Fearing the Calendar

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Arshid Malik

As the year 2015 slipped into 2016, around midnight I was minutely observing the ornamented traditional Kashmiri hookah or “Jejeer” sitting atop my book rack. The “Jejeer”, I contemplated, is so symbolic of Kashmir and its people. With this thought crossing my mind I visualized an old man seated numbly on the banks of river Jhelum puffing smoke out of a hookah placed almost between his legs.

Every puff of smoke he chugged out tore through the fresh air slitting it into undefined territories and sometimes ambiguous faces that would vaporize as the smoke dissipated with gentle strokes of wind blowing off the Jhelum. This scene so grew on my mind that it generated another part-fictional actuality, that of times gone by, in which Kashmir was a hookah puffed at by the political elite of India, Pakistan and leaders of Jammu and Kashmir. And the ephemeral puffs of smoke, the territories and faces of the people, disappearing into thin air as if they never existed.

At the beginning of 2015, Kashmir was grappling with after-floods situation and counting on relief and aid packages from Delhi. But the Kashmiri grit and attitude of perseverance was more the obviously prominent. People built their downed homes, in the biting cold of the winters, despite not having received any substantial assistance from Modi government.

Kashmir, by all standards was potentially “warm” despite the chill of the first few months of the year. As the year diluted into the second quarter, things turned murky again and a different “flood”, a political one, immersed the Kashmiri people. It was the alliance of the regional People’s Political Party with the Bhartiya Janata Party that opened the “floodgates” for misery of the people of Kashmir.

The PDP patron started smoking the pertinent hookah of the BJP while ignoring the fact that the smoke they levitated was destabilizing Kashmir. The consistent puffs that the political elite took off the union hookah turned things hazy down here and soon a summer that was meant to be turned “cold”.

Soon there was widespread unrest in Kashmir while the smoke emanating out of the PDP’s chugging at the “Jejeer” took a communal hue. The puffs of smoke assumed the shape of the cow while some faces disappeared as the smoke mingled with dirty political air. The assumed agenda of the PDP-BJP coalition for the growth and development of Jammu and Kashmir also vanished with whiffs of political uncertainty started blowing once again. It was a quagmire thereof.

In the midst of this, the separatist leadership sought the “spirit” of the youth to drive the agenda of “free Kashmir” ahead. The hard-core elite of the separatist leadership was evidently in the mood to puff at the “Jejeer” called Kashmir and wanted to burn the “young” as “coals” to stoke the fire. The youth, already belligerently disappointed with their collapsing dreams, jumped in as the separatist leadership chugged at the hookah. More faces appeared and then disappeared as wafts of smoke carried people into yet another era of oblivion.

While the leaders in Kashmir were puffing off their consequent hookahs, the people of Kashmir too turned their faces away from the ground realities and started blowing their own hookahs. Pertinently, the people have a collective mind and this collective mind makes a marked difference in what goes on beyond petty politics. It concerns the general behaviour of the people towards the environment, diligence at work, creativity and a sense of innovation at the local level, and a plethora of social causes that stand a chance of betterment if people, common people, establish their agendas as a “people” and turn into a progressive driving force rather than a passive, dejected and numb hookah puffing lot.

Time is a relative concept. A year passing into another is mere “calenderish”. Nothing actually changes overnight as we walk, sleep, talk or celebrate into a new year. It is just another day and a day won’t change Kashmir or for that matter the world. A better Kashmir will appear irrespective of its ties to time given that we stop chugging at our own pots and align to grow as a nation. We should not fear the calendar.

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