Faceless Souls

Enam Lone

A couple of weeks ago, on a sunny Monday morning, I was just going through that day’s newspaper while I sat sandwiched between 5 others, on the backseat of the 9 AM SRTC bus. There were people allover in the bus. Still the conductor would yell at the top of his voice, “Srinagar non-stop”.

I had been of the opinion that it was only typical of private bus conductors to flock people into their vehicles like cattle, closely air-tightening every fine space, by packaging and managing the directions the passengers would face so as to maximize the capacity inside those “mobile human-stables”.

Anyway, the driver made half-hearted efforts at lowering his right foot. It was ten minutes since he had started the engine, and we were yet to gain his desired “escape velocity”.

Or maybe he was warming up to take off like an Airbus – on a curved runway however. People’s complaints seemed to dissolve in thin air before they could reach his ears. Those typical Kashmiri style ironic complaints, among them the all time famous punch line, “kyasa raedd chhukh chalaavan?”

I was reading a newspaper where a headline caught my attention. The CM had said something regarding the landlocked status of Kashmir and how it was enough of a reason for the impossibility of an independent state solution. “Our resources are limited.”

Right then a non-local kid (Bihar) got onto the bus and began ranting his “pravachan”. If our resources were limited, I thought, what is this kid doing here? Must not he go and look for some resources in his own resource-rich peninsula? I’ve always had qualms about their presence in Kashmir. It looks like a “booming economy” is begging of a so-called landlocked resource-deficient mountainous piece of land to donate some emeralds from within the bosom of Pir Panchal.

I, like so many others, always ask a seemingly logical (but politically stupid) question, “This country spends loads of things on maintenance of their military presence in Kashmir and the North East. What if they divert a share of it towards helping their downtrodden and poor populace?”

Of course I don’t know the intricacies of their policies. I have never been a politics student. Not even remotely. I just get those fits of patency that everyone gets every now and then. Considering they house one-third of World’s poor (Telegraph, 18 April 2013).

Meanwhile my brain’s excursions were interrupted by the kid as he traversed the length of the bus and came up to us. He’d managed to collect some coins, with his insistent way of asking. I could see the smudge of pity and desperation in his eyes. And I forgot his national identity. Poverty, after all, doesn’t look at your religion, race or demography before striking. It’s a random function kind of thing, choosing its variables randomly. And it comes with a conscience refresher, reminding the onlookers of how bad things can get for anyone, anytime.

As the bus, one of the few “working” government services, picked up speed, I was put into yet another dilemma. Regarding how we, as a nation under subjection, should view the oppressor’s poor. Or ‘gangs of beggars’ to be more precise! For they remind us of our ‘relation’ with them on one hand, while their state of affairs dilutes the contents of this reminder on the other.

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