Movie Halls should be opened in Kashmir / By Rashmi Talwar


Hina Bhat:

Movie Halls should be opened in Kashmir

Hina Bhat
Movie Halls should be opened in Kashmir

HIna Bhat
Movie Halls should be opened in Kashmir
There should be either a war or friendship with Pakistan. There is no third way.

RASHMI TALWAR

Dr Hina Bhat, BJP candidate for Assembly constituency of Amira Kadal, the sole Muslim woman face in Kashmir valley for BJP, appears to have the makings of an astute politician. She even has the chutzpah to admit the youthful pursuits of having fun on geri routes in Chandigarh and shopping sprees in Ludhiana and Amritsar in Punjab. Daughter of two-time legislator and Member of Parliament, Mohammad Shafi Bhat, the 35-year-old single mother of a six-year old son is all set to contest her first election in the constituency from where her father won all his elections as National Conference and Congress candidate. Bhat shares her feelings including the fate of article 370 of the constitution that her party is readying to abrogate.

Surrounded by party workers including Sheikh Abdul Rehman who joined BJP in 2003 and youngsters from Kashmir University at her residence in Rajbagh, Bhat in velvet black phiran embellished with silver tilla embroidery, instructs on putting party buntings and listens to supporters from a plush armchair in a room that was submerged in flood waters for almost a month and is now covered with posters of Prime Minister Narender Modi with a message in Urdu –“BJP ko vote de, chal chaley Modi ke saath, badle Jammu-Kashmir ke halaat …”


Q. Who contacted you from BJP for this seat?

Ans: I do not want to talk about this BJP Party MP and Jammu &Kashmir in charge Avinash Rai Khanna, and Union Minister for Health and family welfare Mr JP Nadda
(hesitatingly).

Q. Your father Mohammed Shafi Bhat was from National Conference & Congress, so why BJP?
Ans: Nothing attracted me in National Conference (NC); the state in charge could bring no growth following the same old guard and archival agenda with no plans on youth development, no augmentation in hospitals and education, the same with Congress. I could however see the spark in BJP’s clear cut development vision and transparent democratic make-up. See, how the ‘swachh bharat abhiyan’ has even forced our CM Omar Abdullah to pick a broom (laughs). Modi has given us a dream, it is for us to follow and implement it in the best and quickest way. The first thing that a leader gives is imagination, then motivation and inspiration and next comes the ways and means to implement them. BJP has caught the imagination of people across the country and that is the first step towards good leadership, which will ultimately culminate into good governance. Where best governance comes, the state is bound to grow.
Jammu and Kashmir is in dire need of growth, youth here desperately needs employment and education needs to be spruced up. Old systems need to change in education, in healthcare, tourism to inspire economic growth for Jammu & Kashmir

Q. What qualified you for the BJP candidate for Amira Kadal?
Ans: My political grooming comes from home. My father helped me and he is my mentor as also a godfather. I am a qualified dentist and was keen to make a difference; all these qualities may have attracted the BJP towards me. Yes and being a Muslim woman face of the BJP also seemed to be a very positive reason for my selection. My father has never lost an election despite that NC sidelined him, his political reputation spelled a boon for me. I accompanied my father for campaigning when he won in 1989/ 1990 parliamentary elections for the 9th Lok Sabha elections almost unopposed. NC has no attraction for me. It has given the worst governance and the party hardly values its workers. If a party worker grows, the party will grow. And Yes! I always had political leanings (with a twinkle).

Q. You face a tough battle from the NC’s sitting legislator, Nasir Aslam Wani, and PDP’s business tycoon, Altaf Bukhari?

Ans: I faced lot of odds to join BJP as a Muslim woman but I have taken the risk for my state, to improve its temper and put it on the path of progress. NC is hardly my competition. Bukhari of PDP does not perturb me. A candidate is the reflection of his/her party and money doesn’t work, it’s the strategy that works, otherwise don’t you think Ambanis would have the prime ministerial berth on their platter. I am in politics for a long haul and I have faith that Mr. Modi’s magic could change the atmosphere and help the lotus bloom in Kashmir in newer shades. My USP is my keen awareness about changes that are in dire need, NC- Congress and PDP could hardly bring anything tangible. PDP is merely banking on anti incumbency, while BJP already has shown its strength in other states and its policies are attracting people from all over the country. “BJP means business, not business as usual”! PM has a visionary approach to development and peace agenda and No! it wasn’t much difficult to make a choice. Kashmiris are basically secular and accommodating in nature. They believe in cohesion and cohabitation. Despite the past many would follow their basic character. They have seen militancy and turmoil, now they want to move forward and return to their basic roots.

Q. BJP is labeled as Hindutva party and you as a Muslim, could you be seen as a turncoat for your community?
Ans Hindutva party is the false term coined by Congress for BJP for political advantage. But all can see that Modi’s policies involve unified and not segregated growth. He has taken the nation in totality. The idea of corporate houses and celebrity figures adopting villages to turn them into model villages is not community based or for only a section of people. It is an open invitation to all those who have earned from the nation, need to share their wealth and prosperity with the lesser privileged in the nation and improve their lot.
My constituency is amongst the largest with 78,000 registered voters. There are nearly 11,000 Kashmiri Pandits and 4000 Kashmiri Sikhs, Khatris and Hindus make up another 3000, but I am considering all of them ‘One people’.

Q. How do you look at Omar Abdullah?
Ans: I sympathize with him, he is high headed, has an old coterie around him and heads a corrupt cabinet, therefore he is suffering today. The state under him has emerged as the Number-1 corrupt state. This time he has no chance. Floods were a major barometer for his popularity or lack of it and he failed miserably. I call the floods a man-made disaster. The administration or the political dispensation drew no topographical pitfalls of vital areas. How could they not have anticipated the drawback of their plans when you landfill the water clearing channels and let haphazard growth go unchecked?

Q. Are there some celebrity faces that could show up for your rallies?
Ans Yes, PM Narender Modi is scheduled along with Avinash Rai, Hema Malini, and Navjot Singh Sidhu

Q What would be your first focus in case you win?
Ans My main focus would be youth – justice and jobs for them! I would like to open lakhs of cases, real or fake against the youth. Each one should be provided with a passport by which they could explore job opportunities in other countries too.

Q How come all should be given passports?
Ans Why? Don’t black-listers have passports? Out of the 100 booked, 99% are not involved in any heinous crimes, so why should they be deprived of passports.

Q. In a way are you saying that general amnesty should be announced for all those booked?
Ans: Yes! Positively and I don’t mean just the youth even those aged beyond that should be given a chance.

Q. And Article 370?
Ans I do not believe that Kashmiri sentiments regarding article 370 should be played with. Already much of the the article has been tampered with by successive governments including NC, PDP and Congress. Let some semblance be maintained as far as certain status is enshrined in the article. The BJP has targeted a vision of 44+ seats in the 87 seat assembly and I am sure Mr. Modi is sensitive to the sentiments of the people and will not take up the contentious issue of article 370.

What if Modi does take up the issue of article 370?
Ans I will oppose it.
What about women issues of female foeticide, dowry and large weddings?
Ans Female foeticide is very little in Kashmir but yes regarding weddings I would turn to empowerment of women, for which I would inspire women to join politics in large numbers and bring about a change. Also I would like to introduce a woman cell that would deal exclusively with problems related to women. Woman are shy to approach MLAs and police, a women’s cell would be more approachable.

How about Anti India feelings?
Ans Those who want to boycott is their choice. The anti India feelings have come as the center invested in political families and not in the people of Jammu and Kashmir. People’s problems lay un-addressed as political incumbencies misappropriated central grant. Thus a distance was created and governments were looked upon as stooges of the center. This feeling would be abandoned when the center uses clean people to address genuine problems. The ignored lot can be weaned only by crossing the bridge of trust deficit

What about Pakistan?
Ans There should either be a war or friendship with Pakistan. There is no third way.

Q Kashmir is starved of entertainment, there are no movie halls and those that were have remained defunct and unusable. Do you think Kashmiri youth should be kept deprived of public places for entertainment while the rest of the country enjoys? and for how long?

Ans Once basic needs are met; I would strongly support the opening of movie halls for Kashmir. I look forward to progress and prosperity for Kashmiris.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON NOVEMBER 21, 2014
URL: http://t.co/Voufp7KEUT”

When cars opened gates, shoes stepped out and television sets followed.. /By Rashmi Talwar/ RISING KASHMIR


When cars opened gates, shoes stepped out and television sets followed..

Rashmi Talwar

snapshot flood story RK

Trepidation gripped me this time as I hurriedly packed for Kashmir. Every time I had carried a little bit of Amritsar to Kashmir. It would be ‘anardana wali mathhi, dry golgappas, aam-paapar, even wadiis that Kashmir had no taste for. Friends accepted them with love and even asked for recipes. I know hospitality is drubbed in the genes of both Punjabis and Kashmiris and thus the inevitable closeness.
My daughter pointed to a clear cellophane bag in my suitcase. “What is this?” she asked. “These are flower seeds”, I replied. “Why”? “I want to spread some cheer in Kashmir after the floods!” She hugged me and I hugged the thought of these pink and yellow crocus-lilies that would emerge without much care and multiply like rabbits, throwing off their seeds and spreading joy. In the past I had carried so many Chinar, fruiting and flowering saplings every time I came back from Kashmir, shared the saplings with some ardent gardeners, resolved to make a Char-Chinari, the namesake of an island in Dal Lake that once boasted of four massive Chinar trees, in the part of my garden christened as ‘Kashmir’.

My pen feels shaky to write the firsthand account of mass devastation of Kashmir, when all I had written were paeans about its glory, the serene loving waters bobbing with shikaras, saluted by intricately carved houseboats in the backdrop of Pir Panjal range of Himalayas and emerging tall firs, pines, willows, their paths sprinkled with exotic multi-hued, multi-shaped flowers and umpteen fragrances lazing in its winds.

The floods of the intervening night of 6-7 September in Jammu & Kashmir had virtually given me hydrophobia, even as I remained safe hundreds of miles away, in Amritsar. I looked askance at the running tap-water – ‘Oh my cool, mild, serene mannered elixir of life, could you have been in such a rage so as to wreak havoc in your own paradise?’

Creepy creatures, spider-webbed foliage, creaky doors and windows and strange happenings, horror movies often use these symbolisms. Imagine something emerging from reel to real. In the early days of October, nearly a month after the catastrophe, motor pumps were still draining out water from heavily flooded localities of Raj Bagh, Jawahar Nagar, Indira Nagar and Shivpora in Srinagar. As water receded, muddied monstrous bungalows emerged out and the once manicured blooming gardens, now laden with mud hung menacingly.

The typical arch gateways festooned with flowering climbers in gardens, tall pines, rose bushes, all looked lopsided, disfigured and drooping, displaying burnt decay lines to show water levels that rose to nearly 20 feet and more in some of these areas.

If I had ever compared Kashmir to world’s other touristy places and pointed out that boundary walls were jarring and obstructing its scenic beauty, please forgive me. I had meant no harm; least of all wished the terrible vanishing of these walls, which became the first casualty of the ferocious waters. Cars were seen crashed on second floors, television sets hung on walls and tree guards, windows and doors splashed out on overhanging wires.

Abdul Rashid (45) shudders and recalls “We helplessly watched on the morning of September 7, as our car bobbed outside the first floor, boxed open the main gate and our shoe-rack with all slippers and shoes kept in the front veranda tip-toed behind it. Slowly we saw these touching power wires and horror gripped us. In just an hour we hurriedly threw blankets on the upper floors as waters rose speedily with nearly one meter inundated every hour.

Rashid’s wife in tears, talked about the three dark days before their rescue, “We scrimped and scrapped to feed our two young children, as we had very limited stocks and could not retrieve much from the ground floor”. Another couple in Lasjan, who slept on their second storey, found creeping water dodging their beds as if gnarled hands were about to choke their throats, got up in terror and waded through the water to window sills and then to the upper storey.

A senior bank officer dragged himself and his wife to the third floor of their house in Indira Nagar only to notice a huge beehive below the slanting roof. Recalling the terrifying moment, he said -“I thought if somehow we escape drowning, the bees would surely make us their meal.” Both climbed to safety from second floor windows into boats with just the clothes and shoes they were wearing. Sumit Talwar a trader from Amritsar was air lifted by helicopter and then left to fend for himself near the airport. “After three days, aboard the free flight from Srinagar, I ate like I had never seen food before”.

Bharat Bhushan Bhat, president of Zeashta Devi Prabandhak Committee held his head in his hands and told us about 7000 people including 23 newborns and their mothers who took refuge in the ancient Zeashta Devi temple premises on September 7-8 and some on the third day too. “People came from all sections and communities as the temple is high up on the hill on the site of a pure water spring. The new mothers were all Kashmiris from Lal Ded Hospital and some had had caesarean sections. We covered their enclosure with soft thermo-sheets that are laid underneath carpets for insulation in Kashmiri homes. People slept on stairs and begged for a cardboard to keep below their bodies, young children slept on the bellies of their fathers or mothers and we fed them the entire ration that we had stocked.”

Even as loud wailings were heard throughout the Kashmir valley and people gripped and grasped to safety with the civil administration remaining completely paralyzed, partly due to fury touching them too and partly by choice, neighbours helped neighbours and the thieves had a field day, as humanity simultaneously put its best and worst foot forward in face of the colossal calamity.

My so loved, Maharaja Partap Singh Museum, Tourist Reception Center, Government Arts Emporium, housed in a heritage building, lay critically injured and nearly dead. Plastered with sticky silt, most of the city houses, shops, business establishments were awash with mud, algae, fungus and water that hardly discriminated between a tap and a sewer. Toothbrush too needed to be washed with mineral water as also the last rinse after the muddy water bath.

Rafiq snatched two thermo-sheets from floating waters rolled them up, balanced a wooden ladder and used a wooden plank to row it. He took whatever anybody could pay and also took many to safety for free. More innovative ideas with plastic drums helped to rescue several lives. People were pained and aggrieved about rescuer’s selectively choosing tourists over them until it was explained that non-local population is the first to be rescued in such calamities to arrest the number of casualties. “Locals know the topography of the area, have food stocks and a support circle. They can sustain for a few hours more but tourists are vulnerable and completely rudderless.”

Sajid Farooq, MD of Comrade Inn, a luxury hotel in Rajbagh, whose hotel roof top was used to save hundreds by chopper-rescue operations, was probably the lone buoyant soul around the depression debris and deluge. “Two storeys of my hotel were completely submerged in water and are destroyed. But I will remake them better than I made them back then.” I was dumbfounded by this optimism and silently prayed for this spirit to scatter its blooms in the mud, for Kashmiri lotuses to emerge once again.

A young Kashmir University student Hafiz who gave me a ride from Srinagar airport as taxis were not available, sounded me to be careful during distribution of relief material. “In our locality not a drop of flood water entered, yet many neighbours left their houses in the morning and returned in the evening with blankets and dry rations”. Mohammed Amin, the truck driver who carried our relief material for flood victims from the air cargo in Srinagar, not only charged us nominally, refused any tips and refused to accept even a single blanket or a kilo of rice that we offered him –“Please give it to someone needy. By the Grace of Allah, my family is safe.”

Habibullah, a shikarawala, looked up at sunny skies, days after the disaster in thanksgiving, with his hands raised in prayer and mercy. Suddenly he turned vitriolic — “This is just a ‘missed call’ given by Allah!” he boomed, “If Kashmiris do not set right their paths, Allah will give the ‘Assal call’ for the ultimate disaster and teach a bigger lesson”. I was shocked. I have listened when Kashmiris revealed their inner feelings in hush hush tones and hardly took it seriously because inevitably they sang a different tune in company of their own, out of fear or conviction. But little could I imagine a Kashmiri introspecting or even castigating and rapping his own people, that too openly, fearlessly. It was jaw-dropping and hard to digest.

Satisfied over the relief distribution, I saw how locals helped outsiders, neighbours helped neighbours and everyone pooled in resources, yet the terror was such that those who returned to relief camps after visiting their destroyed homes turned nearly dumbstruck with shock. The catastrophe was raw, rough and rotting. I went about like a zombie, looking at half drowned houses, wading through contaminated water, inspecting trees and plants, walking on muck roads till the time came for me to return.

During my departure this time, I smoothly passed through the baggage check, there were no Chinar or  flower or fruit saplings accompanying me this time, to invite ire and objections of airport security , only plastic tulips bought at a store outside the airport that came under no objection and I wondered when the cheer will return to Kashmir again.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON SEP 28, 2014
URL: http://www.risingkashmir.com/when-car-gates-opened-shoes-stepped-out-and-television-sets-followed/

Kashmir is Organic, not manicured: Imtiaz Ali…/ Rashmi Talwar


Kashmir is Organic Not Manicured :Imtiaz Ali

Kashmir is Organic Not Manicured :Imtiaz Ali

Imtiaz Ali

Don’t go by the Bollywood director Imtiaz Ali’s golly-lock looks, neither by his humble demeanor, underneath lies a sharp mind and heart that not only explodes in cinematic best in such blockbusters like ‘Jab we met’, ‘Rockstar’ and recent ‘Highway’ but has brought Kashmir once again on the tourist circuit in more ways than one. Apart from highlighting virgin landscapes, the film Rockstar had Nargis Fakri attired in kurtas and shawls in exquisite Kashmiri embroidery. RASHMI TALWAR caught Imtiaz Ali in Srinagar (Kashmir), while he was shyly treading the celebrity tourism path chalked out by Jammu & Kashmir’s Tourism cell.

Q1. Don’t you think other countries with similar luxuriant landscapes could offer better locales than Kashmir?
Ans: There couldn’t be a single film maker who doesn’t want to shoot in Kashmir. In my movies, I have shown not even five percent of Kashmir. Nothing can match Kashmir and its endearing backdrops or its innocence. My top priority would be Kashmir compared to any other part of the world as beautiful as they may be. If I may put it in a few words which I know would not suffice the emotional bonding I have towards it, I could say –‘Kashmir is organic, it’s not manicured’ that is why it is so special.


Q2. Was it an effort to promote the place you fell in love with, even though you are not of it?

Ans: I didn’t do film shoots here with a conscious effort to promote Kashmir. It just happened and I am happy it did. Punjab has its own flavors and one can see a lot of Punjab in Yash Chopra’s films, plus Punjab is the current flavor too. I used Punjab in ‘Jab we met’ but in terms of visual beauty Kashmir is matchless.

Q3. Kashmir is indeed lucky to have you?
Ans: No, I consider myself the lucky one that I was able to shoot in Kashmir and not the other way around. I come here to fulfill my greed. I had no clue that showing Kashmir would develop as vast an expanse as it eventually did and I am indeed humbled by the response. There is immense talent in this place. I once did an impromptu short film ‘window seat’ of only five and a half minutes duration and a shikarawala sang a song in it. With a mere back score and sound of rippling water it caught the limelight on you tube. The film revolved along the varied touristy experiences of the shikarawala. The impromptu song by the shikarawala Habibullah Butt, of Dandi, became the highlight of the film. Even now Butt rows the shikara in the Dal Lake.

Q4. What level do you give to music in your films?
Ans: Music is very vital to my films as it is to the entire spectrum of Indian movies. I am very particular about the background scores, the soundtracks, the song and the lyrics. They should not only gel together to bring forth the story but in places I have chosen them for the sheer effect of the travails. I try not to insert a playback singer’s voice that does not match the character’s personality, even though I may be emotionally affected by it. I try to use it appropriately; rest is up to the Almighty.

Q5. You think you have something unique in you that other directors may not have?

Ans: Yes, I have an e-mail address ‘standingingalerybelow’ (smiles) and it has a unique story. A girl who once worked with me kept this name for our production house’s email, because in all my films there was always a character under the gallery. When she left, she gifted me the email and ever since it has become my prized personal email.

Q6. Can I safely address you as a hit director given the fact that you have had a string of blockbusters in a short span?
Ans: I never know if my work would be attractive to my audience or hit the dust. There are always layers and layers in creating a film. It is the script, the storyline, the conception, writing, presentation, direction and final outcome and no one knows whether it will click or turn into a flop. Yes, instinct is very much present but instinct and period, beyond that I don’t think. That is how I make it; the end result is not something that I or anyone can predict.

Q7. Which one of the actresses would you prefer Aaliya Bhatt or Kareena Kapoor? Do you like happy or prefer open endings where audience draw their own conclusions?

Ans: Aalia was amazing. In every new shot she surprised me during the making of ‘Highway’. Kareena is of course more experienced and is a very good actress. I haven’t experimented much with open endings I don’t feel there is a choice in a storyline. Whatever the story demands I meander it that way.‘Rockstar’ had a tragic ending, ‘Highway’ had a good one so did ‘Jab we met’.
Q8. What is lacking in Bollywood today? Is there anyone you would love to work with?

Ans: Bollywood is missing out on the strength of good writers. Strong storylines are missing. I would have loved to work with Dalip Kumar; he is one of the greatest actors India has seen. But I do not foresee my dream coming true.
Q9. Do you take time or make instant decisions? Which one would you consider for a re-make of an old or a regional hit?
Ans: I take snap decisions. I don’t linger around too much (running his fingers in his curly hair and giving it a gentle flick). I find no fun in remakes or rehashing old stuff be it songs or stories. There is a whole world of new stories.
I love to make movies on human interest stories where characters are vital and I choose them with care. I would however love to make a character movie someday like Farhan Akhtar’s–Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Also I would try a period film someday in the backdrop of Mughal period when Urdu was developing and poets were writing in mixed languages, the period of Hazrat Aamir Khusro, the emergence of Hindustani music.

Q10. Any love interest in your life? What are your views on marriage?
Ans: No, I wouldn’t like to talk about my love interest. Marriage is very difficult; people should go into it on their own risks.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON JUNE 29, 2014 ON PAGE 7
URL :http://www.risingkashmir.com/kashmir-is-organic-not-manicured-imtiaz/

Sign of blessed tidings, water is milky at Kheer Bhawani…/ Rashmi Talwar


Photo & Caption  by Ravinder Kaul: Taken at a Tea Shop, at Mata Kheer Bhawani, two elderly gentlemen deeply immersed in an intimate chat, completely oblivious of the Mela or the world. I returned to the shop after two hours and found them sitting exactly in the same posture. I clicked their pictures but they did not come to know of it until I told them. One a Kashmiri Pandit another a Kashmiri Muslim were former colleagues and neighbors and were meeting after 25 years. Looking at them I felt-“There’s still hope in this world”.

Photo & Caption by Ravinder Kaul: Taken at a Tea Shop, at Mata Kheer Bhawani, two elderly gentlemen deeply immersed in an intimate chat, completely oblivious of the Mela or the world. I returned to the shop after two hours and found them sitting exactly in the same posture. I clicked their pictures but they did not come to know of it until I told them. One a Kashmiri Pandit another a Kashmiri Muslim were former colleagues and neighbors and were meeting after 25 years. Looking at them I felt-“There’s still hope in this world”.



Sign of blessed tidings, water is milky: Kheer Bhawani

Rashmi Talwar

‘Naabad rang Poenye’! ‘Naabad rang Poenye’! (The color of water is Mishri- crystallized sugar) Kashmiri Pandits exclaimed in subdued glee. Kashmiris are hardly boisterous unlike Punjabis who would break into a Bhangra or Buraaaah, Jhappis and Pappis to express their delight. Yet their sense of bonhomie is apparent.

It is a different matter that on this very day, swords came out and lathis were freely used, blood spilled, amongst Sikhs in the premises of Amritsar’s revered Golden Temple- the seat of Sikhism, in the presence of Holy Book- Guru Granth Sahib, while observing a mourning for those who died in Op Bluestar, 30 years ago.

Coming back to Kashmir, the color of water of the sacred spring of Kheer Bhawani on this day, is symbolic, the milky tint, signifying good tidings for the year ahead. Mata Kheer Bhawani bestows her blessings, was the cheer, seen in the smiles of thousands of Kashmiris. Kashmiri Pandits from all parts of the world converge to this sacred spot, 27 Kms from Srinagar, every year to celebrate Jyeshtha Ashtami, the eighth day of the Jyeshtha month of Hindu lunar calendar.

It wasn’t as if the Pandits alone felt blessed by the water’s light tinge, Kashmiris in general, especially the older generation, too seemed to have prayed for pastel colors for the spring waters. Kashmiris can hardly forget the reddish and blackish hue of the holy waters in early 90’s that left them tattered and shattered, destroying almost everything they possessed, even the cravings for grasses and greenery, fruits and hills, scents and fragrances, home and hearth as well as trust and faith. They talked amongst their own, but weary eyes looked fervently in search for someone familiar from their happy past.

Elderly Kashmiri Muslims too come here with the same searching eyes, looking for their neighbors, friends or childhood buddies who had migrated in the early 1990s. Since migration, many cried a million tears over the tearing separation from friends, from beloved homes, the elixir waters, scented winds, fragrant flowers, juicy fruits and chirping birds while those left behind cried the same for lost warmth, friendship, kinship, sharing, camaraderie, heart to heart and especially Kashmiri Pandit Master Jees and Behan Jees, in schools.

Ganderbal District’s Tulamulla Mela reverberates with temple bells, beckoning Muslim neighborhoods to take a peek. Fascinated children, gather around the cooling shades of dozens of Chinar trees and muster up the courage to talk to Pandits, to ask them about their rituals, customs, their whereabouts and even why they don’t come back. Mostly they are too timid and would run away even with mere aim of cameras, but someone from them does come forward and the rest giggle.

Red ‘chunaris’ take on the wind and fly with their ends tied to the bark of a tree, reminding the reigning deity ‘Ragnya Bhagwati’ of a promise made by a devotee or a gift pledge to another. The scents of agarbatti or incense, dhoop, colorful Puja thalis with flowers, milk, ‘kandh’(bar of sugar), Kheer- rice pudding offered as Prasad, the thali also consisting of mauli- sacred thread, tilak- anointing saffron sandal paste, fresh water and other pooja saamagri or worship kit, that flows easily from devotee to devotee at stalls and shops owned and run exclusively by Kashmiri Muslims outside the shrine. Thousands of ‘Ratandeep’ (ghee-filled diyas), glitter bringing with them hope and cheer for devotees wherever they dwell.

Interestingly, Jai Gopal, a Pandit, conducting rituals at Kheer Bhawani says, “The Puja thalis are paid for only after the thali is returned to the shop keeper”. “This is tradition and has continued for eons and there has never been a chance when a devotee made off with a thali or evaded payment thus”, the shrine Pandit adds. This is indeed true, when I last visited the Kheer Bhawani shrine during an off season detour, I was surprised about this matter of faith and trust of post payments, that is perhaps seen no where in the world.

Fragrance of Hawan ‘saamagri’ or fire-offerings consisting of dried flowers, leaves, stems and roots collected from surrounding forests and other assorted material has a mandatory inclusion of lotus seeds (Pambuch) known to ward off evil spirits. At 32 degree centigrade, the holy environs here remain cool with the canopy of Chinars, some of whose branches touch the cooling waters nearby.

Ravinder Kaul, a freelance journalist, clicked a photograph of a Kashmiri Pandit and Kashmiri Muslim engrossed in conversation for hours at the Mela, unconcerned about the colorful revelry and melodious ‘Bhajans’ that soothed the air. This photograph posted on the FB, received over 1000 likes and comments and more than 245 shares, thereby emerging as a fountain of hope, of ties, of heart strings, impossible to break between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, despite troubled times of the past.

Governor of the state NN Vohra took a stroll and Yasin Mallik a politician advocating freedom from India, Congress leader Saifuddin Soz as well as PDP’s senior leaders were seen in bear hugs with fellow Kashmiris, urging them to return to the beauteous Valley. No one seemed to be convinced even as stalls by most political parties the PDP, Congress, National Conference dot the venue. Also true to the festive spirit were stalls by Kashmir police for assistance, RBI and J&K Bank for financial awareness programmes, Civil Defense, Traffic Police, Health Services, Tourism, Medical and others. The spirit of brotherhood however lives on with Broadway Hotel, Civil, Secretariat employees and Swami Vivekananda Mission, Nagdandi providing free food for all devotees.

Some reminiscenced about good times when families lived in houseboats for a week to participate in the grand fair. They all join in “puran ahuti” or the final offerings and “saamoohik aarti” or collective prayers, knowing fully well that chances of their return were hardly bright. The fair gives this alienated community, a chance to touch roots. For a day, the spirit soars high and faith keeps its beauteous moorings all through the year,

The writer can be emailed at: rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com
FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON JUNE 11, 2014
URL: http://epaper.risingkashmir.com/PopUp.aspx?RVuQxlx8PdnfpjhWvdz_ppAQ_ep_ep

Why Pak expelled Indian Journalists?..Rashmi Talwar / Rising Kashmir


Indian Journalists ousted from Pakistan May 2014

Indian Journalists ousted from Pakistan May 2014


Indo-Pak Relations

Why Pak expelled Indian Journalists?

Rashmi Talwar

May 19th saw two Indian journalists working in Pakistan cross over to their home country from Pakistan. Snehesh Alex Philips of Press Trust of India came through Wagah-Attari Indo- Pak Joint Check Post land route in Amritsar, and Meena Menon from ‘The Hindu’ via Karachi to Mumbai flight. The two, Snehesh and Meena are completely baffled by their unceremonious and sudden ouster from Pakistan, refusing extension of visa, barely nine months after their tenure in Islamabad, Pakistan.

The move to oust Indians by Pak’s foreign office despite Islamabad government’s perceived desire for healthier relations with India is indeed ironic. Infact, newly re-elected Pak PM Nawaz Sharief’s friendly overtures towards India, especially the desire to re-build relations came soon after Sharief’s utterance in Muzaffrabad (Pak Occupied Kashmir) calling ‘Kashmir a flashpoint that could trigger a 4th war between the two nuclear powers at anytime, on Dec 3rd last year’ that peeved India and had to be glossed over. Mending fences after the loud rhetoric, Nawaz tried to smoothen frayed nerves in India. However his desires on cordial relations seem to have ‘irked’ the ‘establishment’ aka ‘Military /Security’, says Mehmal Sarfraz, Deputy Secretary General of the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA).

Hence merely days after the ouster of two journalists, the Pak PM is again at pains to push the perceived enmity under the carpet, by being the first to congratulate and extend an invitation to the Indian PM designate Narinder Modi after the stupendous win of Bharatiya Janta Party headed by Modi.

Pak ‘establishments’ have always played spoilsports whenever popular home governments have shown a leaning towards bettering Indo-Pak ties. Hence, the assassination attempt of Geo TV anchor Hamid Mir, who was badly injured on April 19th this year in an armed attack, near Karachi airport, was hardly surprising. ISI agency was fuming about Mir’s coverage of the issue of Baluchistan and his criticism of the spy agency. Hamid was termed a pro-India agent in Pakistan by many, as Baluchistan is an issue that India takes up in retort to Pakistan. The subsequent move by Pak Defense Ministry’s cancellation of the broadcasting license of three – Geo News, Geo Entertainment and Geo Tez TV out of five TV channels owned and operated by Geo/Jang group, through ‘Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’ (PEMRA), have clearly spelled out the persons behind the murderous attack.

While Indian Journalist Snehesh Alex Philips snapped “Its a million dollar question!” when I asked him ‘why’ he was shown the door by Pakistan, along with Meena, the answer, it seems is not so mysterious. SAFMA Gen Sect Mehmal adds – “This happened last year too with Rezaul and Anita Joshua. The ‘establishment’ wants to throw around its weight by not letting Nawaz’s government to get its own way vis-à-vis peace with India. The timing seems too suspicious, when India is looking forward to NDA led by BJP- seen as a Hindu nationalist party.”

Pakistan’s army chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s terming Kashmir as the “jugular vein” of Pakistan, on May 1st at GHQ Rawalpindi, also comes in the same sequence, as peace with India is seen as a weakening of the military establishment in Pakistan. Interestingly, Gen Sharief is mentored by ex- Pak President Parvez Musharaff –the architect of Kargil war when Nawaz was the PM of Pakistan. While two statements regarding Kashmir have been made by Pakistan consecutively, to rabble rouse Kashmiris in India, it had little effect in Jammu & Kashmir where most separatists sloganeer for ‘Independence’ rather than melting in Pakistan.

India has termed the ouster of two journalists as a retrograde step. Snehesh Philip’s father, AJ Philips- a noted columnist and senior Journalist-writer stated that the signs were obvious when his son’s wife was not given a visa after she visited India in January this year. Although there is a written agreement between Pakistan-India governments for a reciprocal arrangement allowing two correspondents from each country to be stationed in the other’s capital, the timing of the ouster is being speculated viz-a-viz a new government under Narinder Modi. Modi’s potential foreign policy has caused both anxiety and hope among regional observers. Many fear he might react badly to any incident of terrorism within India, routinely blamed on Pakistan, or a flare-up over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Like it or not, if Sharif is to deliver on his promises and ensure Pakistan’s progress, he will have to deal with NDA (National Democratic Alliance (NDA). By the journalists’ ouster, Pakistan’s ‘establishments’ have provided more fodder to anti-Pak rhetoric by the newly formed BJP-led Indian government which would further demoralize the elected government of Sharief.

Murtaza Solangi, a former head of state-run Radio Pakistan, pitches that he fears the decision to oust Indian journalists was a sign that the country’s powerful military establishment was reasserting over key areas of foreign policy, in particular the relationship with India. “It seems like foreign policy and national security is going out of the domain of Mr Sharif,” he said. In other words – “The government has been told ‘these things are not your job’.” A case in point is about another journalist. Despite repeated public promises by PM Sharief to look into the case of Declan Walsh, a New York Times journalist, expelled shortly before Sharif’s election, the Pak PM has not been able to arrange his return.

Hence it seems that power may actually be slipping out from the hands of Sharief and it was up to Pak PM to handle this mess or fall into ignominy, with fears of another bloodless military coup hanging over his head, yet again.

BOX
Indian journalists complained of heavy surveillance and being confined to Islamabad
Tweets —–

Achutha Menon: Good beginning, Mr Sheriff, with BP Govt.!
Snehesh Alex Philip: Had a lovely run since August in this case, not even a year ;). Came with an open mind without bias.
Snehesh Alex Philip: I take back home some great moments besides a bit of disappointment. Glad that I saw different sides of Pak and not the usual.
A.J. Philip (Philip’s father): Snehesh says the Pakistanis feared his Facebook-addict father’s posts led to his “expulsion”. I wish it was not a humorous comment and, for once, he was serious!
Snehesh Alex Philip: It is a joke I cracked with my dad.
Snehesh had retweeted some posts lauding Modi’s victory as anticipated by exit polls.
Meena Menon had retweeted: PM’s special envoy stirs hornet’s nest with Kashmir remarks days before Manmohan Singh demits office
Meena had even kept her tweet name ‏@mee’namo’

The author can be mailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON MAY 24, 2014
URL: http://www.risingkashmir.com/indo-pak-relations/

Gun & Warlords, Biggest worry of Pakistan: Ch Ahmed Javed Hassan/ By Rashmi Talwar


EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Ahmed Javed Hassan owner Servis shoes in his Palatial home in Lahore

Ahmed Javed Hassan owner Servis shoes in his Palatial home in Lahore, Pakistan

Gun & Warlords, Biggest worry of Pakistan: Ch Ahmed Javed Hassan

Army in Pakistan may have fewer weapons than civilians

RASHMI TALWAR

If any footsteps tiptoed in Pakistan with fancy footwear it was either from Bata or Pakistan’s foremost Servis shoes. While many became paupers due to Indo-Pak partition, Servis Industries never gave up and entered the newly born Pakistan’s market with its brand of shoes that competed with the only other brand existing at the time.
Today into big time, the scion of the Servis Industries has held high the flag of his company. Chaudhary Ahmed Javed Hassan owner of ‘Servis Shoes’ is a popular figure across both partitioned borders of India and Pakistan. His Dahlia flower saplings come in hundreds from India during the planting season, people bring him Amritsaris fish, ladoos and mathees from India and as a grand patriarch, he distributes the goodies among all his friends and relatives. As he talked about their multi-billion dollar company that still rules the local and international markets, he also revealed to RASHMI TALWAR in his palatial home in Lahore, Pakistan, how unlicensed guns were the biggest trauma and challenge of Pakistan.

Q: What is the success story of Servis Industries more popularly known as Service Shoes now?

Ans: The story of ‘Servis’ began with three freshers from college, who set up the Servis Industries before partition in 1941 in Lahore. They were Ch Nazar Muhammad, Chaudhary Muhammad Hussain (my father) – both from Gujarat and Chaudhary Muhammad Saeed from Gujranwala. They flourished and their products of handbags and sports goods became popular all over India.
Then partition happened and only Bata was there in the shoe industry when we entered. Initially we started with military boots for the army as well as canvas beddings and hold-alls in 1948-49, soon after partition. Then came daily shoes and later fancy shoes. The material for footwear was imported from Europe and it used to be very costly. I joined the family business in 1966 by which time Servis shoes had arrived and established.

Q: How do you describe your company’s presence in terms of global status?

Ans: From a single retail footwear outlet, our brand has more than 400 stores in Pakistan. More than 2000 dealer-base, and a growing international footprint in Europe, Middle East, and many other regions of the world. Today, the the company produces world-class shoes, tyres, tubes, and rubber in its units in Gujarat and Muridke. Servis is an exporter of footwear has also developed brand partnerships with international brands like Hush Puppies, Nike, Urban Sole, Pierre Cardin. Our proudest moment was that Servis won FPCCI Trophy for six times for ‘Best Export Performance’.

Q: Your Lahore factory faced closure in Pakistan under President Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law?

Ans: We took on governments during all martial law regimes in Pakistan. We did not abide by any instructions that went contrary to law. One particular incident is when we preferred to close our Lahore unit instead of bowing down to pressure.
This was during the reign of Lt Gen Ghulam Jilani Khan who was then the 14th governor of Punjab province during the military rule of President Gen Zia-ul- Haq, when we defied and eventually declared a shut down of our unit.
Gilani started issuing us instructions about whom to employ and whom to dismiss. When Gilani ordered us to take back 15 employees out of the 200 we had dismissed. We told him we shall re-employ 185 back but would not take back the select 15 he had specified. Eventually we sold off the Lahore unit after the closure and set up at Muridke.

Q: How do you describe the period from Gen Ayub Khan to Bhutto’s times?

Ans: Gen Ayub was the military dictator from 1958 until he was forced to resign in 1969. During Gen Ayub’s times, earlier, things were cheap and rather peaceful.

Post the 1965 war and during 1966, street protests started due to general scarcity following the war. Instead of appeasing the public by some benevolent means, Gen Ayub started making petty money and became unpopular. I too became a student leader then and led a street demonstration in Gujarat.

Then came Yahya Khan in 1969, Yahya dissolved the Ayub government and declared martial law for the second time in Pakistan’s history. Eventhough in 1970 he held the first free elections, that saw Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s political party Awami League party in East Pakistan win the majority but Yahya was pressured by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whose party had won in West Pakistan but had less votes. Under this pressure, Yahya decided to delay handing over the reins of power to Mujib. Thus, civil unrest erupted all over East Pakistan, Yahya tried to smother the rebellion and also fell into disgrace over the defeat in 1971 war against India and Bhutto came to power and formed the government with his Pakistan’s People’s Party and placed Yahya under house arrest. This is of course history. but on the economic front Bhutto nationalized industries such as Ghee manufacturing, foundaries, banks; healthcare, educational and therefore new entrepreneurs were discouraged to set in new industry or other service facilities. Hence unemployment rose sharply. Bhutto’s aura fell and he was dethroned by Zia-ul –Haq in a bloodless coup by alleging rigging in elections that Bhutto won. Since it was the case of ‘my (Zia’s) neck or his (Bhutto’s) neck’. Zia got Bhutto executed.

Q: Did any emotional wave of sympathy come after Bhutto was hanged?
Ans:
Not much because then as Bhutto had become unpopular and Zia ruled with an iron hand. Later Benazir unleashed the emotional quotient by reminding people of the Bhutto legacy of sacrifices. Later she too was assassinated and that catapulted her husband Asif Ali Zardari to power, as the world knows.

Q: How did you manage during Zia-ul-Haq’s regime?
Ans: Zia was no maulvi. He was a liar and never stood by his words. It was the worst period for Pakistan. He exploited religious sentiments to fight the war against Russian occupation of Afghanistan for America. He created the Punjabi Taliban, exploited youth and made them fanatics by saying ‘Jihad karo, Jannat mein Hurrein hongi tumhare liye’ (Fight the Jihad and you will be treated to beautiful women in the Heavenly Paradise). He deliberately created illiteracy to exploit youth. America used him and then lumped him off in an air crash along with one of their own Ambassadors.
During Zia’s reign came the ‘weaponry’. As America provided arms and ammunition to Pakistan to fight the Russians, the guns found their way into homes of warlords and private armies came into power especially in the rural belts. Every house had guns including automatic or semiautomatic. Obviously these guns went into wrong hands. Even though government can try but these guns will never be surrendered now or ever. They are used freely and the assailants dare and slip away. If police or security comes after them, they give them back in a formidable fight.
Even in villages they have Uzis’, Kalashnikovs, AK series, anti-tank guns and shoulder missiles and launchers. Fighters from Chechnya also joined in the fight. That time ISI too got a free hand. It was not reporting to anyone and was getting back channel support from America.
Zia always had double standards. Today Pakistan faces the biggest challenge of domestic arms and ammunition. In Pakistan, cities have smaller sophisticated weapons and crime is abundant. The availability of arms is not an issue. They are easily available to whosoever has the price to pay for them. The general feeling is if one doesn’t keep arms and ammunition one becomes vulnerable to those who do. This is the vicious circle that Pakistan faces and no solution can be found to it. The arms are hidden, whenever government announces civilians to surrender weapons. These very guns from America were diverted to fight in Kashmir. Interestingly army in Pakistan may have fewer weapons and civilians may have more.

Q: Do you also keep guns? (I ask sheepishly)
Ans: I do not wish to comment on that.

India & Pakistan/ Bonds of Culture / AG Noorani


India &Pakistan

India &Pakistan

FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE FRONTLINE ON APRIL 4, 2014

URL:http://www.frontline.in/world-affairs/bonds-of-culture/article5787758.ece#test

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Flickr Photos

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