The nation weeps for and with the people of J & K…
All of this week, I frantically tried to contact three men – Yousf Bhai, Naqvi and Sajjid .They are my “Kashmiri friends.” I have known them for a few years now. Over time, we have established a warm and wonderful friendship. Sadly, so far I have not received a response from any of them. Are they safe? Are they even alive?Like me, there are thousands of people who are deeply concerned about friends and relatives they have not heard from.There are thousands more who are mourning the loss of loved ones. Ironically, it has taken a grim national tragedy to bring one thing sharply into focus - we can jointly challenge and fight the mightiest of enemies within and outside the country, but there is nothing we can do to halt nature’s fury. Even as the water levels come down and some modicum of ‘normalcy’ returns to Srinagar and other severely affected areas, those of us with emotional connections to the State will continue to keep our hopes alive… till the actual news arrives and we get to know for ourselves whether it’s good or bad.
The three men I mention are traders of the finest shawls and carpets from Kashmir. For four generations their families have been engaged in the pursuit of beauty and excellence through their exquisite, hand crafted wares. During our chats, I have asked the younger men whether they’ve thought of doing something else, something more ‘modern’, and they’ve shaken their heads, “ This is our legacy… this is our life.”. Their deep knowledge and fine taste have illuminated our exchanges, regardless of whether I was buying anything. Just watching them remove each precious shawl from its soft mulmul covering, and gently open its folds to reveal indescribable beauty, has been a matchless experience I will always treasure. It is at once a richness and a rare education to hear them speak passionately about family traditions going back a century and more. And to share stories about wealthy patrons from overseas who have tried in vain to entice them to ‘step up production’ and market their shawls to international luxury stores. “How do we explain to these people that it is impossible? We cannot insult our inheritance and weave mechanically in order to meet market demands!”
Each time they visit, they bring kilos of freshly shelled walnuts and apricots from their garden, honey from the wild flowers of their region, delicate saffron stems from the fields they tend, hand embroidered silk firans for the girls, and pashmina scarves as presents for close friends. Such generosity! Such refinement! So much pride in their craft. Like them, there must be countless families struggling to cope with this monumental tragedy, their looms washed away, their precious shawls and carpets destroyed by the furious waters, their homes completely submerged, along with any hopes of recovering what is irretrievably lost in the deluge.
It is at a time like this that India truly shines. Not all of us have a personal connection to people affected by the floods in J & K ,yet we are bound together as a nation by the devastation that has already claimed over 300 lives . It is the men of our armed forces we need to express our deepest gratitude to. Over 1,081 sorties have been undertaken so far and over 1,10,000 lives saved under extremely hazardous circumstances . The combined efforts of our men in uniform have seen the successful evacuation of countless trapped citizens. The newly installed Army Chief, General Dalbir Singh has led 30,000 of his men from the front, earning the blessings of innumerable marooned J&K denizens. But where was Chief Minister Omar Abdullah? Or his ministers? Busy using their VVIP status to rescue their own people, according to reports.Shockingly enough, Abdullah was callous enough to state, “People are alive to shout slogans, I have no problems.” Really! The problems are right there, right now. And the irate people of your State are ready to deal with them… and you. Watch out, Omar!
Perhaps, an overdue and vital turning point has finally been reached between the people of the beleaguered state and the Centre. If this crisis does lead to a truce of sorts, both sides should seize it immediately. All efforts should be made to build on the goodwill generated by the intervention of the Indian Army. Yes, there is rage. And frustration, too. Faced with local administrative indifference, arrogance and apathy, denied access to food or water, with poor or zero data available about missing people, a backlash is inevitable. The real challenge begins now. The waters will soon recede. But the floodgates of public anger have been opened.Winter is round the corner. There are bereft families out there who have lost everything…. loved ones, possessions, homes. A shroud of sorrow covers the valley.
As for me, I am praying hard while waiting for the phone to ring with good news about my three loving brothers from Kashmir - Yousf Bhai, Sajjid and Naqvi - wherever you are, may God be with you.
Twisting two words – ‘Love’ and ‘Jihad’.
It is really unfortunate that our creepy- crawlies ( read: politicians of a certain hue ) have deliberately concocted a dangerous and ugly term (“ Love Jihad” ) and given a bad name to both words. In fact, the random and reckless overuse of LJ, has spawned an entire industry of haters and baiters, busy ‘outing’ couples they hold guilty. The media, too, has fallen for this nonsense, and readers have been subjected to reams and reams of LJ stories, some with a positive spin, but most, minus a modicum of sensitivity or tact. It is that time of the year when we feel obliged to display ‘communal harmony’ at its most self-conscious. So, newspapers will feature Hindu-Muslim celebrity jodis ( the usual suspects), and carry pictures of Bollywood stars from different faiths, celebrating Ganpati “with fervour’’… as if there is some other way to celebrate festivals. Get ready for more such cheesy coverage during Durga Puja, Navratri and Diwali. Perhaps, these reminders are essential at a time when a crass female politico from Gujarat is talking about banning Muslim boys from attending Dandiya Raas evenings, because she fears an epidemic of ‘Love Jihads’ . What sort of rubbish is this! And why don’t more citizens show people like her their place?
Interfaith marriages work on exactly the same principles as same faith ones. And fail for the same reasons. Chances of ‘no faith’ marriages surviving or collapsing, are also the same. At the end of it, love marriages (as opposed to arranged) are about love. And love involves commitment. Commitment, like the clever ad famously reminded us, is like Lycra – either you have, or you don’t. When two young people take the plunge, they do so in good faith. That faith does not come with religious strings attached. Mischievous politicians are deliberately misusing words like ‘Jihad’ to scare and confuse people. Any form of coercion is unacceptable. Any forced conversion, is awful. Yes - both happen. Sensible people condemn them, regardless of which religion is involved. Faith is personal. And should remain personal. It is humiliating to force citizens in a democracy to flaunt or deny it. Which is why, we need to exercise great caution before blabbering about ‘Love Jihad’, without bothering to examine its wider, trickier implications.
Here’s a charming story I heard during a recent trip to Hyderabad. A cheerful restaurant manager struck up a friendly conversation with me over breakkfast, as I attacked a gigantic paper dosa. He was the original Bandra Boy ( though,a Catholic from Kerala, and not a Goan, as he hastily clarified). He couldn’t marry the girl he loved, since he didn’t own his own house. The broken- hearted fellow moved to Hyderabad and got a good job as a waiter in a 5-star hotel. Soon, he met lovely local girl and they got married. Sensing that his wife was the bright star in the relationship, our man willingly and shrewdly rejigged his identity, plus his prioritities. He promptly changed his name and adopted her surname and religion. They have two kids today, who follow the mother’s faith. The lady is going great guns, pursuing higher education, while her husband continues to work regular hours at the hotel and takes care of the kids. Once his wife has an MBA degree under her belt, she plans to apply for a better job after which the family will move to a bigger place,preferably in an area where they don’t have to buy expensive drinking water from a tanker. In other words, here’s a family that is fully sorted. After 22 years at the hotel, the guy still has amazing levels of enthusiasm, as he looks after guests with a broad smile and genuine involvement. He is happy with the choices he has made and looking forward to an upswing in his life after his wife clears her exams. He proudly showed me her photographs from his phone and said, “No tension. No ego. It has worked out. I speak Telugu fluently, eat local food, and participate in community life.” I pumped his hand before leaving the restaurant. I am sure there are countless couples across India like this happy chap. While petty politicians create enmity and rifts between people, there are those who go about their lives quietly and in peace. The only way to combat the ‘Love Jihad’ controversy is to mock it, and mock those talking about it. Who better than Yo Yo Honey Singh to do that for a mass audience? After giving us the catchy, stupendously successful ‘Baby Doll’, may we suggest an irreverent take titled ‘Love Jihad’ that exposes Netas who manipulate the gullible with this loaded term?