Arshid Malik

I was a fitness freak “once upon a time”. I would go to the gym regularly, watch my diet and work really hard for a better physique and good health. Now I am fat and slothful. Well, I guess things and people change and so did I, for the better or worse! No, no, not at all. The issue I am picking up here is not even remotely concerned or connected to health and fitness. It rather concerns what we do with our lives.

I have rarely visited Kashmir in the past three or four years. But every time I visit Kashmir I anticipate catching up with old friends and buddies; chatting up good old times over a cup of coffee for the heck of it. Well, it is quite a release. My anticipation does not go waste and I do catch up with friends but the first thing people tell me with great concern is that I have grown very fat and that I should exercise. Thereafter a soulful advice of following different fitness regimen follows. “Go brisk walking everyday”, a friend told me last time I was in Kashmir. “Join a gym”, another one told me. “Cut the fatty foods”, yet another one said to me.” And this talk concerning my health has always disturbed me. For God’s sake “we” are meeting after a long time and the only thing that springs to your mind is my health. I am not sure whether it is genuine concern or something that stems out of what I call “topiclessness”. I have come to understand that people in Kashmir are suffering from this certain kind of disorder, “topiclessnes” that is. You do not have anything positive to talk about which by my standards amounts to “topiclessness” and therefore you focus on what meets the eye. It surely tells me that my friends whom I have not met for a long time have not been thinking about me. So they take the shot at my being fat. Well, I am not infuriated so to say by such comments but rather puzzled by the attitude people in Kashmir have adopted. It is negative all the way. On the other hand I meet a lot of people outside Kashmir and they hardly ever bother to make me aware that I am fat; not even those who are “closest” to me. We meet up, talk about important things and with every meeting something healthy comes out, unlike in Kashmir where people tell me I am fat, I should adopt a brutal exercise regimen and it goes on and on till we run out of time and eventually part ways with my friends waving at my and pointing their index finger at my protruding belly. What the heck?

This “topiclessness” I talk about I not limited to “me being fat” but rather befalls you in every quarter. Talk about social networking, especially some of the instant messengers which have swooped digitized communication (small talk) to an altogether different plane. My friends from outside regularly send me instant messages which often carry updates about the latest happenings across the world and other good stuff. On the contrary all I get from Kashmir are videos and animations which are utterly silly and useless. There is a huge wave of “Talking Tom” and his girlfriend landing on my cell every hour where “Talking Tom” is cursing the hens or singing adaptations of Hindi movie songs or some other senseless stuff. And I guess Kashmiri people use social networking more than anyone else on the globe but for purposeless purposes. I am not implying all Kashmiri people do that; of course there are some who really exploit the power of the internet and wireless communication but such instances are quite rare. Most of the stuff pouring on and off social networking from Kashmir is generally topic-less.

Now if you are sitting in a gathering excluding women (I do not want to intrude on the space that definitively belongs to females) in Kashmir the most prominent talk is about land costs, building material and marriages. How much did Khan Sahib sell his three-storied house for? How much did Rafiq Sahib spend on his daughter’s wedding (the bequeathing answer is always “a fortune”)? Tahir Sahib won’t live long but he has nothing to worry about since his two sons are government employees (well, by all means if someone is dying he has due reason to worry). And then lunch or dinner is served which ends such conversations instantly and men dig into their plates.

No one is bothered by the dilapidating condition of the water bodies, the garbage heaps that persist to be affluent sources of diseases, the increasing population of dogs in the vicinity which have bitten “half the population” at least once. And yes, there is consistent talk about the wrong policies of the government. “They have done nothing for us”. This convenes the “blame it on the stars” attitude of Kashmiri people. They don’t want to do anything on their own. I am not saying that the government has worked wonders for the population of Kashmir, but there are certain limitations that keep the government from attending to everything that the people require. There is something called a civic initiative, a people’s social movement. People, on their own, are supposed to act out and build a better society and not sit like lame ducks around the shore and quack at everyone that swims the waters. So when there is no action there are hollow words which again bring us to the doorstep of “topiclessness”.

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