every elderly person now-a-days is like this: ‘Raatuk shah, aziuk gadah’ (Yesterday’s rich man is miserable one today)”. In the context of Pampore, where I live and where I heard this, people were making such remarks especially on those upper middle class families who were seen carrying disheveled selves, running from one place to another in distressed panic because their palatial house had been submerged in the murky waters up to two-storeys. Although said in the general atmosphere of humility momentarily brought on the people by the nature’s furious hand, there was a peculiar tinge of schadenfreude in such remarks though, because the nozzle of the smirking gun was trained at a particular class, who lived in prosperous ghetto-like clusters around Pampore. If ‘Raatuk shah, aziuk gadah’ was a veiled quip, it was patently obvious in the remark ‘Yiman gov asal’ (They deserved it) that who the target was.

On the same page I further write: “Another remark on people’s tongue is: ‘Ye ous na salaab, ye ous khuda sundh kahar’ (This was not flood, it was a divinely wrath)”. What this remark suggests is that people perceived the flood as a divine punishment. Such framing of a natural calamity can be said to be influenced by orthodox understating (reinforced even by Biblical or Koranic stories) of the workings of the nature; anthropologically speaking, this understanding or belief ascribes anthropomorphic features on an un-animated entity like nature. For the most people (especially Muslims) of Kashmir, there was clearly God’s hand in the massive devastation.  Therefore, as a consequence of such perception people were inclined to say, and I registered in my dairy: “Yuuta kehn gov, magar wuni chi na aed lukh futan” (All this catastrophe has not made some people humble enough yet).

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Published in Kashmir Life, September 7, 2015: http://www.kashmirlife.net/flood-notes-issue-25-vol-07-84543/