Towards the end of December and January’s 40–day ‘Chillai Kalaan’ or the harshest wintry
patch, sliding to a 20-day period of ‘Chillai Khurd’ (smaller chill) and further softening to 10-days of ‘Chilla Bachch’ (Baby Chill), life begins to breathe a baby-green hued air in Kashmir.
The hibernating trees and sleepy Earth shed their white snow duvets and emerge first in earth colors, then a tiny littlu tip of green and then lush deeper emerald tones erupting into blossoms of untold beauty. Squirrels critter, birds shake and shed their leftover icicles to show-off vibrant fluffed feathers while cascading waters turn into glints of sapphire.
The invigorating sunshine of Kashmir’s spring spectrum has few comparisons. A long season of tourism also emerges as water shakes off its last droplets of icy sleet and frolics around joyfully. Certainly no joy could be greater than to visit Kashmir. Umpteen numbers of stunning photos of lush green golf courses, fish aplenty, rolling cotton clouds pecking mountain tips, virgin ski slopes, rural landscapes and water tumble adventures add to the festive sprinkle, drawing tourists in hordes. Tourism is Kashmir’s mainstay and hence each denizen of the region looks forward to visitors and prosperity, like a farmer to a bumper crop.
However, last September ushered in a seemingly slowed down variety of something, which could best be described as the ‘Media Season’ that kicked out most of tourism potential and lofted it over a high tree trunk like long grass in Kashmiri villages dried on trees in summers for winter’s cattle fodder.
September’s devastating floods provided ample flow for the ‘media season’. Not only were there stories on rising waters but also human misery, livestock, ecological imbalance, infrastructure, business, victims, devastation and relief operations. Painful human tragedies kept tourism at bay although many events for tourists had been lined up but had to be hastily cancelled.
Thereafter, stories on compensations, insurances ruled as the ‘Harud’ or autumn quietly slipped into one of the longest and harshest spells of winter. Even winter in Kashmir has its own admirers and an abundance of skiing enthusiasts and snow lovers thump in to see the white carpets. But here too the evil eye had indeed cast its shadow on the paradise that languished in its throes, but the journalist season flourished.
In December itself, elections ruled the roost and media enjoyed super prime-times, throwing in permutations and combinations, who did what and who didn’t do what, character assassinations and analyses, condescending opinions of stakeholders, voter turnout and with an ear to the ground, hear every squeak and squirt to derive Machiavellian pleasure from the adventures of mischief mongers.
The neighboring country’s petulance and nitpicking over elections, throwing in a verbal bombshell here and a border attack there, was the flavor of this period. Blame games of ‘whodunit’? Of course the earlier cancellation of India-Pakistan Secretary level talks over Hurriyat’s feast by Pak Ambassador Abdul Basit loomed large over J&K polls, but didn’t deter the voter from lining the poll queue for the purple spot on the index finger.
Post elections, a hung house threw in more stories of possible alliances. Media turned into match-makers. Watching out for any alliances or dalliances, news studios turned into virtual media-courts, accusing, trying, judging and punishing political parties and politicians of every grain, becoming sorcerers or soothsayers. The gap of nearly two months in government formation kept media on the roll in churning out possibilities, outcomes, matches and mismatches, common minimum programmes and what’s in and what’s out, or as they say
March saw the Tajposhi of the new Chief Minister, PDP’s Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who lost Jammu and won a sizable chunk of the Kashmir cake. First sword-fighting and then grinding axe with BJP that lost the whole of Kashmir but won Jammu, with none making an inroad into the remote Ladakh region. If they cleared their glaring ideological odds with day-in and night-out clarifications, the media rock-n-rolled over a mere blink or smile to poke about their oddities that appeared in rapid-fire soon after.
Media channels sprayed us with images as battle line-ups started with a thanksgiving by the new CM to the neighboring country, militants and separatist Hurriyat Conference for the smooth sailing of elections. Media somersaulted to PDP chairman Mehbooba Mufti for her takes, the BJP take, and the Indo-Pak watcher’s take. While many on prime time were at pains to clear the air, the bullets had already been shot.
With weather playing truant, media was loaded with hosts of other stories of the snow kind. ‘Snow brings cheer’, ‘Snow woes’, ‘Unseasonal snow’, ‘Snow clearance and road blocks’ as also reports on incessant rains, avalanches and shooting stones, as another scare of September like floods followed. Stories also emerged from the education sector with cancellations and rescheduling of examinations, as also alarming reports over rising numbers afflicted with deadly swine flu.
There can be no two opinions on the fact that media loves Er Rashid. Some say, he belongs to the Togadia ilk. Utterings of Rashid, added more brownie points to media flashes. Soon after government formation, Rashid placed a demand on bringing back the mortal remains of Parliament attack accused and later hanged- Afzal Guru’, this caught the headlines. The family of Afzal Guru issued a statement – they didn’t want any politics to be played on the emotive matter, smothering the topic. But this did not deter media, they followed Er Rashid, anticipating more, who predictably in the next breath gave a provocative statement, demanding ‘Kashmiri
Pandits to apologize to majority Muslim community for leaving Kashmir, during the tumult’, media lapped up and got another shot in the top-notch news space.
A spiral effect of this statement led to more news and added fire to the government announcement of composite settlements for Kashmiri Pandits. Media further stoked the sentiments and Rashid gave the slogan ‘not to make Kashmir another Gaza’. From Gaza, the former CM Omar Abdullah, coined ‘ghettoism’ type settlements for KPs, creating another headline.
Attention seekers rode the media bandwagon and titled the cluster living as the prospective ‘Palestine’. Media fomented public fury by hyping stories and the unconditional welcoming arms of the majority community towards their Pandit brethren turned literally into a pointed finger to the exiled community of Kashmiri Pandits -‘If you come, ‘No’ cluster living’.
This lead PDP head Mehbooba Mufti to do a U-turn and change her tenor, terming ‘composite housing’ to mean housing for all communities. Media had a grand time hyping all hiccups and sneezes. It had it so good that it went overboard, during the release of separatist Musarrat Alam.
Expecting Alam to be the proverbial ‘Goose that lays golden eggs’, Media tracked Alam, eventually laying their hands on the golden egg- via visuals showing Alam raising anti-India slogans and furling the Pakistani flags.
Next came the self styled moral policing outfit Dukhtaran-e-Millat head Asiya Andrabi, out of her hibernation and provided more media fodder, saying-“I will raise Pak flags again”. On Twitter someone noted, ‘Asiya didn’t find closing down beauty parlors, catching amorous couples and tearing posters very lucrative’ and the media took the cue.
Soon after arousing passions over the killing of Khalid Wani, brother of Burhan, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander, and Yousuf Ganai, a militant, by army in Tral, South Kashmir exploded. Even as media readied itself for another tussle between regions of Jammu and Kashmir for location of AIIMS and IIM institutes, the uproar and unrest over killing of Tral youth, and protest over re-arrest of militant Massarat Alam overshot an innocent Suhail Ahmed Sofi in Narbal in CRPF firing. The critical condition of an 8-year old Parvaiz Ahmed Khan of
Pattan, injured while playing with a grenade at home that exploded, just got lost in the race to catch TRPs.
Tourism meantime took a severe hit, “A 70 percent drop in arrival of tourists”, revealed Sajid Farooq, owner of upmarket Hotel Comrade Inn. In this peak tourist season, few can be seen enjoying water sports on the Dal, zooming on water scooters, canoes, kayaking, zorbing, surfing or water skiing. With tourism down to a trickle, the elongated welcoming arms of Chinars pass unnoticed, lounging shikaras sit idle, tub baths in houseboats hardly fill-up and no wild antics of children surface while living on the waters. No long queues at Shankracharya or Chhati Patshahi, isolated remains Martand at its famed hilltop and circumambulating the Charar-e-Sharief or Shah Hamdan, Pathar Masjid or Dastgeer Saheb, are only the locals.
Climbing upto Pari Mahal and feeling the angels setting up the scene of vast lake below; swaying in the wind in a Shikara, as floating shops sell flowers, vegetables, daily needs, precious stones, Pashmina shawls; crossing Nehru Park towards Char Chinari in the Dal Lake or touching the lotus garden in the Nageen Lake, with a fair weather cooing in the ear. All seems lack luster, this spring. Media has certainly grabbed the season and successfully given a free reign to fear psychosis amongst tourists. Instead of enhancing, it played a spoilsport to the tourism rich state.
From last eight months tourism never picked up even once. Hence, this time, unsmiling is the fate of Kashmir’s famed tulips, the hanging wisterias, the scented magnolias, narcissus and daffodils shaking in the sweet breeze, luxuriant rose climbers falling from a height in a heap of peeping reds, whites and pinks, misting the air and apricots, plums, almonds in lush blooms. Each bud passionately blooming with a hope and longing for a fond lover’s gaze, a serenading romance, a kiss or even a stolen hug, but dying unsung, unseen, untouched.
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FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON APRIL 28, 2015