Life in Kashmir

No mobs, no stones, no bullets. Except those that we overlay reality from an imagination moulded by a world that has found an eternal home in our unsuccessfully repressed paranoia. Exacerbated by the jawans peppering the landscape with guns on the ready or watchfully peering out of convoys of canvas covered trucks to shield its secrets from unnecessarily inquisitive eyes. A paranoia that imagines wild scenarios of hostage taking and wonders about the intent of every Kashmiri it encounters especially those that are keen to sell stuff, with a sweet persistence that would put the hounds from hell to shame. And there are hordes of us to sell to. Tourists eager to experience paradise on earth; the ethereal beauty of the silent mountains adorned by wisps of a reluctantly melting snow that morphs into a proudly raging milky river before the burdens imposed on it by humans and the intuitive knowledge that the ocean is near, tame it into a deceptive placidity; chasing winds that move mockingly through the straight laced unsmiling pines and firs and over the green expanses of rambling meadows to caress us with a surprising gentleness, soothing the harshness of the poorly mediated sun. All of which should have evoked an expansive joyfulness laced with a quiet reflection of our need to subsume this jannat with death and destruction. But, instead, seems to be drowned out by voices unable to contain their desire to immortalise themselves enjoying each moment for a posterity that fades as quickly as it is recorded.


Swathes of mercifully untamed green sweep like a benign virus across the valley climbing the steep slopes, merging with the fluffy pines begging to be hugged. Green is the highlight of many homes, reflecting off the roofs and sometimes the walls. Green is the camouflage worn by the army eager to blend in. Green is the colour of the religion that has established itself in dominion. Relegating other paths, to the mirage in the sky, to the displaced fringes. Green, then, is the seductive certainty of an even lusher paradise spread wide open for a select few. A certainty so compelling, it is worth killing and dying for.


Go north. And keep going north till the sometimes free floating anger, muttered at those that permanently monitor, is but a ghost that you may not have dreamt. Go north. And keep going north till the droves of tourist with their manic desires, which were also yours, have been left behind like a mercifully fading nightmare. Go north. And keep going north till the revulsion of garbage so mindlessly thrown transforms itself into dust, that hangs in the air reminding us of where we come from and will eventually become, forcing a circumspection that withdraws the about to disgorge hand. Go north. And keep going north till the black drapes that cover a fleeting beauty have been shorn to reveal a rosy fresh faced innocence that brings back a self conscious desire coursing through the body. Go north. And keep going north till the playful river finds an echo in your heart and all that binds you dissolves like the poison swallowed so magnanimously by Shiva. Go north. And keep going north till the sight of the gangs of the grime covered labourers from Bihar hammering away at the mountainside, powered by spice layered vegetables and coarse rotis, fill you with hope of a motorable road in the future. Go north. And keep going north till the shepherds that walk the terrain almost aimlessly, carrying all they own, make you question the sense of purpose that limits your life. Go north. And keep going north till the remnants of the faded trails of the old silk route, etched on the stony cliff walls arouse vividly raunchy fantasies. Go north. And keep going north till the green disappears and the mountains stand in their nakedness, unmasked, bearing their essence unashamedly, in the dispassionate compassion of the Bodhisatvas whose spirits roam freely in them. Willing for you to listen to the stories buried deep in your heart. Willing for your heart to reflect the different hues, resonate in the cracks and crevices and sensate with the textures they are made of. Go north. And keep going north till the stiffness of a death inducing monoculture is transformed into an uncertain symbolism that is yours to interpret. Go north. And keep going north till the burden of a tradition that has come down almost unchanged in time and from an even remoter mountainous place imbued with the mysterious, urges you to transcend it and earn your release from the cyclical, extrapolated from the seasons and the planetary movements.


The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy

This book weighs heavy, oppressively so, and not merely because it is big and further condensed through a close print (at least my version of it). But it is oppressive at many levels; in the stories it tells right from the start. Of the hijra outcast and the displacement of her gender through a freak of nature. Or of the woman and those associated with her caught in the Kashmiri conflict.

But for me it was also oppressive at other levels; symbolically as it strives to express the relentless oppressiveness of society and the state; at constantly having to hear Ms. Roy’s political views (which I resonate with) rather than those of the fictional characters, which is what I was hoping for so as to get a sense of nuance, another way of looking at what can only be seen as an endemic conflict; oppressed by the feeling that I have read/seen (as in a movie) these stories elsewhere already or have encountered the characters in other books/movies; feeling as if the entire story had a disheartening level of inauthenticity riding on the wings of the author’s ideology and what felt like an extremely non-Indian sensitivity; that what I am being burdened, just as the oppressed protagonists, by feelings and ideas that are difficult to resolve or have not been resolved by the author herself; that this is not so much a book that can expand my understanding as shrink it to the level of pain that is called life by the author; that the sometimes exquisite imagery, in the writing, instead of acting as a balm that reminds us the world can be beautiful too is swallowed by the oppression and pain from which there seems to be no release except maybe through a stop to reading this sadistic infliction.

Twice I had to put down the book to look for some relief, some respite from the feeling of annihilation and the resistance to it. Eventually I rushed through the end, mindlessly, which seemed to hold a reluctant token ray of hope in the form of the child.

But then maybe this is what AR wants us to experience. The relentless pain of the disenfranchised or those that live on the fringes of society or those that have been rejected (as Tilo had). And yet somehow refuse to give up on life or maybe life refuses to give up on them. But if that is the case then she has been successful.

The Devil Take Love – Sudhir Kakar

The author is a psychoanalyst and the book has been written through that lens. Building a tale of a poet based on the libido (sex drive) and the death drive.

Youth driven by the libido, and the feelings of omnipotence and eternity as it naturally always is. And life and the experience that it inflicts reminding us of its transitory nature. This juxtaposition of the libido and the death drive is also used to articulate the conflict between patriarchy and matriarchy, between pleasure and restraint, between law and an (un)easy morality and between the conscious and the unconscious. The world of duality.

But unfortunately there is no insight as one would expect from a psychoanalyst unless of course you have never been introduced to psychoanalytic ideas. Though what it has going for it is the meticulously built up picture of the India of those times.

Last Man in Tower – Aarvind Adiga

A novel by Aarvind Adiga

We are as, some depth psychologists have said, desiring machines. An idea that one finds within ancient Indian texts. An idea one can resonate with, if we turn our eyes inwards.

The city then when looked through this lens can be seen as a collective desiring machine. A sum total of all our fantasies. Of lack. For desire can only suggest a lack, a gap, an emptiness. Created. Collected. Learnt. Through our journey through life. Right from the day we were born when identity was formed through the gaze first of the mother and then of the extended world. The sense of boundary around that which is us and that which is not us. And the not us, when desired is the lack we suffer. Struggle against. As if there was only the infinite darkness of hell if we cease to do so. Or annihilation itself.

Man in a Tower then is a tale of this struggle. Between people who believe desire is fulfilled through what we have and those that believe it is expressed in freedom; freedom to defy, freedom to stay firm, freedom to be a bulwark against the winds of change. Even if it means ritualistic sacrifice through murder in the tradition that has been handed down through the centuries and has been codified and made a law in the phrase “the survival of the fittest”. Or death itself.

Change, however, is inexorable. It works on a logic all its own. It doesn’t care about values, and ideals, and freedom or any of the fantasies we live by. As some poet has eloquently put it, “The old order changeth giving way to new. And god fulfils himself in many ways lest one good custom should corrupt the world”. An idea that, today, we have captured in more omnipotent ways with cliches like “the right side of history”.

And so who you identify with, who you feel frustrated with, who do you feel sympathy for, and what you believe should happen or wish to happen, as you read this book, where you draw your boundary, will determine on which side of history you live.

Me, I like to think of myself as a realist.



Back to School

A walk down the corridors of nostalgia; from one end of my school to the other. A school that has renewed itself with the support of a few good ex-students with not just a fresh coat of paint but windowpanes where once were only gaping holes, full tiles which once were full of cracks, dormitories that are now neatly laid out and don’t seem to smell anymore, children that bathe 5 times a week and look it, photographs that once were correctly arranged by year and are now mangled to tease the brains of doddering old foggies to life, teachers that cannot use the rod no more, women teachers that do not wear skirts that can be looked up, food that proudly claims to have chicken as its staple diet, classes that are now divided to allow for more students, computer rooms and a library that reflect the changing times in both new skills that are needed and a different sense of aesthetics, the several eyes on the ceilings that watch like big brothers in a bid to satisfy the need of parents to create a safe environment for their children even though the world outside is anything but, the separation of classrooms from dormitories so that children can at last dream freely, and the assembly hall that has been resurrected from the flames that razed it to the ground, like the school mascot, the Phoenix, that rises from its ashes.

Memories oozed out from the under the paint and tiles, from the unchanged structures of the dormitories that had sucked in every past moment in its stones and bricks, from the sweaty kids that were returning from play, from the photographs that came to life with the attention we showered on them, from the class rooms that stood silent in the twilight, from the beds that creaked with every slight breeze, from the dhobi bags that were hung on pegs, from the cheering on the field as athletes won and stood proudly on the podium and from the echoes of hockey stick meeting backsides that were played back through the tunnels of time as we entered the principal’s office.

And through all these reminisces my tree stands still. Untouched. Real. Resolute. As if waiting for us to reoccupy our residues even as they moved around in its branches. My tree, that holds so many stories and so many secrets and so many fantasies that had no past to be shackled by or a tomorrow to contend with; of boys that took time off each day to free-hang like our ancestors.


Life in Lima –

Here attention is free floating. It wafts on the breeze gracing without prejudice. It shows no greed, clings to nothing and yet includes everything.

It seeps into the lovers eyes animating them
Covering them in a haze lest others intrude on their privacy.

It frolics along with the little girl on her roller skates
As she basks in the nervous pride of her parents.

It glides through the motions of the Tai-chi practitioners
As their chi ebbs and flows.

It hovers around the bee sucking life from a flower
Even as it germinates it.

It feasts on the nut the little squirrel nibbles at relentlessly
Even as its eyes dart all around in apprehension.

It alternates between the music and the children screaming
And weaves them both into the story of man.

It builds a haven from carefully collected twigs
For the bird to house its soon to be nestlings

It races across the sea like the seagull in flight
Retreating to the safety of land when overwhelmed by its vastness.

It leaves its residue in the eyes of the dead fish served up lazily by the sea.
As birds hungrily pick the carcass dry.

It shifts lucidly between dreams and fantasies and reality
Gently dismantling the scared beliefs that limit the mind

It courses thru the Shaman as he sings and dances his icaros
Artfully reconstructing our fragmented being.

For, as a wise man in India once said not so long ago; Attention is Love.

A view from the other side

For too long have we been in chains

Bound first by fear and then by shame

Reduced to a disbelief in our own claims

Our books speak of an ancient age

When we were brave and courageous

Fashioned by a thousand gods in their image

An age we lost to the mists of time

When came the hordes from beyond the line

With greed and lust their eyes did shine

Then came those as white as snow

First to trade and then to mock

A civilization far older with more to show

And when they had left

Dividing us in two

We were stuck with the secular’s lies

But now we have our messiah on top

He has promised us progress divine

A return to an age when we were all ONE

One god, one religion and one law

As decreed by Manu that man of lore

All traces of the other banished once more

We will rise now as one nation

And any that dares speak against be warned

For we will let loose the dogs of war