Kashmir’s recurring motif: Anything could happen anytime

Eight people were killed in Srinagar last week. It is as if the town is afraid of slipping into normalcy. And, so, it must return once again to that by now familiar state of suspended animation

Dal Lake
Really, the thing about Kashmir, with the mountains and lakes and the army and the hospitality and the killings, all build toward a place and a people in suspended animation: anything could happen anytime. Pic: PTI

Last week, eight people were killed in Kashmir, most of them in Srinagar. These included a school teacher from the Sikh community, a Pandit running a medical store for long downtown, and a young man from Bihar, selling ‘golgappas’. That one must identify the deceased by his or her community explains a certain kind of history of political violence unique to India. A little-known terrorist group, The Resistance Front (TRF), claimed responsibility for the ugly handiwork.

A fortnight ago, I was in Srinagar. It was warm, and but for one evening of cloudburst, the sun was clear and out all day. Tourists jammed hotel foyers. Almost all the hotels on the Boulevard, the narrow road that skirts a part of the Dal, had high occupancy. The houseboats seemed to be doing reasonable business. The usual picnic spots in Chashme Sahi, Nishat Bagh, and Shalimar Gardens thronged with garrulous Gujaratis and Mumbaikars. In Lal Chowk, the market centre of the town, business seemed brisk.

It is all so normal, I had thought, looking at two kids, stripping themselves to their underwear, and jumping into the fountains at Shalimar glittering in the sun.

A wrong thought, my driver, Tariq Khan, said: anything can happen anytime; anytime at all. He was worried for his children, a son and a daughter, he said. Later, I met his son, a handsome, bright boy in his first college year. In one of our rounds, the boy waited for us to pick him up near the newly opened Nawas Restaurant, which served a mean Rista (meatballs in spicy, thin gravy) at Khayyam Chowk, a rather congested and squalid part of the city.

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The young man said he wanted to get a job soon and settle down in Srinagar only; he said he knew what sacrifices his parents were making for him and his sister, and wanted to take care of them as soon as he could. His mother, in the back seat, smiled happily, looking out of the window. Anything can happen any time, Tarib Khan only repeated in caution. They were going to drop me at my hotel and go on to the market to buy some clothes for the kids.

A few weeks ago, in the presence of the Bollywood star, Aamir Khan, and other celebrities, the Administration had announced a new film policy that allowed for a subsidy of up to Rs 5 crore to kick-start the cinema industry in Kashmir. This was meant to benefit local artistes in Kashmir and to gradually generate mass employment. The Kashmir Tourism and Culture Department has already initiated dozens of cultural events to promote tourism.

Also read: From Socrates to Dabholkar: Let us allow reason to flourish

That is on the one hand. On the other, there is always discontent and unhappiness simmering. The Union Territory’s intelligentsia, across communities, do not trust the motives of the Administration, headed by the Lieutenant Governor. A veteran editor in Srinagar told me, looking resigned to his many conflicts, ‘even the chaos here are manufactured. We just don’t know what’s going on.’

A brilliant, young intellectual, whose worries included his high cholesterol levels (and so he would walk and never catch a three or four-wheeler) said, everyone was being spied all the time. I had thought though there were fewer surveillance cameras in public places than in Delhi or Kerala. But the Army and police presences were solid, unmissable. Except that quite a few shouldered their weapons and browsed their cells, leaning against empty doorframes of old buildings blown and peeled by bomb attacks from another century.

Where’s all the money going, I would think, walking past the ruins. The national media regularly puts out reports that developmental funds in Kashmir are to the order of thousands of crores. Well, it’s a long story, my young intellectual friend said, but he did not explain. Maybe it’s too long —even if the same — story of India’s development in general, I had thought, as we walked, trying to bring our cholesterol levels down.

Also read: Five killings in 48 hours rock Kashmir, shatter deceptive calm

Really, the thing about Kashmir, with the mountains and lakes and the army and the hospitality and the killings, all build toward a place and a people in suspended animation: anything could happen anytime, as Tariq Khan said. The most ordinary thing is potent with eruptibility, and, therefore, unreal. Anytime a thing as static and stoic as a stone could assume the dynamic death dimensions of a missile.

Now that the place has erupted again, the planned events would be on hold at least for a while, and the normalization efforts, stymied. The governor, Manoj Sinha, has promised justice to the victims. The odd thing in Kashmir is that it specializes in not just victims; but also in victims of the victims. A kind of endless double helicon. Stalin said that the death of one man is a tragedy, but the death of millions is a statistic. True. But each bullet buried in a body is still dipped in its share of tears.

(CP Surendran’s novel ‘One Love And The Many Lives of Osip B’, published by Niyogi Books, is now available on leading stores across India and on Amazon)

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