Archive for the ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ Category

I- Kargil: War-town, at Peace / By Rashmi Talwar/ Daily Kashmir Images


Screenshot Kargil 1 Communal harmony 9sept17.jpg
Dateline Kargil Part I
Kargil: War-town, at Peace
Rashmi Talwar

As I awkwardly pose for a selfie, in old Kargil bazaar, I notice, shopkeepers peeping, smiling, looking at each other and smiling some more. I pick up a little Kargil girl, swirl, put her down, and whisper, rather loudly -“Mujhe yahaan achha lagta hai” (I like it here!). Someone pops a question -“Aap idhar kitne din bethoge” (How many days will you stay?) and lets out an -“Ohhh! Kuch din betho na yahaan bhi” (Stay here too, for some more days,). I merrily wave and wonder about this apricot country and its infectious sweetness.

Of mixed racial stock of Aryans, Dards, Tibetans, Mongoloids; of Brokpas, Baltis, Purik, Shinas and Ladakhis; of its colours and multi-cultures and faiths – Buddhism, Islamic, besides Bonism, Dardism, Hinduism, Sikhism, perched at a threshold of alpine mountains of Himalayas, Tibetan Steppe and cold deserts of Central Asia.

Predominantly Muslim, 65% Shia compared to Sunni, this war-linked population communicates in almost seven languages Purgi, Balti, Dardic, Ladakhi, Zanskari, Sheena, Urdu/ Hindi. A silky white taffeta stole is placed around my neck in homes, a traditional welcome for guests, and a timeless charm seals the warmth of old stone houses groaning under ancient wattle and daub. Homes, now wilting, giving space to newer homes, hotels, resorts for eager tourists, mountaineers and scholars; apart from, droves of political, bureaucratic paraphernalia, popping-in from Srinagar and Leh.

The town, a view of charming markets, inviting, attractive, vivid – a salivating sight of virtual food-floods, laden with every kith and kin of summer veggies and fruit.

The town once battered by bombs, explosions is on a merry track, of being a coveted tourist destination. Syed Tawha Aga, Additional Director Tourism, in his infectious enthusiasm, lists out almost 22 heritage sites for my three-day itinerary. Spots of magnificent sculptures, people, forts, palaces, built in Central Asian architectural stream, gleaned from Turkish, Arabic and Iranian styles. He can add more and must be deeply pained to omit trekking, mountaineering trails, adventure and bouldering sites, aside from hundreds of lesser known hideouts with virgin views.

Kargil, in popular consciousness concomitant with war, has within its multiple-community cross-links, a strong socio-ethnic amalgam, where minds and hearts lie at peace. The habitation has experienced horror, dreaded war clarions, but down the years the momentum of harmony envelops every layer of its social makeup. Easy banter, frolic-teasing, between communities over issues with potential to become flare-up points, are taken in a jolly stride.

Enmity, animosity, faith-linked or otherwise has not crossed this trek. “No communal outburst was ever heard or seen among the 1.40 lakh populace sprinkled around 127 villages with a solitary Kargil town as Axis”, smiles the 72-year Karan Singh, a former Principal of Suru Higher Secondary School, his family, a witness of every milestone of the town’s chequered history.

Harbour of Communal Harmony – The Balti-Street

Down ancient Balti Street, rows of homes clutch each other, as the lone binding lane lends simply a cart-road space reminiscent of a trade melting pot of yore, to passers-by. A few steps ahead, the spire of Hanfiya Mosque, shoots tall, standing parallel to a Nishan Sahib-symbol of Sikhs, of more than a century-old Civil Gurdwara, and share more than a wall.

Balti Street retains and exhibits its strong flavours of friendliness that once claimed a niche expanse of Hindu-Sikh migrants from Baltistan (Pakistan). Interestingly, according to 1981 Census, 69.38% of them conversed in Balti language. Kargil, carved its district identity in 1979, subsequently, Census 1981, placed 77.90% of Kargil’s inhabitants as Muslims; Buddhists constituting 19.49 % and Hindus at 2.26% – as 3rd major religion in the district.
Census 2011, held Hindus totalling 10,341, with an urban populace of 3139; Sikhs numbered 1101 with 321 in Kargil town.

A sizeable population then, nearing extinction now, the two minority communities have moved, presumably to mainland, for no specific reason than economical more than fear of wars or otherwise.

However, Balti Street still stands home to 40 Sikhs, compared to a Hindu family of four- the lone remnants of the once sizable faith, with Muslim neighbours around. But then Kargil – a melting pot, trade point of ancient Silk Route has always been on the flow. “Remnants of several faiths, communities, stamp their cultural and artistic footprints and move.” Tsering Sonam, a Buddhist from Garkone hamlet – famed for retaining the Pure Aryan race, inserts.

“Where we see the world brokered over faiths and regions, mines and mights, ours is special,” Karan Singh, elected Chairman of State Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, from civil Gurdwara Kargil, and resident of Balti Street, contends. “Special?”- I query. “Our Sikh families settled more than century ago; continue to be part of this remote chunk. Soon after India gained Independence and was partitioned simultaneously, Kabalis backed by Pakistan fired and looted our shops in 1947; a decade later in 1965 war, infiltrators sat on high peaks overlooking Kargil, that eventually were wrested from them. After 1999, many assumed Kargil was War or a Military Operation not a Town, less, a district.”
Folding his hands and looking up, in Shukar– (Thanksgiving)–Karan Singh utters- “Despite being in abject minority, we are special, caring for us has become a virtual culture here. In my lifetime there isn’t a rude word from any community exchanged in Kargil! During a ‘Swatch Bharat’ Abhiyaan, Muslim brethren swept our Gurdwara, while Sikhs and lone Hindu family cleaned the mosque and the Imambara. On Baisakhi and during our founder Guru Nanak Dev ji Gurpurab, the Nishan Sahib- is changed and entire Kargil remains in participation.

The warmth of these gestures has assumed the status of tradition, encouraged by society, as if, a sacred duty. Even political, bureaucrat, attendance comes naturally.” Smiling as he stretches out on cool sheets laid over carpets.
‘Once having a sizeable Hindu population are there any temples?’ I ask. ‘There was one Mandir, but since community migration, it remained in shambles and was eventually razed.”

Vividly recalling a recent incident, Karan says- “When our Mother-Balbir Kaur, passed away in February this year, it was the peak of winter, much of our family had gone neeche to Jammu. Only we two brothers were here with her. Kargil, that lovingly addressed mother as – Amaa Bir, organised the cremation at Shamshan- near army headquarters. Kargil women undertook the Gusal- last ritual bath, as no family women were present due closure of roads, and the entire town observed a shutdown in mourning and respect, thereafter”.

“Just a Few days back, a Kashmiri entered the Gurdwara and offered Namaz. When I pointed out the masjid next door, he responded –‘I didn’t realize when I came here- Khuda ka ghar ek hi hai’(Almighty’s house is one only), I was moved by the comment. This is my Kargil. Common walls make for cohabitation but loving hearts make for lifelong bonds”. Hussain Ibn Khalo, Editor of a local cable channel, a majority community Shia Muslim, sitting nearby, with arms around a bolster in Karan Singh’s home, nods in agreement.

Lone Hindu family

Going down Balti Street, almost at crossroads stands a shop “Amar Chand Dev Raj’. The lone Hindu family resides just over the shop. Ravinder Nath (55) and his wife Madhubala have a cosy little dwelling. Ravinder is a rich merchant, having wholesale and distribution rights of Britannia, Dairy Milk, green tea, CGI corrugated Sheets for roofs.

Offering the choicest salty tea, he says -“I have been living here with our family all my life and we have always been traders.” Learning about my Amritsar roots, he butts in –“We get our green tea from Amritsar and I often visit your Golden Temple.” Pouring me another cup, Madhubala, is a beauty, like her namesake cinestar Madhubala of yesteryears, enhanced by red kumkum bindi. –Do you always wear a bindi? I ask Madhubala. ‘Always!’ she smiles. Looking at me, peering at the tea cup in my hand Ravinder comments – “It’s from Yarkand,
My grandfather Amar Chand, was one of the foremost in trading circles in Yarkand and China during the times of British and the trade through the old silk route. Much as I have inherited from my family my prized possession is a “Passport” issued to my grandfather Amar Chand- it reads – Lala Amarchand resident of Jahan Kalan Hoshiarpur, Issued by the order of ‘Her Majesty Counsel General at Kashgar’- British Subject by Law”. It maybe the rarest of rare cases of a passport, I revel.
“My grandfather brought gold and finest silks in the central Asian trade. In fact, the route taken by my grandfather was marked to lay the Manali-Leh road,” claims Ravinder. “My life, my being is Kargil, people are most loving. During my childhood about 25-Hindu families lived here. Like Karan Singh’s family, I have attended almost every occasion of happiness and pain in this place. I wish to die here and know that after me, no one would carry forth the mantle of our faith anymore. But Kargilis are more mine than my own relatives. Yahan ka Pyar-Mohabat duniya mein kahin nahi- (the loving-love here has no second in the world) I can call upon them 24×7, what more can I say?.”

Together in wartimes

Humans are prone to be more united during distress, calamity or war. Sitting with nephew Karamjit Singh, a co-owner of a local TV Channel and his bhabhi Charanjit Kaur, Karan Singh, recalls -“During Kargil war 1999 shelling, Karamjit was a baby, I was the principal of Suru Higher Secondary School.

While targeting Iqbal bridge to cut off the lone National Highway to Leh, our school was battered by bombs. Close-by army’s ammunition dump too triggered-‘We heard ammunition blasts for nearly 32 hours! My coat buttons flew off with the impact, just as windows burst, children defecated and urinated in their pants and were laden with sticky mud. It was macabre spectacle. People, pooled in, to rush injured, to help hide children in safe spots, one teacher was killed, one had her jaw blown off, and one was hit by a sniper shot but survived. When Gen Arjun GoC visited the school – he was stunned to know there was only one casualty. With people’s participation tents were pitched, in Karnoor and Minji on Kargil-Zanskar highway about 6 Kms from Kargil town and school restarted. Only the following year, the school was rebuilt. Many of the teachers were army personnel wives.”

Woman who broke glass ceiling for girls’ education

We traverse our way to meet another icon of the town Fatima Nissa Begum (75) a close friend of Amaa Bir, who opened the doors for education for girls. She is the only surviving educated woman of the 1950s, who studied in Kargil against all set norms of girls’ education. Her home has the bestest Geranium flowers, cheerful in old tins and assorted containers gleaned from the kitchen granary, – a cheerful Fatima, serves a feast of chicken, salads, buns and namkeens with rounds of typical pink salty tea, that I am getting used to – and says- “Two others, who were educated at my time, were from other places, -One, from Skardu in PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) and another Simla educated, both passed away.

And added- “Education for girls was forbidden, in our Islamic culture, but I studied till class 5th in Government, Girls High school. My father, despite being a much respected religious scholar supported me. In lower classes, I alone possessed a bag, pencil box and books in a class of 5-7 girls. Girls came, listened and left. This was the education we received. I often shared my books with my classmates, but soon they were forced to drop school.
However, with much diligence, I finished 5th standard in 1955, competing with boys, as girls hardly appeared for exams.

I was nearly ostracized-‘Don’t play with her, don’t look at her! Etc etc.. Fatima trails off. “Those were hard times, but my father’s support minimized all hurdles. After primary my father was at a loss, as high schools were only for boys. Seeing my enthusiasm, an old teacher offered, and taught me at home. No sooner had I completed class 8th, a teacher’s job fell vacant in Baru village about two Kms away. On my father’s insistence, at the age of 14, I took up the job, crestfallen over my loss of education. The first princely amount of 100 rupees for my services thrilled me endlessly.

My spirit however didn’t die; I finished matric, and slowly started into the forbidden domain of girls’ education from home to home, along with the job. “How?” I butt in. “I started by teaching Koran to select girls then urged parents to send them for Koran lessons in school and imparted education in all primary subjects.” I notice the glowing face of Fatima and sit in wonderment at her ingenuity and pluck in those times and at that tender age. Today on retirement Fatima receives a pension of Rs 20,000. With her own savings has performed pilgrimages- Haj to Mecca Medina, and is widely travelled in Iran, Iraq, Dubai, Syria, UAE, and plans to go to many other places in the world, that feat, no woman in these parts can yet compete.

Footnote

Returning to my hotel Jan Palace, I learn about the Kargil’s Mamani festival rooted in pre-Buddhist religion of Bon, in peak winter of January snows, that pens togetherness in the endearing town, when traditional meals are shared amongst all. It reminded me of calling upon each other during times of distress. It reminded me, that the world needs more people to build up other people, instead of tearing them down. It also reminded of mobile phone and internet being dead slow here; pushing forth the fragrance and flavour of inter-personal communication in varied tongues and dialects, that clasps the absolute key to kindness. Holding umpteenth packets of dried apricots from warmth of town homesteads, I knew I was taking back seeds of sweetness, the treasures of peace of the apricot country.

Photos : Hosan-Ibn- Khalo

Rashmi Talwar is an Amritsar based Journalist, can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com
URL:http://dailykashmirimages.com/…/14…/kargil-war-town-at-peace
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Sikh promises ‘Bhangra’ cheer to Turmoiled Kashmir / By Rashmi Talwar/ Daily Kashmir Images


Screenshot wedding open invite

Sikh promises ‘Bhangra’ cheer to Turmoiled Kashmir

Rashmi Talwar

When I think of October in Kashmir, I visualize the skyline awash with Harud or Autumn hues of reds, oranges and golds. In those Almighty’s favourite tints, Chinars dazzles over most other greens, in majesty and sheer beauty of its wavering shades from ochre to buttery yellows fingers, turning gold and finally crimson. To the famed – Aatish- a-Chinar or a Chinar on fire, as Emperor Jahangir famously exclaimed, describing Chinars incredible beauty in Autumn. Few saw the resplendent blooming tulips, the spring’s exotic European flowers, Badamwari’s almond blossoms, this year, while Mughal gardens of Shalimar, Nishat, Harwan, mesmerized just a few locals with its exquisite blooms.

It was deeply saddening for Kashmir especially this year during peak summer season to host just a trickle of tourists. Merely 5% occupancy in hotels, huts, guest houses, homestays and houseboat were reported from Srinagar from last July to this year too. But, come September end and early October, the horizon may cheer for a change, albeit, for just a few days. The menu is Punjabi Bhangraa and not Wazwan – the Kashmiri favourite platter that shall take centre-stage in a Kashmiri wedding.

It was delightful to read Jatinder Pal Singh’s wedding invitation on social networking site Facebook, on an otherwise languid Sunday, that managed to refresh the brightness of the holiday –It stated –“An OPEN INVITATION for my wedding scheduled for on October 1, 2017 for all known or unknown Facebook friends.”
JP- A Kashmiri Sikh, software engineer, from Tral Kashmir, settled in Gurgaon, has 3932 strong friend-list with 581 followers and the invite went not only to them but as a public profile open to any and every one. JP is a promoter with a start-up- easywaylabs.com- a website ‘making things convenient’ for laboratory tests as also a coordinator for United Sikhs- a Charitable International NGO, that’s on the forefront during disasters. JP did commendable work during Kashmir floods in 2014, collecting a sum of more than Rs 4 lakhs singlehandedly, before the NGO collaborated to push nearly half a Crore, in aid to flood-hit. Hence his popularity is high in the region.

Incidentally, militancy in Kashmir and JP Singh were born the same year. Moreover, the venue of the wedding is Tral- a place ignominiously highlighted as the region of Burhan Wani,- Hizbul Mujjahidin commander, killed on 8th July 2016. Killing of Wani spiralled militancy to an all-time high, last seen in 1990, reminiscent of the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. JP’s house is merely 8 Kms from Burhan Wani’s house in the next village.

Moreover, JP’s dad Kanwal Nain Singh and Wani’s father Muzaffar Ahmed Wani were colleagues till last year when JP’s father was Vice Principal in the village’s Higher Secondary School and senior Wani was the Principal.

In trouble torn Kashmir, Sikhs – a minuscule minority, (less than one percent) amongst the dominant Muslim populace of the state, has a high concentration of the community, in Tral region. On JP’s friend list is a medley of faiths- Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims (Sunnis and Shias), Kashmiri (Muslim and Pandits) and Buddhists. The invitation has drawn 540 likes and 323 comments.

JP who defines himself as – ‘I am Not a player, I’m the Game’ surely knows how to play one- “The idea is to bring people who want to visit or love Kashmir, on an all paid stay, much like a destination wedding . But contrary to downsizing of guest lists, JP is ready to host as many as those who can traverse and dare to come for this ‘cultural -adventure’. Lately, tourists of most hues are mortally fearful of visiting Kashmir, affected by adverse reports in popular media. Given the time of the invitation, in coming days his friend list invitees could swell in numbers.

He has referred to Dharam-Gund in Tral as his ‘beautiful picturesque village’, and announced the happy occasion to be a “Kashmiri Sikh and Punjabi” wedding- a four-day event, of ‘Band Baja Barat’ starting on September 28th.
Allaying fears, he wrote on his Timeline- “If you know-me/have-met-me or NOT, it hardly matters. Please confirm your availability; I and my whole family would be more than happy to host you. Lodging, Boarding and your safety will be our responsibility” Ready to put on display the famed Punjabi-Kashmiri Hospitality, he sweetly urges –“I am telling you, do not miss this. It would be worth it!”

And underlines the convenience for his Baraatis,- wedding guests, outlining the location of the venue and nearest exit and entry points by air, road and travel modes – “ Our Village Dharam-Gund is 46Km’s from Srinagar International Airport and 20Kms from Awantipora (National highway connecting Jammu and Srinagar). If you want, we can pick you from Srinagar Airport or from Awantipora -If you are coming by road”.

With a tongue in cheek emoticon he adds as a Post script.–“PS: This LADIES SANGEET function is 10% of Ladies Sangeet and 90% of BHANGRAA!

The Kashmiri –Sikh wedding rituals are quaint and different from Punjabi Sikh weddings, JP says. The celebration will commence with Gandiaan – a Kashmir Sikh ritual where celebrations formally begins with groom’s family going to the bride’s house to present her precious jewellery , in return the bride’s family presents a Gold Karra – Sikh faith symbol of Bracelet, to the groom, followed by merriment with wedding songs. Sangeet amongst Punjabis isn’t as innocent as it sounds and actually means boisterous Bhangra and dances by both genders.

Another ceremony is of hand impressions on the wall of the house, after dipping them in coloured water- Chapaa. Followed by Mitti Khodna – digging soil near a village Gurdwara, putting walnuts in it and inserting a pinch of the ‘divine’ soil in Mehandi – Henna to be sent to the bride The muh-boli- bhen or the groom’s adopted sister, commences the ceremonies, along with ritual of – Pani Bharna– when water is brought in a Gaagar- earthen pot, from a village Nag or spring and mixed in haldi ubtan – the turmeric mixture with curds, applied to the groom in a pre-wedding ceremony, believed to render a glow to the skin.

The grand finale on October 1, would be the wedding day for morning Baraat – groom party’s arrival at the bride’s house and Anand Karaj pheras – Sikh wedding circumambulation with recitation of holy scriptures and hymns, around the Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib, at Aluchabagh Gurdwara of Srinagar, near the bride’s house. “Other than the jewellery that both sides gift to the bride, we don’t accept or give dowry,” JP adds with pride.

“Along with me, as one unknown-never-met baraati, how many had confirmed their attendance”, I ask. “At least 20 unknown people have messaged me, wishing to come for the wedding. They are confirmations from Kashmir, Ladakh, Jammu and Delhi and now I have four from Amritsar including you,” he laughs
“Accommodation and security?” “People in our village hold us in respect. My uncle Rajinder Singh Rajan, is an award winning Punjabi writer of book ‘Taja Bawri’ -about a Kashmiri girl gone insane due to turmoil. He won the national award for his book in 2015 and was felicitated in June last year by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Since few in our family were intellectually gifted, Kavishris- poetry symposiums, were often held in our home, which villagers attended. Today every villager has opened his home to host guests for my wedding.” And added –“A nearby police station has assured us all security for guests.”

Did both sets of parents agree? Both me and my fiancée Vipeen Kaur, a dentist in Noida are from Tral, her family is now based in Srinagar. We could have had the safest wedding in Delhi, but I insisted that I want to marry the girl I love, in the place we both love. The families are more than happy with this decision.

I tried to contact Vipeen Kaur, JP’s fiancee and sent her a message but did not receive a reply.

Since liquor is a typical of Punjabi weddings, would you serve?”- “Mum is the word!” he responds.

The responses to his timeline post have been welcoming, appreciative, longing, assessing and touching. Nidhi calls the invitation a cool idea. JP’s adopted sister Komal Jb Singh is gleefully petulant as her name has not been added in the invite. Shabangi Mushtaq, a Kashmiri based in Zimbabwe, calls him open hearted and broadminded for writing this beautiful post cutting across the barriers of religion, class and caste and promises to try to attend. Akhilesh Khurana comments,- ‘The invite made us part of the celebrations virtually’. Rauf Tramboo, a Kashmiri, adventure travel consultant, called it a chivalrous invitation and confirmed his presence to perform the bhangra after a long time. However a distraught Adventure tour operator Bashir Damna pointed out ‘Till date no visitor or tourist was harmed in valley and locals are good hosts and helpful. Some Indian media men are spreading false rumours about Kashmiris and that is why our brother (JP) has said ‘prime responsibility’ (read security).

Arjimand Hussain Talib termed it the most beautiful invitation that he had ever come across. Raja Farooq teased –“Good to know Rangeela JP is going to marry. Free invitation another of his innovative styles.”

What warmed the cockles of the heart was a desire expressed from across the border by Umar Javid, a resident of Mirpur in Pak Occupied Kashmir –‘Congratulations, I wish I could participate’, to which JP answered ‘Please try to come, it would not be that tough and let me know if you need any documented invitation from India that can help you with the visa. We would love to host you’ To his friend Sudhir S Parihar who Congratulated him, JP Singh responded- “Agar tu na aaya teray chittar peen ge…” that sums up the quintessential Punjabi Ishtyle of
friendship, I have no translations to offer.

Rashmi Talwar is an Amritsar based Independent Writer, can be emailed at: rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com
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AN OPEN INVITATION!

I am getting MARRIED on 1st, October, 2017. 🙂
Wedding is planned at a beautiful picturesque village in Kashmir and will be a mixture of kashmiri-Sikh and Punjabi rituals/traditions.
It would be a 4 day event {28-Sep(GANDIAAN-A kashmiri Sikh marriage Ritual and ladies Sangeet), 29-Sep(CHAPPA-A kashmiri Sikh marriage Ritual and ladies Sangeet), 30-Sep(Lunch + Mahendi) and 1st-october (Baraat to Srinagar City)}.
It is an open invitation to everyone. Please ping me if you want to attend. If you know-me/have-met-me or NOT, it hardly matters. Please confirm your availability; I and my whole family would be more than happy to host you.
Lodging, Boarding and your safety will be our responsibility. 🙂
PS: I am telling you, do not miss this. It would be worth it. Our Village Dharam-Gund is 46km’s away from Srinagar International Airport and 20kms from Awantipora(National highway connecting Jammu and Srinagar). If you want we can pick you from Srinagar Airport or from Awantipora(If you are coming by road).
PSS: This LADIES SANGEET function is 10% of Ladies Sangeet and 90% of BHANGRAA! 😜 🍻

The pain will be ours alone, Kashmir ! /Rashmi Talwar/ Daily Kashmir Images


snapshot the pain kashmir imagesThe pain will be ours alone, Kashmir !

Rashmi Talwar

O the pretense of strength, of willpower, fervor, sacrifice
Peep in my empty womb
Am I hoping for sunshine?
Will rainbows hug me?
~unknown

“Mama I have a head-ache, a tummy-ache, a tooth-ache, ear-ache!” Mama would pop a tablet, kiss me, say –“All will be well” while stroking my forehead. The fake-ache was for a pesky teacher, a test, punishment, home-work or just about anything to skip school.

Soon she’s busy in daily chores and peeps. “Are you better?” –“No!” I lie gleefully and let out a suitable groan, till well past school time. I lie in bed. TVs are nonexistent, radio is a spoiler, comics and novels are under censorship. To speak, to move out, even to look out the window, all my fundamental rights are curtailed. One little lie, and a vast abyss of nothingness- agony, insanity, unbearable.

Another time, an accident: Bystanders gather on the spot, exclaim their –‘Hawwws..! And Haiiis..!’ Call up my husband’s pager. At the doctor -“We’ll have to plaster the ankle, it’s a hairline fracture, but the wrist can be just bandaged,” I insert -“No, Doc plaster my wrist too!” –He winks at his assistant – “Two plasters!” I am excited–“Now, I really look like an accident victim!”
Relatives visit, inquire, listen to my story, and exclaim -“Oh how terrible!” I continue – How a woman trying to pick her child in the front seat drove right across and bolted my rickshaw- “I felt as if I was flying, and landed with a thud, you know!” And adding a little spice – “You know, I checked my neck, I also checked my diamond ring, only after checking, I, started howling loudly, Hee Hee!” “You are brave!” one says. I have turned my adversity into an opportunity, I pat myself. I glow in the make-belief glory of compliments. They write something cute on my plaster with pierced hearts, smilies and leave. Fourth day, there are no doorbells. I look at my plaster, read the messages all in a minute. Only one minute passes in my long road to recovery. My pains, my helplessness all get magnified in my solitude.

Another accident: I slip from the stairs; the shattered glass embeds in my hand and punctures a blood vessel. Blood spouts like a tap, running down the stairs.
Sitting on the stairs, my head swims due to blood loss, I calmly hold my bleeding hand and ask my house help,–“Go, get all the ice in the refrigerator and a towel!”
He stands staring. I urge –“Hurry, don’t look at me!”
Rushed to a hospital with blood all over, a nurse presses the bleeding punctured vessel, the bleeding stops as the glass shard blocks the blood flow. The cutting foreign body drives excruciating pain the whole night. Next day I am operated, but the wrongly pressed shard has cut my nerves too. The same evening driving a car managed with a plastered hand, I reach The Tribune office for work. I brush it aside as a cut, when colleagues inquire. I am able to function better without self-pity and borrowed strengths now. I work from that day onwards with one hand, my focus only on work and on recovery. It takes six months and physiotherapy to get the hand to function.

Another time, I am advised for urgent surgery. “Report back in a week and we shall operate!” the doctor says emotionlessly. “It can be delayed a little, plus we don’t have patient space” the doctor at Ganga Ram Hospital Delhi, adds.
I return to Amritsar that evening. In a week I arrange all my daily wear, toiletries, towels, others, keep a neat guest room downstairs to take me. I even place a walking stick.
My house help assists me for two days. Third day she’s in a hurry, fourth, she skips. By the fifth day I have learned to manage everything- the pain, the chores, indigenously working out solutions. People visit. My Mum admires-“You are brave”, I take it casually. Now, only focused on recovery. I am back in good health in no time.

These may be minor incidents but what stayed with me –“You have to bear your own pain, all alone!”

“O Mother, O Kashmir, my pain was just a scratch, yours- Mammoth!
Listen to my little prayers.
They shall come, pay sympathies, some justifying, some calling exalted divinity, some soothing, some listening, some talking memorials, some anger- revenge, some lullabys.
The broken promises, history, anger, restrictions, all, meaningless.
In the dark cold screaming silences- Mother, you’ll wonder –“Which piece of mother-land demands a price of your children.”
No fruit, sweet; no sound, soothing; no rainbows, – Only raw, clutching, solitary, tearing, pain.
The pain will always be our own. To Bear, All Alone!”

chinar leaf

Photo by Rashmi Talwar

The writer can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN DAILY KASHMIR IMAGES ON AUGUST 10, 2016
http://dailykashmirimages.com/Details/117243/the-pain-will-be-ours-alone-kashmir

Gulmarg- Land of Lord Ghorawalla ! /Rashmi Talwar/ Rising Kashmir


gulmarg ghorawalla.jpgGulmarg- Land of Lord Ghorawalla !

 Rashmi Talwar

 

“Helicopter service in Gulmarg; flying you on top of the world;

Places where we fly: Mont Apharwat, Frozen Lake, Sunshine, Tosa Maidan and Srinagar Airport.

Rs 7500/ per person.”

 

Much as I was elated by this small red billboard, I noticed on the way back from Gulmarg, Kashmir, owing to my senior citizen parents – not in the best of health, who could see some exotic places if they so desired, it got me thinking about the place Gulmarg –the famed ‘Meadow of flowers’.

Gulmarg waters do not speak. They take side lanes, quietly dolloping down from crevices and flow silently downstream, moistening lush undulating daisy slopes, embellished with hues and shades of wild swinging flowers in the softest breeze. Rolling hilltops are a fairyland where children would love to roll downhill and play antique games of L-O-N-D-O-N —London.

‘The meadow of flowers’ appears to open as a large cine screen after a Deodar tree-lined ribboned road enters a passage cut through the hills. I feel immersed into the spectacular beauty of the vista of Gulmarg, that appears like Switzerland, where no condescending boundary walls rupture the beatific scenery perched at an approximate altitude of 2650 m and located merely 56 km north of Srinagar- the Capital of Jammu& Kashmir, a simple 90 minute drive.

However, after a day and a night stay at Gulmarg, I realized that other than the exotic flowers, Gulmarg can boast of the best talkers and fighters in the region. They are the famous Ghorawallas or Horse owners of Gulmarg, whose fame spreads throughout the Kashmir valley.

1 gullmarg ghoda.jpgThe verdant greens, sugary air and exotic flowers of the valley have done little to sweeten their moods, disposure or decency. Hence like the naturally growing pitcher plant – or insectivorous plant on Gulmarg slopes and crevices, the famed Ghorawallas of Gulmarg have learnt to trap their prey by fear, falsehood or fallacy.  While the pitcher plant may remain a silent spectator to its squirming prey, this variety is highly advanced. It is loudmouthed, threatening, ready to turn anything into a big street brawl, capable of mob terror, fleecing, uses Pakistan slogans to instill fear and even resorts to violence with ‘Kashmiri’ drivers from other regions besides tourists.

One wearing pheran or loose cloak, kohled eyed and henna reddened beard and hair, possessed a rare knack of odd combinations. Seeing the Poop litter in this scenic valley, I suggested poop bags could be used for Ghoras or horses like in European countries to keep the place clean. The smarting Ghorawalla took it as a jibe–“The dayyy Poop bags will arrive in Gulmarg, Kashmir will go to Pakistan!” he declared.

Interestingly, although Government claims a stronghold on the Gondola services of Gulmarg, the Ghorawallas have the real say on plying to the Gondola site. If access to gondola and everything in-between feels so cumbersome in Gulmarg where the lords and Masters are the Ghorawallas, a shake of the grey cells should be of priority to Helicopter Service in the region, for a hassle-free, better and more lucrative business turnover. Perhaps the Heli services which has found few takers till now, and Ghorawallas should sit in a bilateral meeting to chalk out the strategies for the smooth operation, with Ghorawalla as a shareholder of the profit.

After all, the Ghorawallas in Gulmarg have united and created a solid vote-bank of the sitting Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and therefore are supposedly given a free rein to loot the tourists while whispers abound that the  police and bureaucracy are told to lie low and quietly collect their ‘cuts’ for being cooperative in ‘smart’ deals.

If you wish to use the circumbulation road of this scenic window of flowers – “Either you hire a a horse or Ghora or pay for a Snow Vehicle PVC,” a Ghorawalla literally barks to incoming tourists. Interestingly, like local warlords many of these Ghorawallas own both these modes of transport.

Perchance if you were able to push in a currency note as a chai-paani into the rough hands of the loudest protesting Ghorawalla, as a clearance to use your own taxi for the roundabout road, he will give you a free show of his stained toothed smile, even pull out his gruff hand to shake yours most vigorously, salute you and will assure you, there would be no Ghorawalla to stop or hassle you.  The next, you know, another Ghorawalla, a short distance ahead will stop your vehicle, put his hand out for a bakshish (bribe) and dial a number on his cellphone to tell the next Ghorawalla about the welcome and protocol to be meted to you for plying your own vehicle. By the end of the route you could be lighter by a few hundred currency notes, for having indulged and navigated in a drive around.

Tourists on a day tour, a one and a half hour drive from Srinagar, are in for the best theatrics. If they decide to hire none of the above transport modes, they will be made to feel like a celebrity as the Ghorawallas will stalk them throughout their trek. They’ll urge them for a free test ride on the horse and then hold out their hand for the price.

By chance if you do settle a deal for a horse, marking out the territory of the ride, another surprise awaits you.  Ghorawalla will refuse pointblank that he was a party to this deal and may ask two to five times more. If you feel strongly up for justice, and are not ready to give up without a fight, you’ll witness the speed with which tens of other Ghorawallas surround you and curse your riches for holding back payment to a poor Ghorawalla! Until you decide to call curtains.

When I requested a security man to let me pass by the barricade by paying a fee of Rs 50, as was mentioned there, because my parents could neither climb a horse nor take the PVC or snow vehicle, the police personnel asked me to make a deal, a deal with a Ghorawalla! The Lord Ghorawalla stood with his foot on a rock and picked his tooth staring at me. If there is the slightest of feelings that flits past you, that there is any rule of law here, please feign a memory lapse. The best recourse would be to equip yourself to beg or cry or whimper. These emotional froths just might work.

Two barricades in the circular road cuts a road through the stunning valley. Only if you are on night stay showing your booking on the cellphone, would you be allowed to ply your vehicle or taxi in the area. But this too has a clause and your night booking is ‘not yet’ a lucky ticket!

“You are fortunate if you booked a stay inside the barricaded area, else all those booked in hotels or huts or guest houses outside the barricade are barred from passing and treated at par with  other day tourists.”

Once a Ghorawallas told me to take the horse instead of the Gondola, up the hill on the Gondola Kangoori route as I had failed to purchase an online ticket. “It is a big blunder,” He shook his head and continued-“Why didn’t you buy ticket online and now Gondola ticket counter is closed for three days, until previous bookings are cleared”. He told me he could extricate few tickets in the black. He also suggested that going on his horse was the best adventure I could have, would cost less than Gondola and the views would be breathtaking by the royal horse ride. Adding,-“Many a times the Gondola develops faults mid-air, and was hardly safe.” I decided to check and found readily available Gondola tickets not only for Phase-I but also Phase –II for one fourth the price and an assurance that breakdowns are rarest of rare cases. Ghorawalla during our conversation had also explained that I might like to fill the tummy of his animal as a sadkaa or offering to the Divine, with an extra for horse-feed as his ‘poor’ horse did not relish mountain grass on this slope.

This takes me to the red billboard for Heli services –“Are the tourists visiting Gulmarg being freely allowed access to the Helicopter service or will they have to kowtow to the Lord Ghorawalla in the land of bloom showers?

For all you know, the Ghorawalla may just find another story using his trading skills, to strike a deal with a naive tourist claiming his horse has wings! “So you don’t really need a helicopter at that cost when it flits away so quickly, you miss all the beauty na, and the views are stunning from my flying horse!” he may add.

Author can be emailed at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR
URL:http://epaper.risingkashmir.com/PopUp.aspx?8ZkljZ_ppDowoQ4O6jlOjc6Q_ep_ep

 

Of an enflamed horizon, ruddy Earth and the air between/ Rashmi Talwar/ Rising Kashmir


Jammu Lit Fest –

Book Review

RED MAIZE BY DANESH RANA 

Red Maize screenshot RK-1

Of an enflamed horizon, ruddy Earth and the air between

Rashmi Talwar

Danesh Rana’s debut novel – Red Maize, is a shout, an expose, on men, machinery and

machinations. It uncovers a unique cocktail of intrigues to lure, entrap, mutilate and torture. It’s about selling your conscience for plum postings, self-claimed leadership, medals and badges, even a marriage. It’s about bed and betrayal, money and moolah, faith and faithlessness.

‘Red Maize’ is a searing cry of Jammu and Kashmir, of a bloody horizon, the ruddied earth and the air between, that threatens to puncture the water veins and infuse it with blood of innocents, bringing forth a harvest of red maize.

The book is set in a humble hamlet of Morha Madana in Doda district of Jammu, a mountainous region surrounded by snow peaks, its rich soil bearing bountiful maize, life flowing sonorously like the melodic poetry of river Chenab. Then comes a time when the languorously grazing village, being an ideal hiding place for stealth, is quietly invaded by a market of blood shops- selling human flesh and death.

Morha’s insulated location, in the lap of snow peaked mountains and inhospitable jungle terrains, makes it an ideal abode for spreading religious radicalism. The radical wave swiftly turns into virtual reality, giving birth to the meanest, ugliest forms of indoctrination, where stakes are high, contrasting between–Soldier or Militant, between -‘A Heaven on Earth! or ‘A Heaven in Afterlife!’

It is a story of how a venomously planted thought mercilessly snatches youthful sons and pretty daughters and pushes their mutilated bodies into ignoble graves. Where mothers like Kausar Jan or Fauzia’s mother stand trembling, knowing little difference between an unbearable life and a living hell! It sucks your innards as they carry forth their fractured existence, brought by mindless ‘men’ in their lives.

In this death street one of the shops –‘Tanzeem’ – sells its merchandise of Jihad – holy war. The village gives it, its first indigenous militant commander, Shakeel Mujahid, that changes the destiny of the entire village. Shakeel, a loving jobless youth and the love of his widowed mother Kausar Jan. Basking in the sun on green slopes, while his goats grazed, fascinated by cricket matches and antics of militants, Shakeel follows the bloodhounds and falls for their gruesome playground of guns and gore.

Gul Mohammed’s is another such shop, of ‘mukhbirs’, craftily tri-timing at various opportune times – village folk, army and militants alike, sacrificing his daughters in this horrifying game of chess.

His lifestyle reminds one of stashed wealth, grabbed, usurped and stowed away by many such flourishing shops, blessed by political dispensations. The proof of this are mushrooming luxurious bungalows in cities and towns and hundreds of them scattered along remote villages and the countryside in Kashmir and Jammu. The ‘region of turmoil’ surprises many a visitor with some of the finest upcoming and completed bungalows. Not only did such money fund plush homes, it was weaned into high priced education in foreign countries of children of influential families, jet-set politicians, heads of high decibel organizations, radical and separatist associations and religious councils.

While their own wards are ensured to be safe and privileged, street youth are instigated, charmed, compelled and coaxed to pick up the gun or turn into a ‘sangbaaz’, the stone throwers, whiling away their youth and lives in jails or playing hide and seek in dangerous jungles and snow peaks with guns and bullets as toys. Where mothers like Kausar Jan are crushed under the dual extraction of dues from both militants and soldiers, besides becoming pawns in the hands of unscrupulous greed.

The third shop is that of the army- which no doubt kills, blows up, exterminates in the name of the country but is also a beneficiary, with AFSPA and PSA cushioning them from prosecution. Many trophies, medals, badges, promotions, peace postings, besides atrocities, tortures, killings, rapes, fake encounters and unmarked graves have stories with threads connected to the army.

Danesh has woven a story of intrigues sparing none – the army, locals and the militants. Shakeel Mujahid, in the story, is the manifestation of youth lured. His brother Khalid- the payer for his brother’s deeds by helplessly turning into a militant and his youngest brother- an easy dispensation for trophies!

Major Rathore comes across as manipulative, essentially less-ugly in his interaction with Kausar Jan, the mother- but brute, intimidating and cunning in the name of fighting militancy in remote areas. Rathore also has a match – a super ego demon unleashing nameless atrocities and creating killing fields.

How a NTR (nothing to report) is recognizable to villagers as a moment of relief; the rookie ‘kaapi’ (cadet) indoctrination to carry out everything to create Hell for a Promised Heaven, is revealing. Use of words such as ‘Passementerie’ (essentially embroidery on military uniforms) for adornment on the local salwar kameez of a Kashmiri girl gives a clue on the writer, a police officer. A Kashmiri’s typical reaction to situations like singing of Wanwun -the wedding songs on the death of a Mujahid is etched observantly. The reality of children in Kashmir playing ‘Encounter-Encounter’ with cricket bats as Kalashnikovs makes it well researched.

The book seems to be written in the times of early 1990s as Agra’s failed -walk the talk- steps in much later.

The writer’s use of Kausar Jan as a metaphor for Kashmir — the coveted vale of conflict, of lust and love, of mujahids and soldiers, being wooed and humiliated, of millions of blooms strewn with deadly thorns, Jannat and Jahannam, a nuclear flashpoint, a laboratory of death, is truly a wake-up call for the administration, politicians and the armed forces.

‘Red Maize’ calls for the protector to take the first humane step and not turn perpetrator. It calls for vigilance and healing, a touch marinated in much love and compassion. Perhaps AFSPA should be removed or replaced with a less draconian law, much as most of Kashmir believes the militancy is a Fassad and not Jihad (mischief and not a holy war).

Perhaps, the new political dispensation of Mehbooba Mufti develops a vision to erase some of the stains of political, police and public manipulations, and close few of the blood shops, with a touch, albeit, a woman or a mother’s healing touch, that may bring some comfort to Kashmir, is an awaited wish.

Writer can be emailed at: rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON FEBRUARY 3, 2016
URL:http://epaper.risingkashmir.com/PopUp.aspx?3sDiTh_bsXH2wtZADHif2tpQ_ep_ep

India-Pak PMs Meet/ And then they came…/ Rashmi Talwar Rising Kashmir


snapshot IndoPak PMs meet jan2016.JPGIndia-Pak Meet

And then they came ….

Rashmi Talwar

India-Pakistan’s bonhomie has always spelt good tidings for Kashmir. It was on Christmas this time. Christmas –a special day just for family, like Diwali and Eid. Yet Christmas of 2015 leaped on to script history, with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi diverting his sleigh (Air orce One) to neighboring Pakistan and his surprise Santa-isque-halt in Pakistan, on this festive day. Only three other Indian Prime Ministers have visited the perceived belligerent neighbor in the past.

In the spirit of jingle-bells, the PM’s reindeers didn’t mind bypassing the capital city of  Islamabad, instead, cozied up to vibrant Lahore in equal comfort. Modi extended birthday and wedding wishes in the same breath, to a Grandfather-Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and his granddaughter- Mehr-un-Nisa on her wedding day.

Just a week later India faced an attack at Pathankot, allegedly by terrorists deemed to belong to Pak based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed, controlled by Maulana Masood Azhar, who was released in lieu of hijacked Indian plane IC-814 on Christmas day of 1999.  Many pawns and paws have come under a cloud and an alert has been loudly sounded in Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and Delhi. This comes as third in the series of attacks with the first in Udhampur, then Dina Nagar in Gurdaspur and now Pathankot.

Only a week back, India and Pakistan were warmed over the Indian PM’s visit and media threw up interesting Santa Clauses between India and Pakistan- Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Nawaz Sharif share birthdays on Christmas. Dr Manmohan Singh, former Indian PM’s desire to straddle the three regions of Kabul, Islamabad and New Delhi, all in a day-trip for his three daily meals, was recalled but it was Modi’s unusual step that took the limelight, touted as –‘dreams come true for those who dare’!

Just after inaugurating the new Parliament House in Kabul, initiated by India in 2007, Modi

spoke to Nawaz Sharif and conveyed his greetings on the latter’s birthday. Nawaz responded in typical Punjabi heartiness- ‘Since you would be flying over my country, why don’t you drop by and also bless my granddaughter Mehr-un-Nisa at her wedding’. Modi accepted spontaneously. The Christmas bonhomie lived up to its name and the spontaneity of India-Pak PM meet, appeared to have thawed some snow back home in Kashmir too. Post this visit, Kashmir’s perceived icy -‘Radical-Modi’ gave way to momentary warmth for the PM. Warmth that helped tiny tendrils of a new sapling to emerge from under the sheets of snow in Kashmir, due to thisout-of-the-box approach seen as– path-breaking, unconventional, strong and decisive.

Following the India-Pak Christmas, Pak Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhary briefed the media – “As a part of the comprehensive dialogue, the foreign secretaries of the two countries will meet in mid-January 2016”, he said. Some peace doves on both sides called it “a coup of sorts by the two leaders away from the media glare and the highly polarized domestic politics”.

The impromptu visit of PM also left Kashmiri separatists wide-mouthed. Separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani shook his head and said ‘we have no issues on better ties between India and Pakistan’. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Hurriyat Conference’s Chairman took on positive note -“It’s a good development that leaders of two nations have started meeting and talking. We welcome it,” Mirwaiz told a Kashmir based newspaper. “We now hope that the two countries show political will to resolve all pending issues, including the core issue of Kashmir.”

Omar Abdullah, former chief Minister Jammu & Kashmir, posted on a social networking site twitter – “Indo-Pakistan relations have been plagued by knee-jerk reactions and a lack of consistency, looking towards two prime ministers to correct this, this time”, he tweeted.

All this, even as intelligence inputs had already put forces on alert, on a possible terrorist attack with a fresh infiltration from across the border, even before the PMs Meet.

Modi’s Tarzan-visit maybe a cause for cheer and be termed a diplomatic accomplishment in Indo-Pak relations, but has also caused a flutter. ‘Will it be stamped as a walk on haloed steps of predecessor Vajpayee, so popular with Kashmiris and Pakistanis, or will it become just a flash in the pan?’ cynics wondered and waited on both sides.

The cynics were not entirely off mark as the Pathankot attack was aimed to scuttle the nascent goodwill engaged in by both countries. The continuance of hostilities between the two neighbors serves the vested interests of many in both countries including Pakistan Army, the terror groups on one side and the Hindutva brigade on the other.

Political observers opine – ‘The Indian PM’s visit somewhat negated the growing clout of Pakistan army chief -Gen Raheel Sharif, who compelled Pakistani political leadership to change the discussion agenda decided at the Ufa joint conference and forced to make Kashmir the number one agenda point.’ Many however assert the General’s involvement in giving clearance to Indian Prime Minister’s flight in Pakistan, however reluctant it maybe, was tacit, and enclosed the blessings of his recent US hosts. But the slight to the Pak general’s growing clout, with the nation’s political leadership taking its own chances, couldn’t have gone well with the army chief.

Pathankot Attack may thus be listed as captive sketch of recent events. Many feel the attack, though a handiwork of ultras on the forefront has the implicit support of Pak army. Indian involvement in harboring and plotting the attack too cannot be ruled out. When PM visited Pakistan, a lobby in India was silenced, that of Sangh Parivar, who indulged in political rhetoric, communal and anti-Pak statements unmindful of the caustic harm to India’s foreign and domestic policies. But with Pathankot attack the Sangh found another nail to hit.

Modi’s acceptance of Nawaz Sharif’s invitation, greetings, personal reception, the Jhaapis and a Heli-visit to Sharif’s Raiwind house, may have created goodwill for both leaders in Pakistan and India, but had an expected spillover. Precisely for this reason, the impromptu option was exercised. Because, had the visit been announced and then implemented, a terror-attack would have been timed to coincide before the visit. If nothing at all, the visit still stamps the peace overtures of India and puts the ball in the court of Pakistan to respond suitably and with equal vigor.

Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh told ANI: “Pakistan is our neighbour and we want peace, but any terrorist attack on India will get a befitting response.” Indian analysts take this as the Home Minister showing restraint and indicating Delhi’s will to continue talks with Pakistan. Every time a peace process is about to start, the same pattern of attacks are seen. Dr. Ajai Sahni, Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management, Delhi opines –“It (the attack) may lead to a momentary pause in the peace dialogue and battering from the opposition for not pursuing a harder line with Pakistan, but I don’t think it will have a long- term impact.”

“The moment Modi touched down in Lahore (and probably even before), something like this was doomed to happen,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert in Washington while confiding to a newspaper. And added “At this point, there’s sufficient goodwill in India-Pakistan relations to weather this attack. Saboteurs won’t win this one.” Given the history, geography, regional and global geopolitics, India and Pakistan have little choice but to remain engaged even in conflict situations, just as during Kargil war when engagement at political and military level continued.
All this, while Kashmir awaits the next move, wondering whether it will have to shiver in icy weather this New Year or will the warm jingle belled Kangri under the pheran ward off the chill between the two nations? It’s still hard to say.

The writer can be reached at rashmitalwarno1@gmail.com

URL:http://risingkashmir.com/article/and-then-they-came-/

April Fool Cheers ! / By Rashmi Talwar


Caution: Those who do not possess the kidney for Macabre Humor may please turn to the next page on this blog or visit a Toilet ! 

April Fool Cheers ! 

aprilRashmi Talwar

Honestly April 1st has something queer about it or can it be called gay! Provided, we stick to the lingo of just-a-decade  past. Coz, in the present age, gay and queer would both be construed as straight or with same-sex twisted leanings, unlike the gay’s dictionary meaning simply -cherry and queer meaning odd.

Please don’t drag my father’s birthday in this. He was a disciplinarian as also an open minded, adventurer. Much as I would  find it crass to crack an April fool prank by the dawn of the first day of April owing to it being the sacred day of my Papa’s Birthday, but by late afternoon, my resolve would inevitable be crushed as my hibernating talents of a prankster, would emerge out of their forced burial.

This time, though, people on my FaceBook list who profess to be my friends and relatives were tested to attend my mourning ceremony. No I had  not ‘expired’ (like a bank cheque) completely,  just yet, but have supposedly become a  wannabe ‘passed away’.

So here I started to count how many would sincerely appear for myshokh ceremony or bereaving hour or the ‘chautha’ ‘as Hindus call the ‘prayers-for-the-dead’ after immersion of ashes in Haridwar or  Bal-Ganga.

I knew some people would be shocked and reprimand me, but, sincerely, my joke was very serious, so the search could not be abandoned by mere anticipated scowls or scoldings .

 

The post on Facebook  went like —–“Beauties and Handsomes of FB … Kal (tomorrow) I am leaving hopefully for Heaven ( or Hell !) I don’t know … There’s no Facebooking or Twitter or email or WATS- UPP there..(.wink emoticon). Might be away for the time I enter a new Soul… till then…. Remember me with smiles, giggles, laughter and Happiness And —-Be good !…. I shall be watching you from Above !! … And all those Fakes will be rewarded who think life is a cake walk and there’s nothing wrong with me !! ( smile emoticon)”  .

 

Believe me there were 68 likes on the subject of my anticipated death. Some of them admonished me on this silliest, stupid, prank and there were others who ventured a reply – ‘April Fool, Hai Na’ . Still others thought I was in a suicidal mood and rang up my daughter – “Is your mom ok? Jao dekho kia hua hai unhe.” My daughter was flabbergasted and asked me rather politely what did I ‘now’ post on my facebook status that four friends of hers had already called and one had inboxed her a message to be with me in this hour of supposed  melancholy.

Now this had turned into a serious research project.

Babita Narang Kochar wrote in my inbox “I hope it was joke or r u in some trouble? Please feel free to share with me . I may help,” and promptly vanished from FB. Ghost ! Ghost ! I practiced soundlessly after her vanishing act. After all there would be much more ghastly mists up there. I presumed she was a fellow friendly ghost, only trying to familiarize and play buddy buddy with  me.

Akhilesh Misra an opinion writer was aghast and indignantly wrote “What is this?” Sharad Tripathi pleaded from Lucknow to call it an April Fool joke and admonished never to play such a joke. Abrar Hussain, a senior officer in the  J&K state Electricity department, asked,  what was wrong with me.(He expected the usual Power failure, that leads to Marr-gaye! Mitt-Gaye! protests in fragile Kashmir!).

MP Singh,  connected with organ donation organization ,  thought he might get a new brain, for my transplant   and wrote –“ It ( post ) cannot be liked! This type of joke is never expected from such a mature person.” and to tone down, added-“Please don’t mind madam.” .

Shamsher B Singh, a former journalistic colleague and friend, softly reprimanded as if to a child “mana aaj April fool day hai par mazak kuchh aur bhi ho sakta tha. Please reconsider ur decision.”  (Admitted that today is April fool’s Day but jokes could be something else too) And added soon after -‘Hume malum hai apke post ki haqueekat lekin, dil ko behlane ke liye khyal achha hai ! ‘ (We know the reality of your post, but to amuse oneself, the idea is good )

By the fourth comment, an hour or two later the post was exposed completely  as an  April Fool joke .

Autar Mota, a fabulous writer on Kashmir’s tangible and intangible heritage who never misses a chance to tag me in each of his brilliant posts, simply wrote – “April Fool”  I am anticipating he must have written this with his fingers crossed .

Suneet Madaan, a class website designer, worryingly posted“ Rashmi, do you need company?”

Bansilal Kuchroo, a longing, veteran soul who feels that after losing ones lands in  Kashmir,  nothing more drastic could befall him,  wrote in sadness “I am a real FOOL so I believe all.” He really jerked the tear glands and succeeded to shame me. To sadden a person, who is already dealing with the separation from his lands for decades and longing to touch ground zero, indeed mortified me. However comments continued to pour in.

Islamabad based Indo Pak fellow peace votary, Zahoor Ahmed announced –‘Aje tohanu jan nain dena’(We won’t let you go, just yet !) Made me wonder whether he will create chicken tikkas or gurdey- Katurey –  a speciality of Lahore – Before he lets a portion of me go to the skies.

Few dainty ones followed the comment strip with Amnah Khalid, of ‘Save daughter, Save nation’ campaign fame . Who used her light flouncy tone to write –“ Are u going to a Spa or China or North Korea?? !!” She must have surely dealt with looneys who raised false alarms and had a wit or two ready  with retorts to gun me.

Sheikh farooq Ahmed – a hotelier whose intention apparently seemed to be  to follow me to the travel journey into space probably looking for tourists clientage, gurglingly wrote  — “Enjoy there,… we will be reaching soon!!” as if I was going to a casino in Los Angeles!

Saeed Ahmed a self- professed lover of ‘mad’ who  enjoys ‘schools of fools and illiterates’, in his cherry tone   cheered me off with –“See you there!”. I could imagine him waving his hand and blowing good wishes for a safe journey.

While Arun Gaur,  a fellow Amritsari, brushed aside my speculations of Heaven and Hell and firmly stated – ‘Wat nonsense ! U will always go 2 heavens’ and added ‘ just try once”.

A fellow journalist Bindu Singh, was effusive –“ Love u n hugs…Rashmi,…. Pl…. Dear….. Do not break my heart  (pierced arrow heart emoticon),  its as delicate as u r…. Sweetie…. Stay blessed…..( a wide smile, a smile, a heart with stars and a whistling heart emoticons ).  I raised my hands in prayer, atleast someone displayed some good etiquettes!

Social worker and activist Shabnam Hashmi rung the alarm with –“ Rashmi Talwar please call if there is a crises and this is not an April 1 prank. Requesting Rashmi’s personal friends who have her number to call her to ensure things are fine.” She must have surely seen a number of such realtime  looney cases.

Neeta Tripathi, an office bearer of  congress party’s grievances cell in Mumbai  could not stand the jest , lest, she said –“Rashmi,  tum bhi na. aisa mazak acha nahi haii”(this is not a good joke ).

A Manager at  ITC Welcome Group of hotels and businessman in Tourism sector of J&K calling himself IIqaa Tours  called out  loud –“There may not be twitter, Whatsapp or other services, but perhaps telepathy…” and made me feel like a crystal ball running after me for the vital tele link.

Yoginder Nath Tikoo, a Peru,  based Kashmiri who once worked in a Spanish company had this advice –“Visit my Tea Shop for a quick, crispy samosa plz.” as if his stall was located at the entry of gates of hell or heaven  and I would need some refreshment,  post the exhausting journey from Earth.

Veenu Kadd, restaurateur and  my good friend in Amritsar … hit it with a simple –“April fool banaya”

Krishna Kumar D Paval – guessed ‘So, Are u going to Srinagar ?’This was promptly picked up by Dr Naresh Chawla , who lost no time in doing a quick post-mortem and concluding  within a span of an hour –“ I think she is visiting Srinagar.. So read her status again… its Heaven..she said, hell- bcoz floods are dere.. its at a height so watching from above!!” I concluded he surely was a good doctor cum  lawyer rolled into one.

My good friend and RTI activist from Delhi Daljeet Singh who has often peered at  my ‘queer’ posts, blurted out -“ Afeem acchhi thi.  Thodhi jyada lai layi lagdee.” (Drug overdose !)

Anoop Lather a lawyer and a political activist from Kurukshetra the land of the great war, seemed to have  put up a board – “Please no such Pranks.” It sounded like Bugle announcing –“No Toilets in sky!”

Roopa Ghosh a quick witted senior school mate snapped –“Talk to us about the weather from there !  ” I guess she knew her school mates well enough.

RK Arora seems to have a fool –proof source there and informed me –“For the first time being there is no vacancy ..in Heaven or Hell .” Guess I should be prepared to languish in the long  ration queue.

Vijendra Rawat showed me  a wine glass seeming to call  a toast  for the onwards journey. Avi whom I know as a fabulous mimic of a Kashmiri wazu and a great cook, all other talents aside, decided to suggest to take my surname ‘Talwar’ everywhere when I go on ‘the’ journey. Yes Avi just like the tools of Mimicry you carry everywhere, I shall take the tool of war with me. Salutes !

Gurmeet Anand, a witty whack himself is strangely annoyed for ‘selecting  ‘them’ to make  fools,’ made me think,  I wish I had a choice to search for the right kind of candidates for my irrational pranks. Canada based Manju Sharma, who is into diamonds business warmly cooed so lovingly “God-Luck !”.

How can PM Modi be missed in any conversation at present, that takes place on the Indian Terra ferma . Jeevan Preet Singh or Jack Kairon promptly asks — “Leaving on Modi’s Bullet train?” after all Kairon  is a lawyer who always is  on a lookout for issues involving litigations –For supposing I fell off the train! .

Mahender Singh cautions me against going to Earth’s paradise Kashmir and says the Heaven there has turned to Hell. ‘Hell or Heaven, Kashmir is Kashmir’! I retort.
Meantime Journalist Narinderpal butts in “We have people in Heaven and Hell with fake IDs”. As if I am gonna expose a trillion dollar scam in a multi sting operation wearing spy cameras in the pockets of my soul. “I don’t want any tehalkas with me for company Mr Narinder Pal Phaajee,” I tell him.

 

Awww my friends know me too well so Neeta asked –“Haw ! (mouth-open)  Kahan chali ..Srinagar ?” I can imagine her eyes wide and her lower lip pulled-in locked with teeth in a tight grasp, as she tried to wish this deathtrap away. Another good friend Indu Aurora assuming that I was going to Kashmir advised – Rashmi, Heaven has become Hell once again after September. God bless ones who were struck by this calamity . Take care and God be with you all.”

A Pakistan based motor company’s manager Tanvir Ahmed Siddiqui  commented –“Excuse Me…would You… Hang On Please?” As If I was holding a noose around my neck .. and wanted to snap -‘Oh No,  Puleez!  Let me quietly & painlessly  attain die-hood’.

Balvinder Singh, a Heritage conservator and friend couldn’t hold any longer and blurted “Ki ho gaya?” wondering which ancient wall has fallen upon me. While a HC lawyer prayed –“Be with us always” . Am I omniscient, I thought for a minute.

A former bureaucrat with Jammu & Kashmir government Ramesh Mehta checkmated  with a smiley–“ Waiting for your soul to return on April 1st Next”

Amrit Mannan from Amritsar didn’t believe it was the first of April joke or joker.

Kirit Desai a former bureaucrat put is succinctly – “ A day is never enough for such an auspicious journey where the Moon , stars and the mighty Sun aligns for a day to fool everyone. Have a good one ” And Vee Kay Sharma a senior journalist wrote –“ Don’t worry, on earth we have Facebook and Twitter, But up there , there is Fake book and Bleeder and the  Third eye to peep and see what is happening on the Ground floor.”  And DK Sharma just laughed Ha Ha April fool .

What absolutely zapped me was who would share such a innocuous post but someone indeed did. It was Atul Mehra a known artist of the city who  strangely commented –“So True” . Atul is surely gonna be the next one to be crucified like me . Today I went to an exhibition and several of my friends made a face and reminded me of the April fool post and said they hated it. Well, So be it .

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Sorry, But I couldn’t resist writing this. Please read it very objectively 

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