Friday, August 19, 2011

Aftermath



View from rooftop a few months after years 2008 Amarnath Land transfer Syapa.  Febuary 2009.

War drums

'Bhaiya, you won't believe what we did today. It was such a riot,' my little cousin sister excitedly informed me over phone. Hearing this, I expected her to tell me how she and her younger sister pulled a fast one on someone, their latest adventure in mischief. As she started to tell me the story, as I laughed, a  feeling of deja vu gripped me, a familiar sinking feeling, something akin to sadness.

'It was evening. We were on the rooftop, reading out books. Suddenly, we heard distant shrill metallic sounds, like some people beating steel plates. Soon the sound got louder, got nearer. Other people had picked up the call. The sound was now everywhere. It was party time. So we too got our self a thali, a chamach and joined in the party.'

People were beating utensils as a form of solidarity with cause, in protest. So my little sisters too had taken part in it, the agitation. And they were not alone. She went on to tell me how neigbours would visit our house looking for my Uncle, seeking attendance of at least one family member in the daily rally. The rallying call apparently was: 'Pandit Ji, this is for you too. All of your loss. No more loss. Now we stand. Together.' My Uncle went along a couple of times, but most of the times only Rotis rolled out by my aunt and grandmother went out to the agitators.

My cousin who was back then in 8th Standard, ended her story on an even happier note, 'Do you know we haven't been to the school for about two month?'

We walk along a line on Möbius strip of time and memories.

Back in 1990, I was in 3rd Standard and lost an academic year because schools in the small city of Jammu had no space for hordes of new "migrant" kids arriving from Kashmir. And once I got admission, I again sat through a class that I had already mastered. Back then, I realized school could be a violent place. Unlike schools in Kashmir, school violence in Jammu was epidemic. Every second day, you could watch someone have his skull smashed by a brick, every third day you could hear about some student getting knifed, and every forth day was a holiday or a half-day due to bomb blasts. Post a bomb-blast came shutdown, bandh and a long walk back from school to a one roomed rented place called home. Maybe I exaggerate, but then my memory association with events of those early years works in a way that may someday make sense to someone who grew up in blast ravaged Karachi or Lahore or Islamabad of year 2010, or any blast prone area of any era.

Television premiere of Chalbaaz on Doordarshan, day the deadliest Matador blast happened. I  imagined a snub nosed green matador, a muknas. Everyone of it must have been listening to the 4-tracked stereophonic 'welcome to Jammu' anthem, 'Dil Diwana Bin Sajna kay Manay Na'. It must have been a usual hot day and every one in the bus must have been wet with sweating. Thinking of heat and wetness of others, someone must have sat near the seat next to the missing door, the conductor seat. Just below the seat, next to the cranky speaker, any one could place the bomb. It could be anywhere and everywhere. Release of Karan Arjun, blast in Apsara theater. Three days after Republic day blast, a head of a victim found on the rooftop of government apartments next to Bakshi Stadium. Blast at Raghunath temple, three school mates cut shot their 'school-bunk' adventure, sneak back to class room laughing, they were sitting only a tea stall away from the blast site, they thought it was a tyre-burst. Listening to tyre-burst, sitting on a wooden bench scrawled with 'Poonam+Nikhil', I was hoping it was a bomb blast, and praying the school goes off. Reading messages in buses about 'Agyat Vastu' and finding them funny. Hearing stoic announcements in Metro about 'Unknown Objects, radios, transistors ', I assume we are already well trained, we are ready for what is coming, 'unknown', trained for life by death.

I was in Jammu a couple of months later. Things were back to what is deemed normal. Happenings of previous few months had left little remains, only a 'Andolan' graffiti here and there, and echos. At  home, the Gujjar milkman had picked a new habit of frequently ending sentences with, 'You people were right. They are wrong.' He must have been repeating it, having himself heard for last couple of months now. Old Massi, our Gujjar neighbour was still looking after her growing household and house, number by number, floor by floor, sq ft by sq ft. Her progenies were now running a playschool-cum-creche, and one of her grand-daughters was now a Dentist. Her two grand-sons from her daughter too didn't turn out too bad. When the kids were young, Massi got then a Mudarris, a Koran teacher. The boys grovelled, recited back, cried, recited back, picked their nose, recited back, ran helter skelter, recited aloud. Massi, the designate observer of their afternoon study session, profusely apologizing to the teacher would usually get them by their ear and back in front of him. But some days she too found their antics funny and would laugh her guts out. Funny faces behind teacher's back is always funny. Now these kids had have grown up. Although I suspect their grades in school were still low, their politeness score had gone high. 'Kab aaye Bhaiya!Aur...' an infrequent visitor never gets unacknowledged. Massi seemed content, content enough for you to imagine her offering a grey teeth blaring smile carrying a heap of fresh green grass on her head for the young goat tied outside her kitchen, her hair henna-dyed hair, burnt brown, peeking from the corner of a fluorescent pink dupatta covering her head, held in place by her one hand, the other hand carrying a dhrati.

'So, who did you vote for?'
'BJP, of course.' My Uncle answered, a bit surprised at the stupidity of my question.
'And so did everyone from our family, including you.' He added.

View from the roof was tinted saffron. There was a BJP flag fluttering on the roof of my Jammu house. There were flags fluttering from the rooftop of every second house. I started to open the knots of the threads that tied the flag firmly to a television antenna.

Later back in Delhi, when the results of the election came, I was in for a surprise. BJP had the seat lost from my area. 

Aftermath.

'It's all funny business. I remember when I was a kid, this one time I had a big fight with my father. He had voted for Congress. And I was a BJP kid. He reason he gave was that the guy he selected had done lot of good work in the area. I would have none of it. BJP back then was the best thing that could ever happen to a  school going kid. BJP was the Chutti Party.'

'Chutti Uncle,' I inadvertently interrupted my Marwari friend's monologue triggered by my stupored monologue. I was back in Delhi talking about my experience with two of my friends.

'What?'

He didn't get it. There's no reason why he should.

'Nothing. Continue. Continue.

'Listen, Kashmiri. So BJP was naturally the greatest party in the world for me. Every second day they were on street enforcing ye Bandh, wo Bandh. So no school. And on top of it, they were going to build The temple. They were alive, electric, like tube light, other dead or old, like Bajaj Bulb. All shiny. Apparently that wasn't enough for my father. So we fought. I may even have been a bit embarrassed of his action. It was a crazy time. I now see his point. I was too young to understand all this back then. He has worked hard all his life. Coming from a village and making a life in this city.'


Every once in a while, my friend goes back to visit his village, a place called Behal in Rajasthan. His ancestors were village grocers.  They have a family temple in the village. They still have some land holding, taken care of by local guys tied to his family for generations. Poor local guys who in death are mourned like a death in the family.


'At least you guys get to visit your village as and when you like. You have a place to go back to. In our case...'

'In your case what? Don't start again. What is your case? You too are here right now drinking beer. Happy. Listening to some 'Bhawgwan knows what' song by a Chinki band.'

'It's a Diamonds and Rust. Baez. Manipur.'

 'Talking nonsense. I think BJP still is great. Everyone in my family votes for it. Everyone once in a while we need to push the chain and flush the system. They are do'er while others are all duffers. Talk and more talk.'

My other Marwari friend finally had had enough of our drunk talk. A distant cousin of my monologue buddy, he too traces his origin to Behal, only his ancestors moved to Jorhat near Guwahati in Assam where they have land holding leased out to companies for years. His family moved to Delhi when he was a kid because of ULFA condition but mostly because of his then, strangely enough, Asthma condition. Why would anyone move to Delhi to cure Asthma? I once tried to get an answer but he ended up talking about ULFA. For every JKLF story that I would come up with, he would come up with a ULFA story. I knew what was coming. He too wanted to be listened.

'You think you have seen everything. How do you thing ULFA lost its teeth? My father knew all the guys who went on to be local ULFA leaders. It was all business. This one time...'


By the end of the year, friend of mine moved back to Guwahati where he now sells iron at almost thrice the profit margin at which my Marwari friend is able to sell in Delhi.

I understand the math.

-0-
Photograph was taken using the camera lent out to me by my friend from Jorhat. This was my first D-SLR camera.

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