Streetlights and Hairstyles


By Tabish Rafiq Mir

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Author with his friends in Chennai

Streetlights and supermarkets, shopping malls and ships, traffic lights and terraces, autos with meters and buses with tickets (and not sprouting with people): I hadn’t been warned.

Men with women, animal rights and MNCs, automatic automobiles and cleanliness drives: I hadn’t been warned.

Female drivers and polite police, freedom of speech and right to information, successful businessmen and criminals in prison: I hadn’t been warned.

The rivalry and subconscious animosity between the two hemispheres of the Indian subcontinent that has been much spoken and debated about almost evaporates when you are from Kashmir. It is perhaps because we find more in common far down south than we do anywhere on the way down south: dissent and tradition, traditional dissent, seditious tradition, and traditional seditious dissent.

What I had been warned of was pot-bellied burly men, curly moustaches, and omnipresent knives dripping with blood, and the nerve-racking language gap.

I was also warned of nubile teenagers with sweaty palms, and machine brains. And coconut oil: lots of it. And flower garlands: a lot many of them. Personally, I am neither a fan of nature, nor technology. But I like to observe. I like to see what people do with it, and what it does to them.

The unbiased transitional review of a Kashmiri in South India,” I thought to myself.

The roads were big and the traffic was fluidly mobile, long lanes of parallel traffic coursing through the veins of the city. Under streetlights which were: working and not stolen. The pedestrians stayed on the footpaths too: strange phenomenon.

The roads weren’t dark and desolate after 8 pm, and in fact, the world worked all night as well. Night shifts: never heard of them before.

Six years away from home and I had forgotten what power cuts felt like. I had forgotten the warm light cast by the candles before the Inverter-Generator-renaissance began. The power cuts – I had almost missed them.

From the airport to the apartment, I saw countless local movie posters, most of them a strange mix of sweet romance and bloody battles. Later, I saw none of the either in the people who live here. Typical Indian cinema: always failing to represent the life as it is.

This was my first day in Hyderabad.

Now that I know better, the cinema here almost sets a trail or a trend you can pick on. The Telugu theatre for fantasy -heroism; Tamil theatre for realism; and the Malayali for the much needed utopia, parts of which can be found in whatever movies the Kashmiri cinema manages to make, which also has a lot in common with the Persian counterpart.

I had been outside Kashmir before, of course: multiple times on vacation. But to experience something, you have to live it, and be part of it; in the form of an academic degree, or a deportation. For a Kashmiri, there isn’t much difference.

My first day at school was… strange. I could swear something was missing. Ah, the bittersweet smell of intense deodorants and hairstyles from every head. Instead, I saw productivity. I saw debates and seminars, and science fairs and fashion shows, and everything one could manage to fit on a productive scale of diversity.

In Kashmir, one does not replicate hairstyles from local men travelling to India anymore. This is the age of the internet. Whatever is famous all over the world is brought to us as immediately as it is to the rest of the aesthetics-loving audience every-else-where in the world.

Men and women compete in grooming, and the competition is intense, sometimes paralleling the political rivalries. Sometimes, even for the top grossing lipsticks. May god smite me if I am lying?

While Kashmir has an idea of a woman as a different sex, meant for a different set of work, women in the rest of (South) India are partners, both at home and at work.

It would be redundant to mention that the condition is the same in rural areas, both in Kashmir and in the South making a reluctant, hesitant run for it. The politics there seem to be more promising, though.

Females back home are elusive, which is why they are looked upon as something you have to impress in order to achieve validation or credibility. The eternal thirst for the forbidden fruit, I think. In Biscoe, we would deliberately pass by and through the girls’ Mallinson to show off our new rebellious shoes, loose ties, and ornamental Cleopatric hairstyles. Most of us, had in fact, spent an hour or two on the same every morning. Long lumberjack beards (which I could never boast of), and bleached facial hair otherwise: The oxymoronic blend of primitive manliness and the colloquial contemporary effeminacy.

We could live with an insufficient diet over the summers to save up for clothing brands. It was contagious. I wouldn’t be surprised. Winters were particularly expensive with bigger bulkier (more expensive) clothing.

Convent Girls School was the exotic fraternity every teenager longed to impress.

Your life circles around making lives better and/or worse for the women, and that is why a Kashmiri finds living outside Kashmir a social and a cultural challenge. There is only so much that isn’t unethical or offensive.

The biggest worries on our minds included acne. Do not blame us. We had enough data packs, and insufficient syllabi and overabundant strikes and curfews to waste our time.

What do a people do when there are no jobs and very little education? What do god-fearing Sufi romantics do? They style their hair, and perfume their clothes.

There is the traditional religious Tamil Nadu, and then there is the traditional Sufi Kashmir.

There are the culturally aware and proud Tamilians, and then there are the culturally proud Kashmiris.

There are the Dhotis for the summer extremes, and there are the Phirans for winter atrocities.

There is the South, and then there is the North.

The unbiased transitional cultural review of a Kashmiri and a Tamilian,” I think to myself.





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