Saturday, August 23, 2008


The old Nation is breathing a fresh!

Young blood is on the street again.

A pebble is hurled by my teenage boy,

The passion makes them retreat again.

Thumping hearts make the by lanes proud!

The old fighters will meet again.

Blazing fervor will pierce the darkness-

The eclipsed Sun is on its feet again!

The Bhaand at the shrine will play a prayer,

The FREEDOM song is in the beat again.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Not Just ‘firdous’

We are too good at poking our noses into everything, we can’t help it, we discuss issues which we may not have even heard of. Everywhere we do it, always ready to share our ‘expertise’. Well, we don’t want to be left behind when others are bent to discuss. We do it all the time.

People talk and others are there to offer their bit, but when they talk about issues related to our roots our traditions and culture, which we have long forgotten, things are a bit different, they remain silent because they are insensitive to the core and are least bothered. But when caught in the firing line they have an all purpose weapon, recite a Persian couplet made famous by Mughal imperialist Akber’s son on Kashmir, who would come to his occupied territory to be away from the burning sun of the plains in India, but originally said to have written by a Persian poet, Urfi, gottcha ya, well how many knew this ?

It seems alright as long as the conversation is unceremonious and to pass time while waiting for hours for your turn in an hospital emergency or a speech by a minister is just a formal lecture to inaugurate a newly built toilet or address a press conference by an Indian politician who returns to plant a tree at a girls school he studied in, or to write narration for a documentary commissioned by Doordarshan to the contractors called private producers or to begin an essay for your daughters Urdu lessons in her 5 grade, which she has to write as her homework but you are the one doing it.

We cannot blame those who are in the business of politics or any such occupation, because they are not the ones who are interested in understanding Kashmir, they are there to complete a formality and earn some bucks, but it is we who hardly know our Kashmir and that is what is the scenario we are living in and this is the environment that our kids are growing in.

The reality is that the very mention of this couplet poses a serious question on the knowledge of those who use it. The very couplet opens every article, every book, every essay, every documentary, every speech and everything else on Kashmir. The couplet has the distinction of being the only phrase that everybody seems to use irrespective of political, cultural, ethnic and religious views, a person may hold when it comes to talking Kashmir. This point towards limited knowledge we possess on the history, culture and the language that lends identity to us.

Recently one of the speakers in a ‘literary’ function speaking on the topic ‘ Kashmir inspires’ used the couplet eight times and each time he referred to it as an ‘vurdu shaar’. We might laugh at that gentleman’s knowledge but the truth of the matter is that even we fall in the same category.

The culture that dates back to the times when humans lived in caves, the literature that is at par with the best in the world, the history that civilisations are proud of and the philosophies that makes life worth living, have been forgotten, we have turned our backs to the fabric of our being, we hardly seem to know ourselves now. All we are left with is this couplet to defend our uniqueness and describe the greatness of our motherland.

We have to take stock of things, get to know our roots and realise that if we want to be addressed as Kashmiris and want to see Kashmir ‘ba royee zameen’ for all times to come, we have to start digging into our own treasures laying under the dust of our apathy.

Kashmir is much more then ‘firdous’ that sells political packages. Let’s make an effort to know and feel its essence. We will surely end up rich.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Tall Witness at the Red Square

The idea of a clock tower symbolize something that binds time and space together, giving birth to metaphors thus gathering its own importance over the years of its standing tall. These structures also live in public memory, not only for their importance and significance vis-à-vis history but through people who associate their personal memories with them, good or bad almost every individual has a story to tell and a mention to make. Over the years, decades or centuries they seem to absorb the energies as the societies emanate, thus espouse a sort of responsibility. The clock tower at Lal Chowk may not be as old as its other counterparts like the Big Ben in London or the time building at the Time Square in New York City, but it undeniably has had its share of stories to be a part of and moments in history to stand witness to.

As far as its own history is concerned, it is said to have come up around 1980, when NC was in power and Bajaj Electricals was given an order worth corers of rupees, which had been pending for some time and given a final go ahead only after one of the ministers was ‘gifted’ with six water heaters (geysers) by the company or its representatives for erecting street lights and turning ‘night into day’ in the city of the sun. The group is supposed to have made a huge profit from the project and as a token of goodwill provided funds to the municipality and the tower was erected soon after. It probably also worked for the Bajaj group as an advertisement in those days, as their logo stayed up there. The arms of the clock never moved since, but the time weaved a story around our clock tower in Lal Chowk similar to its people.

The Ganta Ghar at Lal Chowk has a life of its own and it has come to be seen as a symbol too. It might have been seen as a sign of the modernity (progress) or urbanization of Kashmir in those days, but it’s meaning has changed and all these years of peoples resistance in the valley has added a whole new dimension to this modern monument. It has withstood turbulent political weather, seen unnatural human calamities and gained significant importance as it was, ‘the place’ that became a face of Kashmir as the world media pounced on it asking their camera brigade to get this ‘symbol’ of Kashmir shot from every possible angle. And why not, it did manage to remain in news for numerous reasons.

In 1990, a sea of people demonstrating and demanding rights promised to them by the supreme body of the nations passed by, people chanting slogans, emotionally surcharged and out to get what they have been denied for decades, their rights, their freedom. The tower stood witness to this raising, biggest Kashmir had ever seen, this was the beginning of the new phase of people’s struggle for justice that is two decades old now.

The hoisting of the Indian flag on every year on 15th august (Indian Independence Day) by a small group of men in uniform amidst blackouts and strikes kept it in news too. People questioning the very notion of ‘freedom since 47’ they are supposed to ‘celebrate’, gave way to crackdowns, parades and inhuman treatment of humans around this symbol of modern Kashmir which became a routine. Sight of few hundred men made to sit there, beaten and humiliated for hours before some among them bundled in gypsies and taken for unknown destinations was common.

Throughout these years there stayed a bunker too, inside and around it and the clock tower became a favorite spot for a grenade attacks, the trigger happy soldiers would retaliate, firing at the ‘unseen enemy’ always resulting in civilian casualties. On many occasions a tyre burst was enough before a volley of bullets from the bunker would leave innocent men, women and children rolling in blood. It was in these times that our clock tower became a symbol of death. It stood like a demon of those folk tales who would eat people everyday; the only difference was that no Saint would come for the rescue and bring the demon on its knees.

Well Saints never showed up but some self styled ‘Sadhu’s’ did. When saffron wave swept India in early 90’s, Ganta Ghar was chosen as a venue by the hindutva brigade to display their patriotism, the ‘atoot ang’ rhetoric was taken further, a right wing politician whose party came to power latter by emotionally blackmailing Indians on the name of religion and playing a communal card, showed his josh and came to hoist an Indian flag and claim victory over Kashmir, accompanied by half of the Indian military might that was there to provide moral support to this ‘bhalwaan youddha’ in case a ‘videshi atankwadi’ popped up from some where.

Quite marched the Veyth and firm stood the tower witnessing life drifting by, people attending funerals, running after busses, getting married, going to schools, waiting for colleges to get over, vehicles increasing, shops and hotels in depleted buildings around it changing hands, the property rates soaring, rush of people increasing and it stood there, a testimony to the fact that whatever happens, life surges ahead.

Yes life goes on and history gets made with each passing day and as they say, it sometimes ‘repeats itself’ too. Ganta Ghar again saw a huge rush of people gathered around it, some youngsters found their way up on its top, hoisting a flag, green in colour with a crescent in the middle, the image flashed across television channels and news papers the next morning. The symbol of progress progressed further, modernity changed its meaning, and the demon of death was run over by the young ‘saints’ and our tower got another idiom attached to it, it became an expression in itself, a symbol of resistance and the might of peoples will that shook the state and its players.

The event was significant, the tower at the Lal Chowk also became a representative of the voice of the generation next, the youth of Kashmir with tinted spikes and vintage Levis’, mp4 phones and Nike trainers had joined in, they had began to take responsibility towards their nation. The future was here, but only for those who could see it.

But not everybody has the foresight, there are some who don’t want to see a thing, even if it is right in front of their eyes, latest announcement by one of the banks that the clock tower is about to be demolished and replaced by a new structure points towards this fact, which became clear when the plan to replace clock tower was made public. The new proposed structure will be a sculpted Arabic word made of black marble, devrr kani (local stones) and panjer kaari(lattice work), something like the one in badam vear and will be called the Minar-e-Kashmir and a whooping ten million will be spent on the project by the bank under corporate social responsibility ( hard to understand how it comes under that).

So many questions pop up in mind as you come to know about this decision, one cannot help thinking that, is demolishing the Ganta Ghar an attempt to wipe off from our memories what the tower has come to represent? If the new structure is a religious one, as announced, then doesn't doing so go against the (pseudo) secular attitude of the politicians, bureaucrats, corporate heads and the like, and why use one of Allah's names in the design? Is it a strategy to stop the hoisting of green flags on top of it as people may restrain from climbing on the monument? Or do they rather prefer people stepping over the name of God? Will there be a fee to see the new monument, as the bank has been doing so in the past hence robbing the poor of their neighborhood spaces on the name of CSR? And who will be dedicating the monument to the people of Kashmir? Mr S K Sinha or Mr L K Advani?

These questions need answers and even then if a new structure has to come up, these matters cannot be decided in AC cabins of corporate headquarters in presence of hordes of yes men, this has to be discussed in public domain. The minar or tower whatever may it be, has to represent Kashmir, it has to reflect in its design the essence and the passion of the people it belongs to, just naming it so, or using devir kain or panjer kaari won’t do.

Arshad Mushtaq is a Srinagar based film maker and a theatre director.

Self Mutilation can’t be Survival

Cultural cringe has plunged us into morass; we axe the branches we sit on.

Thanks to the efforts of Sinan’s parents, Kashmiri immigrants in Great Britain, and frequent visits to UK by his grand parents, he speaks his mother tongue fluently and is working on the pronunciation of few words he finds difficult to utter, He can read a bit of Kashmiri too.

Sinan was born the same time around when millions in Kashmir took memoranda’s to the UN peace keeping groups’ office in early 90’s, demanding Nationhood. They built the political argument on various grounds, and one of the profound views that echoed undisputedly was that of distinctive ethnicity (Arts, Culture, Literature, Traditions, Heritage etc) and dissimilar life ways, then those who ‘claimed’ and ‘occupied’ it since 1947. Well, the same argument had kept the unremitting feeling alive for centuries, since Mughal imperialist Akber Occupied Kashmir by deceit, followed by many conquerors ruling this part by sheer military power, duality of opportunist few and unending suffering inflicted on the defenceless Kashmiris.

This Eid, Sinan is worried and his concerns’ are genuine, all but few SMS’s and e-mails he has received are in an alien language he does not understand, although he recognises the script that has been used, the roman. His worries are more so because these have travelled the airwaves from Kashmir, he would have been overjoyed to read these SMS’s from his motherland. Alas! the Cultural cringe, that has gripped the people of his promised land, has taken away the joy from his face. They are in Vurdu, the language of the officialdom.

Koun dimaag chaatte hain aap, balla yeh ‘cringe’ kis chidyaa ka naam hai” our backyard intellectual, who quotes Allama, even while answering a promotional call on the mobile that hangs around his neck, may wonder. Well it’s not going to make any difference to indifference of this man, if his query is left unanswered, but I think it has to be explained for others who might want to read further. Also, I should get a chance to put all previous 332 words into a perspective and further the debate and try to make my point.

So let me copy and paste the definition from an on-line encyclopaedia and not give some more ‘intellectuals’ a chance to deviate by starting a debate on the meaning of the phrase, while ‘reflecting’ on the article, rather then trying to understand the severity of the matter and further the discourse.

‘Cultural cringe, in cultural studies and social anthropology, is an internalized inferiority complex which causes people in a country to dismiss their own culture as inferior to the cultures of other countries. Often linked with the display of anti-intellectual attitudes towards thinkers, scientists and artists who originate from their own cultures’.

I am sure that all of realise that we have fallen prey to this and have numerous examples to quote, where we can find this ‘internalized inferiority complex’ has increased the susceptibility of all of us, and have been hunted down by the devises that are applied, and are working overtime to vanquish our exclusiveness.

All this happens and we lay silent and let it happen, our ignorance makes us a party to self mutilation. Day in and day out we do it, when we fail to converse with our toddlers in their ‘mother tongue’ and retard their growth. We never forget to make them recite ‘machli jal ki’ when proudly we display their ‘talent’ to our guests, but hardly make an effort to make them remember ‘bisht bisht biyaaroo’ with which they can relate easily.

The institutions and estates are collaborating instruments, every stone is turned and the pores smoked to look for a indigenous idea that seems assertive, it is cut to size and made to toe the line using sam, dhaam, dand , beaid and where even Kutalya’s Arthshastra fails to get results, we voluntarily offer solutions against petty interests that our very own notions seem to define as survival in the ‘dark times’.

Dear Sinan if you really want to enjoy the messages from your friends in Kashmir, start learning vurdu and don’t tell any Kashmiri that you can speak your mother tongue and have learned it despite odds. They will laugh at your ‘stupidity’. Your troubles will increase further, if you ever decide to marry a kashmiri girl from here, who will be more then happy to announce that ‘muj ko londann sey baateen aati hain’. And if you fail to quote Iqbal in any of your discussions you will be lined among the ignorant who are as good as apes. So better late then never, you can take the liberty of not knowing Kashmiri even if you have lived here all your life but never make a blunder of calling your self a Kashmiri and not knowing Vurdu.

So my dear friend you will always hear the rhetoric as Kashmiris will continue building the political argument on ground of ‘distinctive identity’ but will not use its power embedded in its philosophy to overwhelm the darkness that engulfs their very subsistence in the real term.

They have to realise that this is the only guiding force to carry on, the only beacon of hope. Sooner they understand, better it is.

Hoosh Ha Hoosh : Culture Vultures on the stalk.

Cultural policy in Kashmir, creates a vacuity where mediocrity and obsequiousness thrive and ingenuity and creativity suffocate.

We live in a place, where every soul is confused and finds itself caught between the devil and the deep sea, the situations that arise in such conditions of enormous mental stress sows insecurity that a human psyche confronts every moment, this puts a thinking mind in a fix. The endurance is at stake, what fog your senses are the basic concerns, which revolve around the apprehension of not being sure of surviving another day. In such a dour milieu it becomes obvious that issues related to heritage, art and culture take a back seat and seem to be the things less important. When survival is at stake, who? has time to ponder over the repercussions of the loosing cultural treasures, particularly the linguistic and the literary ones.

This forms the crux of the argument that is given in Kashmir for the cultural void that exists. I will not blame if a lay man speaks like this but the rendition echoes more profoundly among those who have been entrusted with the job of being the guiding force behind the movements that are supposed to bring in change, set the trends, uphold the traditions and infuse vigour into the cultural environment of Kashmir.

The system that is deliberately thrust upon the people seems to have been tailor made for the policies that clearly appear to create a vacuity where mediocrity and obsequiousness thrive and ingenuity and creativity suffocate. So from the word go when these are the guiding principles and are followed to the hilt, the result is what a thinking, self respecting, culture loving Kashmiri takes as an insult to his sensibilities.

The uncooked pot purée with artificial colour, garnished with the ingredients imported from the plains may seem to succeeded in creating a delusion of sorts. But this indulgence in mockery, in the name of cultural evenings and heritage festivals is far from culture, the fact remains that this is just a big joke and poor jokes don’t make art, that in turn make nations proud.

To complicate it further the moth eaten pages of the culture policy framed light years ago are used as excuses. No one bothers to look around and see, if there is any serious work of distinction being undertaken, which can indisputably be the one, that will sooner or latter acquire the status of real work of artistic genius.

Year after year, the same Chai, the same chaprasi, the same desk after desk and the same babu’s decide who wrote the best book of the year or who deserves to be called ‘the artist’ of repute. This all depends on who has the right connections and the affinity to get files moved and nominations forwarded.

Thanks to these hand full of culture traders, we have reduced to a society where trash is churned out on the name of art, culture and literature. Where we do hear the rhetoric in so called conferences, of how glorious our past has been, but fail miserably to even quote a single example of something that has its origin in the present times.

The contemporary milieu is grim. It’s high time, a whole hearted commitment is needed in this regard or else we will end up loosing the uniqueness of our being that has a lot to do with our existence as a vibrant, civilised and an enlightened society. There is a void and hardly anybody has been able to fill it. The strides towards building culture of culture will require active participation of the general public, particularly the educated class, who till now seems to have remained aloof.

A self retrospective is must, we have to take things in our hands and not let these handfuls of selfish flock define the meaning of cultural environment to us. We need to ask over selves that should we let it happen the way it has been for decades or bring about a change, at least in thinking, to begin with. We need to question and not let our opinions be hijacked; we have to nail these elements down. How far are we going to be swayed by the intellectual prostitution? Things have to be interpreted in the right perspective, we have to wake up from the slumber and demand what is rightful and just.

Our ailing cultural scenario has to breathe fresh, we owe it to our coming generations, our children deserve a culturally vibrant environment to grow as emotional intellectuals and not programmed automatons to carry out the alien designs of treachery.

(Arshad Mushtaq is a Kashmiri theatre director and filmmaker)