By Shah Faesal
It is very rarely that we get to know what people actually think of us, what is the gossip, and how we are remembered behind our back, that too while we are alive. Is it important to know this, well if the idea is to laugh, learn and introspect, then it certainly is!
So the other day, towards the end of a seminar at Kashmir University, an old man from the audience rushed towards me while we, the panellists, were being escorted for lunch. I waited for him, shook hands and tried to guess his lip movements, as the crowd and a loud closing-melody prevented me from hearing him clearly.
He took me to a side and said without thinking twice, “Doctor Sahib till now I had thought that you were appointed to IAS by India as part of a Sadhbhavana conspiracy, but today after listening to you I have changed my opinion”. He was blunt but very polite. So although I was taken aback, I pulled him closer and thanked him with a side-hug and a deliberate laughter. Had he given me a compliment or not, this didn’t cross my mind that time, but he had certainly got me thinking!
Few months back when I acted against some rogue elements in Education Department I was one day amused to see a hate-piece in a vernacular daily in which one sympathiser had again argued that I was in the current job not because of merit but due to benevolence of the Government of India. He even had evidence to prove that having never been a State topper in “lousiest” of the Board exams how could this son of a school-teacher have gone this far. Very valid arguments you see!
In a conflict zone it is normal to have agents, double-agents, props, puppets, point-men, and what not, so you cannot blame the man on street for heeding to conspiracy theories. And then over a period of time in public life, one learns to get used to criticism – “Genz Nuss” in Kashmiri – so on this one also I had a hearty laugh.
But the best one was when I visited a lawyer recently along with my cousin for getting my housing-loan papers done.
The lawyer had been talking to me over the phone but we had not met till then. Apparently, my cousin had forgotten to tell him that I was also coming along. So once we reached his home, he rather coldly received us in his Hamam, while putting to order some stamp-papers and loose-sheets littered all over the place.
In middle of the discussion about the case, he suddenly raised his head and asked my cousin, “where is that Juma German Director friend of yours?”, grinned and then continued tracing lines over a green-sheet stuck in the writing-board.
To avoid the embarrassment, my cousin pretended not having heard him but the Lawyer would not notice, and he persisted, “What revolution in Education is he under the influence of his Minister talking about? Why don’t you bring him here for a counselling session!”
While he continued to speak I was feeling as if a bonfire has been lit under my feet and my cousin was also taking cover, anxiously, running fingers in his hair and looking at me in disbelief. The lawyer ended his bitter sermon with a half smile to me. I smiled back.
For those who didn’t get the humour, Juma German is a famous comedy character popularised by veteran Kashmiri theatrist Nazir Josh and has become a metaphor or an “endearment” for anyone who does eccentric and stupid things.
So when he was finally told that the “Juma German” was in front of him, the lawyer had no place to hide his face. He wanted to swallow the whole air inside the room along with all the words he had spoken since.
He went quiet for a while. I saw droplets shining over his forehead, and then in a gesture of apology he insisted on a cup of “Lipton” tea. He watched me breaking a Kulcha with rather unwanted aggression but we pretended as if nothing had been said and heard.
I didn’t take an offence. He had just spoken his heart out and instead I felt lucky to have heard it myself. Who shows you the mirror on your face these days, no one.
In reality each one of us – the ordinary and the elite, the commoner and the holy-cow, the side-kick and the irreplaceable – all are subjected to same scorn and scrutiny, similar kind of criticism and ridicule, and in Kashmir a unique “Resch” also. What we think of ourselves may be completely out of tune with what the world thinks of us.
But while it is important to keep the eyes and ears open to criticism and keep our rear view intact, it does a lot of good if we take it positively and use the ‘accidental’ feedback to laugh it out and correct in ourselves a few things here and there.
The author is director education, Kashmir.