Thursday, November 5, 2009

Kashmir as they see it | BASIM AMIN

Copied innocently from


He is shrouded in a long “phiran” and the traditional cap. He sits outside his mud house where he takes long deliberate sips of “Noon Chai” from that typica

l round cup.

His fellow is busy setting up the strange “Jajeer” by blowing gallons of air into it, making all sorts of weird noises. He is “Gaffar-Kak”. He is a stereotype Kashmiri. A Kashmiri that the outside world knows – for that is the way he is portrayed.

The electronic media undoubtedly has a great role in shaping up the views and opinions of people regarding everything.

Most of the visuals circulated the world over about Kashmir have time and again shown “Gaffar-Kak” sipping the same cup of “noon chai” while his fellow continues to set up the same “Jajeer”. This ambiguity, as expected, has had bizarre implications. While a good percentage of people are well aware of Kashmir in its true flavour, there exist these eerie people as well, who think of Kashmir as a far flung village stuffed with not so literate people possibly earning their livelihood by pushing bulls and ploughing fields. The unwarranted unawareness that people sometimes exhibit about Kashmir leaves you flabbergasted.

I still remember this incident while I was putting up at a more “reputed” town in India. A Kashmiri friend of mine was proudly boasting to his colleague about Kashmir. “You know Apples; the ones you sell with stickers on them saying ‘OK TESTED’; the ones you sell for 20 rupees each. They are so abundant in Kashmir that you will find them scattered in gutters!” He went on and on about all the things and finally hit cricket! “Kashmiris are fanatic about cricket. You know? We are excellent at it. You will find people playing cricket everywhere day in and day out.”The colleague was somehow not ready to buy this story. “I don’t quite understand….How can you play cricket in Kashmir? How is it possible? I mean, does the ball not roll down everytime you hit it????” Poor fellow, all this time he was under the impression that Kashmir was a small town located on the slope of some undistinguished hill. “It is a valley dear, remember. A valley is surrounded by those things, the mountains, and then you have thousands of acres of level ground in between.” While this kind of unawareness puts you off, it is very prevalent. Many of my friends actually managed to ask me the silliest question ever, “Do we need a passport to go to Kashmir???”

It comes as an absolute shock to people like these when they finally get to visit the “Jannat-e-Benazir”. Quite recently I met such a group from Mumbai. The group had arrived at Srinagar just a couple of hours ago. It was but obvious from their expressions that they were mesmerized, to say the least, by the sublime view, the Dal Lake had to offer. Poor guys, they clearly were getting a lot more than they could have ever expected. I felt a titillating pleasure inside me as I saw my Kashmir ravish them to bits. I asked one of them rather sardonically, “Hey uncle…How is the view?” He was lost for words, “It`s…It`s good, great…In fact, I have never seen anything like this before!” He was quite a jovial guy. We talked for some more time before he asked me a question that struck me as a little awkward, “Where are you from?” I replied, “I am a native. I am from Srinagar.” Somehow he found it hard to swallow so he asked again, “You mean you are from Srinagar?” I said, “Yes, of course.” It took me nothing less than a couple of more assertions to make him absorb the fact. We talked about the weather and the market and the situation and just about everything else before he suddenly interrupted me again, “Are you sure you are from Srinagar?” I could take no more. I shot back, “Why is it so hard to digest UNKAL?” He hesitated a little but then broke out, “I had a totally different image of Kashmiris in my mind. I could never imagine, even in the wildest of my dreams, a Kashmiri speaking English!” I smiled as I immediately understood that he was referring to our good old “Gaffar-Kak”. I said in a typical Kashmiri accent, “Welcome to Kashmir UNKAL. You will definitely return a changed man!”

As changed men they do return, only that there are only a diminutive number of them. Of the oceans of people out there, it`s only a fraction that gets to visit Kashmir and come face to face with – its reality –the charisma of its vibrant colors and the tranquility of its unending meadows; the warmth of the hearts of its people and the tales of its unsung heroes . Others, more often than not, recognize the valley only by the masquerade of strife, turmoil and sometimes beauty.