Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Barog's memory pill

I thought I saw you. At the eatery, next to a railway station named after a Sufi saint, you sat in one corner, your hair tied the way it always has been, stirring an empty Styrofoam cup with a spoon. Or so I thought. When the face lit in the bright afternoon sun, I could see that it was not you. It could have been you.

I wish it had been you.

Passing past the shrine, I can see a few foreigners, their eyes red with Hashish, haggling with an auto rickshaw. Next to it is a Methodist Church, which I had never noticed in twelve years. Now, as you warm inside me like a fresh teardrop, I can see the glorious brick building. I feel like stopping and going inside. As if you would be inside, your head bent on the altar. You and your silent prayers. And that faded smile, which was my unguent till its memory became a pill to be kept under the tongue, the moment I were to die.

It is strange how I have gradually stopped feeling anything. The thought of Narcissus in an empty Bombay milk bottle doesn't conjure up as much as a twitch. Or the thought of those wild, red berries in dried milk tins, hanging beneath the moss-laden rooftop of our imaginary cottage. Or the memories of tangy nimbu-soda in the student centre of Punjab University campus.
Or the memories of those mad, vagrant motorcycle trips to Kasauli and, on the way, leaving a dried tulip for the English Engineer, Mr. Barog, who ended his life after failing to make two tunnels meet. Or getting those silly pictures clicked in over-sized Himachali caps. Or singing “Hoga tumse pyaara kaun” like Rishi Kapoor and Padmini Kolhapure, pretending a friend's sofa to be the train top. Or sitting in the last row of a late night show of “Kranti,” using popcorn as a ruse to hold hands.

Today, someone asked me if I had seen a film recently. I looked at her and said nothing. This evening I then went and bought a lone ticket for a romantic film. I asked for the last row. The girl at the ticket counter looked at me for a moment and then silently handed me one. On my way inside the hall, I picked up a bag of popcorn.
The seat next to me remained vacant. I imagined you sitting there, locking your fingers in mine. The popcorn remained untouched. I left at the interval.

Sitting alone at a café later, I imagined being with you. And I thought I would cry. I took out from the secret pocket of my wallet that pearl, which I had picked up from your necklace you said you had worn on your last school farewell.

I kept it like a pill under my tongue, as if I were to die.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bullshit again

There has been a heavy spell of rain. As it fell on the top of the airconditioner fitted in my room window, I closed my eyes, listening to the pitter-patter of the raindrops. Then I got up and made myself a cup of tea.

I have a bad throat which hurts badly.

Actually I am bullshitting; I have nothing to say.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Geelani's shit and Hindu "hit"

Every morning, Syed Ali Geelani sits on a white porcelain commode, probably imported from Saudi Arabia. His shit, full of anti-India sentiments, travels through pipes to the Wular Lake in his hometown Sopore, in Kashmir, and contributes, on a daily basis, to the shrinking of what used to be Asia’s largest fresh water body. Over the years, Geelani’s morning ritual has been responsible for shrinking the lake area from 202 square kilometres to 30 square kilometres. In Srinagar, meanwhile, his other colleagues, who have been on the streets to force the cancellation of land allotment to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, citing ecological reasons among others, do the needful with the Dal lake, adding their bit to the 35 million litres of sewage, which is pumped daily into the lake. On top of it, they run houseboats, where clueless Indian families bite into succulent Goshtaba and get photos clicked in traditional Kashmiri attire.

Together with the government and a former Governor, the Geelanis of Kashmir have turned our sentiments into a Draupadi, each party gambling with a loaded dice.

Last year, it was powdered ice. On television, they showed the Governor’s men, with their boots on, inside the sanctum sanctorum, enhancing the size of Shivling as if it were a female model in dire need of a silicon implant. Then, this year, we were shown visuals of an artificial, marble Shivling being made in Udaipur, Rajasthan which, we were told, would be put inside to enable the piligrims to have a “complete darshan.”

To hell with you all! You think, people are spending money on their Kashmir travel and they have to have a “paisa vasool” through the darshan of a full-size, artificial Shivling. For you, a visit to Amarnath may be picnic. For us, it’s a way of life.

My early memories of our tryst with Shiva come from an aunt who would, every morning, sing Ateebheeshan katubhashan, Yama kinkar patli…, her eyes brimming with tears, begging Shiv to be present when the Yama took her to another world. It meant decorating Shiv as a bridegroom, with silver foil and bel patra, every Shivratri, when snow would reach till our bedroom window. It meant that dream which my father saw as a young man with a new job, in which Shiv appeared and guided him through some confusing office accounts. It means my sister trying to explain to her friends: “We are Shaivites.”

So, you see, I don’t care whether you get that land or not. I don’t care for your darshan as well. But please, leave that Shivling alone.

Yesterday, in an Indian Express photo, Rajnath Singh was caught offering a ladoo to Venkaiah Naidu. Both men could not hide their glee. In the election season, they couldn’t have asked for more. On NDTV, they are showing five men and a woman in Jammu – BJP supporters – wearing Vaishno Devi bandanas, shouting slogans for the benefit of cameras.

Jo Hindu hit ki baat karega, wo hi desh pe raaj karega.” The woman almost looks like the one in Jammu’s Bakshi Nagar, who washed the walls of her cowshed with cheap distemper, and offered it to my uncle’s family for renting, immediately after our migration from the valley in 1990.

Of course, after almost two decades, we are welcome in Kashmir. Last year, they even allowed the Janamashtami procession. So, as long as we come for a weekend trip, stay in a hotel or a houseboat, buy carpets and shawls as souvenirs for family and friends, we are most welcome. But what about our houses? Our jobs? Our orchards? Errr… you see, Pandit ji, we cannot guarantee your safety. The Afghanis don’t spare us, either.

So, you please stay in Jammu. We will come and visit you. And, of course, you have your ration cards. Pandit ji, you must be a little optimistic. Jammu is not that bad. Now you even have replicas of Kshir Bhawani and Hari Parbat. I must leave now… for Islamabad… sorry, Anantnag.

Meanwhile, 290 kilometres away from Jammu, as those yellow Border Road Organisation milestones would tell you, a man, a free man, sits on a Kashmiri carpet, beside a hookah, tearing apart choicest pieces of lamb. His name is Farooq Ahmad Dar.

You know him very well. He is also called Bitta Karate.