Archive for June, 2012

Will my love, give me my Peace-child?………. By Rashmi Talwar



Will my love, give me my Peace-child?………. By Rashmi Talwar

War does not determine who is Right !- Only who is Left..! Oft repeated, in areas of conflict where doves try to broker peace.

As I watch with glee the unfolding Kashmir of my dreams – pregnant with tourism, following countless miscarriages spanning more than two decades, I feel joyous and sparkling!

I wonder, pray and am deeply hopeful that a peace- child is born, one that grows to make its parents proud.

That peace and tourism make a magical concoction, spelling boundless prosperity for Kashmir, remains a forgone conclusion for this land, lovingly crafted by God .

I, and many like me, also know that until the full term of this pregnancy, the peace-child, surrounded by a secure albumen –( the guardian angels!) and gaining succor by its robust mother (the delighted local populace!) in a closed protected surrounding is a ‘fragile’ foetus.

Its birth – a dream, for expectant but anxious parents whose hands rise in everlasting prayer that this glowing health of tourism, that failed many attempts to conceive earlier, may not just crumble with a single blow.

Yet nothing at all, can deflate my soaring spirit as I hear happy tidings and watch the sheer radiant delight of droves of those who visited the valley this year or the last, literally spilling with joy. And hence, my answered prayers cling to my bosom with surreal dreams for brimful prosperity for Kashur– this gentle charmer, ensconced in emeralds, topped by sapphire blues and ablaze with colors.

Nevertheless, I cross my fingers and feel like resorting to the ancient tradition, existent amongst both Kashmiri Muslims and Pundits of touching seeds of ‘Isabad’ to the shoulders of some ‘noble souls’ and sprinkling them over a burning Kangri, for the divine pious fragrance of burning seeds to ward off the evil-spirits and let the potential of this heavenly vale once again glide and fly unshackled in the bluest skies.

Walter. R Lawrence’s seminal book “The Valley of Kashmir” urges me to look beyond the obvious and I let my imagination take wings about the vast dimensions of areas open to honourable means of livelihood.

The book talks about growing English and European vegetables in the cool climes; the abundance of currants, walnuts, canned or dried fruit and vegetables, juices and saffron and I think of …the newly revived ‘Tulip Garden’ to ‘enjoin’ it with bee-keeping for a double income boost and having a bottle of ‘Kashmir’s Tulip honey’ or one in Gulmarg with wild lupins – a la ‘lupin Gulmarg honey’ on a crisp toast or it could be daffodil, clematis, honeysuckle , jasmine, azalea, fuchsia – honeys from the umpteenth lurking flower gardens all across. Fisheries and Kashmiri food could be my other favorites.

The state’s boast of best blue sapphires in the world could be my proud jewel or souvenir to pass as a prized family heirloom.

Raising my head to behold majestic pines, firs, plum, peach, apples or quintessential Chinars makes me imagine budding robust ‘Bonsai’ culture of the Japanese that could be introduced here along with culturing ornamental plants and flowers in ‘multi-level’ green houses.

The global demand for exotic herbs cultivation of the likes of oregano, sage, rosemary, basil etc too is a modern day demand in culinary delights, accruing huge advantage from such export to plains or even abroad.

Furthermore, collection of the vast spread of green moss in forests, extensively used in floriculture baskets, moss-sticks and gardens; of self-dropped pine-cones and pebbles for landscaping or the bottling of crystal clear waters of natural springs like of Chashma-e-Shahi, hold untold opportunities for local and foreign needs.

Lawrence writes “Kailasa is the best place in the three-worlds, Himalaya the best part of Kailasa and Kashmir the best place in Himalaya”. The book is inspiring on silk production, hops, viticulture, and wine-making.
It talks about “varied Sports-excellent, abundant scenery for artists, mountains for the mountaineer, flowers for botanists, vast field for geologist , magnificent ruins for archaeologists, health resort, mineral-rich….air- rich, soil rich, water rich, …rich , rich , rich in every conceivable dimension.

From the orange hued silky dawn, I piece together a morning filled with thrill on water-scooters, canoe/banana rides, jet boat rides, water skiing, para-sailing or holding a world conference on a large cruise boat or just a quiet informative cruise down the Jhelum to trace the heritage of this enthralling valley.

A little later, starry eyed, I watch a rainbow hued ‘mela’ where boundless handicrafts, spreads, embroideries, candles, woodcraft, earthenware share corners with books, music, documentary videos, be gaily spread and I long to shrug my last rupee for a piece of this place.

While in the upper reaches of Gulmarg, Tangmarg, Sonmarg , Pahalgam I look to share the thrilling delight of gondola rides on every picturesque snow covered peak, snow skiing, sledging and varied fun times.

Looking at the swollen belly, with fervent prayers for a healthy child, when fears of its safety are somewhat lessened or quietened —
I think of enriching the child with multi-dimensional facets offered by the Universe.
Combining the backdrop of Mighty Himalayas with the robust- rich culture of performing arts of the valley and hosting world artists, I visualize a massive wooden-raft floating stage on the Dal/ Nagin /Wular lakes, where the finest music- recitals from the world, waft to touch the loftiest peak; dance- be such that ‘nasha’ of the ‘jhoom’ or intoxication, is stamped on hearts for life; theatre- to enthrall every evening.
Performing to audience lounging in gently-lit romantic shikaras that double as front seats, bordered with moored house-boat seats much like the Roman Amphitheaters.

I also think of adding multiple floating-stages with ‘Son et lumière’ or the light and sound show, a ‘musical’ fountain show, a blazing fireworks show or even a week-long Kashmir’s “International Film Festival” , a ‘Literary Festival’ with ‘Golden ‘Hungul’(near-extinct deer species native to Kashmir) Award’ as a top honour.

And as I leave my shoes out to step from a star-lit night onto Kashmiri carpet and ‘namda’ covered floors and cuddle on chinar-patterned embroidered warm cushions, near a massive ‘bukhari’ set in the centre, I lounge with ‘Kehva’ from a samovar, or Kashmiri wine in one hand, pretending to suck from a papier`-mache hookah and looking up at the exquisite beauty of the roof tastefully sculptured with small wooden pieces of varying designs called ‘Khaatumband taalav’ and I see myself melting with the mellifluous tinkling of Santoor’s magic droplet music, so soothing, engulfing me into a feeling like a first-love child ‘delightfully drowsy’ in its mother’s lap.

FIRST PUBLISHED ON OPINION PAGE 7 IN “RISING KASHMIR” ON JUNE 22, 2012

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Op Bluestar: Dome of many-coloured glasses ……. BY Vikram Jit Singh



Before noon on a hot June day in 1984, I was aboard a rickety Haryana Roadways bus to my beloved Naani’s house in Chandigarh to enjoy a spell of golf and pampering following a strenuous assault on the Class X Board examinations. A military history buff and a passionate reader of Commando comics, my youthful imagination was stirred when our bus snaked through innumerable convoys of troops draped in camouflage nets on the GT Road from Delhi. I wondered if our nation was preparing for war. Luckily, I just about sneaked into my grandmother’s house in Sector 11 when curfew was imposed.

I was imprisoned. I stood for hours at the gate watching Army trucks patrol the streets of this genteel neighbourhood. I darted out one afternoon to collect labernum flowers — strewn, unadmired and untrampled on the pavements — for my grandmother only to be rudely shooed back by soldiers in a jeep. The mystery of the Army tailing me from Delhi was soon resolved. Then PM Indira Gandhi addressed the nation on AIR and spoke of the need to storm the Golden Temple, the revered shrine of my community. My paternal Aunt, a God-fearing lady entirely free of malice, rang up, quoting her relatives from Amritsar. She spoke of Army truckloads spilling over with bodies of Sikh pilgrims, dumped in mass pyres and plumes of smoke rising from the Holy City as the bones and flesh of the innocent crackled and hissed. The truth, however, is certainly far less dramatic. The fact was that the Sikh psyche had been irreparably scarred.

As passion inflamed my heart, my late father, a senior civil servant then serving with the Government of India, counselled me. Mrs Gandhi had criminally blundered by delaying the flushing out operation and had let Bhindranwale and co. arm themselves to the teeth. Yet, at the same time, we as a community had failed because we had not objected strongly enough to armed desperadoes desecrating the temple’s sanctity. Four of my father’s colleagues, including a dear Uncle, went on protest leave against Operation Blue Star.

My father summoned me back to Delhi as soon as curfew lifted. He had a terrible premonition of darkness looming. On October 31, as I loitered about in school for a meal break, we were informed that Mrs Gandhi had been assassinated. We were granted a holiday right then. Sikhs spoke of divine retribution and fondly quoted the statement published in a Southall publication soon after Blue Star: that the bullet designed for Mrs Gandhi had departed the barrel.

In the evening of November 1, a mob of 700 stood outside our bunglow behind Parliament House baying for our blood. As fortune would have it, KK Paul, who later rose to become Delhi Police Commissioner, lived down our road and spotted the smoke coming out of a Sikh MP’s house right next to his, which had just been torched by the mob. He sent in a burly Sikh officer with a posse of cops to our house. The mob was turned back. Later that night, as we dowsed our lights and told our domestic helps to put out word that we were out-of-station, a lone Sikh was caught by a mob of 100, bashed on his head with a boulder, and dowsed with petrol siphoned from a motorbike tank just 20 yards from our bunglow. Our domestic helps, who were guarding our gate, recounted that horrific slaying to us later. They could never extinguish that memory. On the day of Mrs Gandhi’s cremation, we fled our bunglow at 3 am and took shelter with Paul, whose wife, Omita, proved a very reassuring host.

Strangely, none of the `brave gun-toting followers’ of Bhindranwale rushed to Delhi to take on the murderous mobs. Perhaps, the communalists hoped it would trigger migrations and help create Khalisthan. Perhaps the socio-economic mix of Delhi’s victims did not sync with the concerns of a section of the Punjab peasantry that spearheaded militancy. The 1984 Sikh pogrom has never really inflicted that deep a wound on the Punjab Sikhs arraigned against the Indian State though it has served as a handy political tool to whip the Congress with. With time, the pogrom’s scars may heal but the Sikhs will never forgive or forget Blue Star. No `invader’ who has dared enter the Golden Temple through history has gone unpunished; neither has any Sikh `luminary’ with an over-weaning ego, aka Bhindranwale. Interestingly, Lt Gen KS Brar `Bulbul’ starts off his rather racy account of the battle in his book (Operation Blue Star: The True Story) by remarking that both Bhindranwale and himself belonged to the Brar-Sidhu gotra of the Jat Sikhs.

As the memorial for Blue Star gathers steam, a deep schism surfaces. Many articulate people from Punjab’s minority community voice apprehensions in newspaper letter columns. Memories of passengers pulled out from buses, segregated and shot, migrant labourers mowed down sleeping at tubewells, shopkeepers butchered on their stools and RSS workers slayed while exercising. These are not just memories but genies of a collective consciousness that can come loose again. The years of armed militancy have left another odious legacy: a police and bureaucratic regime spoilt rotten by the heady years of President’s Rule. But armed militants have dared not rise from their cold pyres. Perhaps, the Gurus sitting in the Heavens above had not sanctioned all that Bhindranwale and his men committed in their august names, and had dealt militancy an early and deathly blow.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN TIMES OF INDIA ON JUNE 6, 2012 ON ANNIVERSARY OF OP BLUESTAR OF 1984 IN AMRITSAR