Thursday, 28 May 2009

Kashmir People 6

“Chachaji, everybody calls me Chachaji,” the manager of our houseboat on the Dal Lake tells me when I ask him his name. One of the first things he asks us is: “How do you find it here?” When we reply in unison, “Beautiful! Peaceful!” his response is quick and vehement, “It is. The media! It is all the media’s doing. Some incident will take place near the border and they will blow it up beyond proportion…” Later in the night, as I smoke sitting on the steps of the sit-out of the houseboat, he joins me. He shyly requests for a cigarette and sits with me smoking and watching the lights on the lake. He repeats his complaint about the sensationalism of the media. I agree with him. I tell him how every monsoon, after the deluge on July 26, 2005, the news channels park their cameras in the areas in Mumbai that have always flooded since I was a child, and make a big hue and cry about rains disrupting the life of Mumbai again… He smiles at my expression, “Areas that flood even when a dog pisses…” Chachaji has worked in Colaba in Mumbai, in Gujarat and in the Middle East in the bad times, “in the twenty years we lost”.

Kashmir People 5

Mushtaq Ahmed, “Write the caste name after the name,” he says, “Mir.” He is a horseman in Sonamarg. He doesn’t own the horse, he accompanies it. In the tourist season, Mushtaq reaches the Pony Union’s office in Sonamarg early in the morning. He takes his number and waits until his turn comes. Tied to his destiny are the destinies of the gumboot renters and sled-wallahs. The tourists can’t choose their gumboot rental shop. Mushtaq will lead them to the one whose number is tied to his. The sled-wallah , if you choose to hire his services, will pull you up the snow clad slope next to the two hundred-year old glacier and then sit in the front while you zip down at breakneck speed. The tourist season lasts three or four months. For the rest of the year, Mushtaq lives in his village and grows potatoes. Nothing else grows here.

Kashmir People 4

I am looking through the viewfinder of my camera wondering if the light is strong enough to take pictures when a voice accosts me from behind, “Take a picture of us as well janab!” Faiz Ahmed is a shepherd from Jammu valley. In the three summer months he brings his herd to Pehelgam. In a week’s time, he will proceed to Chandanwari, where he will offer his services as a porter to the pilgrims travelling to the holy caves of Amarnath. He likes being photographed and wonders if I can give him the one taken by me. The next morning, I am unable to find his camp.

Kashmir People 3

I come across Nagina as I walk the mountain roads of Pehelgam. She smiles at me and asks for ten rupees. I only have a fifty-rupee note in my wallet. I give it to her. She folds the note into a small wad with nervous fingers. I ask her if I can take her picture. She smiles and agrees. I ask her age. Three, she says. I put up three fingers and then five to see if she has got the numbers wrong. No, three, she insists. I ask her what she will do with the money. “Give it to my ammi.” She points out in the direction of a herd of sheep and says that she and her family are camped there. “Be sure to give it to your ammi,” I remind her as she skips away in the fading light.

Kashmir People 2

Abdulla, in his own words, is fifty, ten and five years old. He is in charge of the wood-fired water boiler at the hotel we stay. When the boiler runs out of hot water, unable to keep up with the bathing guests, he carries two buckets of steaming hot water from the hotel’s backyard through the kitchen, up the stairs to the first or second floor depending on which of guests is complaining loudest. “Poverty,” he shrugs, “I have children.” His hand stops a little above his knees to indicate the children’s ages. His wife and children stay in a village in Jammu valley while Abdulla rubs the smoke out of his eyes in Pehelgam. 

Kashmir People 1

Mushtaq Ahmed Hazari didn’t go to school. He lives in Old Srinagar, and along with his brothers, runs a car rental service. He can organise any car for you, from a Tata Indica to a mini-bus. He is dismissive of the mountain people and warns us against their frauds. “Only two things are made in Kashmir, carpets and pashmina shawls. Everything else comes from Amritsar, so don’t waste your time,” he says. On the day we are to return, there is a general strike to commemorate some leader’s death anniversary. Mushtaq leaves his home in the old city at six in the morning and kills time in a garden until nine before coming to pick us up. After he has dropped us to the airport, he says, he will hang around in the new city until ten in the night. In the bad times, Mushtaq has spent two days on water and biscuits. 

Monday, 25 May 2009

Kashmir Visit. Visit Kashmir.

I have just returned from a ten-day holiday in Kashmir. Still going through the pictures and still sifting the impressions. There is so much to write, but let me just say that, 20 years of trouble later, Kashmir is safer than crossing the road in Mumbai. Go ahead, visit Kashmir. For the place, the food and for the people - all are truly wonderful.

Monday, 4 May 2009


It is always a nice feeling to start writing on a blank page. You type a few words. Then you are a little dissatisfied with what you have written. So you increase the line spacing. Then you type some more. Then you decrease the point size. A little more typing later, you go and change the font.

You work out so many diversions but can’t get yourself to use that decisive ‘Ctrl a’ command followed by hitting the ‘Del’ key. After a while you bite your lower lip and do just that. Then quickly, do the ‘Ctrl z’ thing and bring it all back.

Everything’s the same. The line spacing, the point size, the font – they are still disappointing.

You walk away. Smoke a cigarette. Get some coffee. Walk around aimlessly. Read the newspaper. Smoke one more. But there is a point beyond which you can’t push it away. You have to go back. You place your thumb firmly on ‘Ctrl’ and the middle finger on ‘w’. It’s done. The unblank page has vanished. The dirty grey background of a job unfinished stares at you. You stare back. In the silence of the night, the computer makes an indifferent hum. Later in the night you wake up dreaming of a vast and empty white room. A tiny speck of grey plods along in the whiteness.

You have a hangover in the morning but you haven’t had a drink the night before. And all of this is a whole load of shit that’s not good. Not even, ‘Not good enough’. Just, not good. All you have is a fantasy, of writing great stuff. Stuff that people will pay money to buy. And laugh when they read it, or cry or bite their nails, or simply think about their own life just a bit.