Monday, May 25, 2009

Srinagar and the Reckoning Day

The server brews a pot of steaming coffee and places it on the wooden table by the overstuffed chairs around. Two other waiters pile plates and talk loudly in Kashmiri at the Graduate Tea shop. ‘Graduate’ because a science graduate runs it after failing to secure a decent job.

It is located in a shopping complex tucked near a pleasant fringe of river Jhelum that cuts across the Srinagar City.

It is almost 2:00 in the afternoon when I enter the shop. Back and forth, over the tables and on the faces of devoted visitors, heavy beam of glaring light of Television make patterns. The empty coffee boxes decorated on the shelves start shaking after someone ask a waiter, “Zore Thaw TV Thoda (Increase its volume a wee bit), making it certain that the news about parliamentary poll results is audible to all information hounds, who have gathered in the teeming tea stall.

“Who is winning in North Kashmir?” a young man sitting in one of the corner tries to inquire from his friends. “Sajad Lone has lost and it’s UPA that seems to form the government at Delhi,” he gets the answer from his friend sitting opposite to him. The news anchor establishes it right away.

The young man is round. His eyes bright, big, but wet. The color of his little beard real. His body lingers just around the last edge of his youth. He seems almost 18.

I feel the young man sensing a hint of scandal or potential misfortune for Lone.

He feels embarrassed. He appears depressing after the news. The only thing that I feel he will like to do is sledgehammer the TV set or upside down the tables. A look at his face reveals anger, so much, that he may wish to either pull his hair or at least try to scream. I can make that he must have been sure of Lone’s win. He can't, however, seem to have imagined the apparent. It is hurtful. And he is upset.

While I watch the small screen flashing fresh results repeatedly, SMSs begin to pass. Again, Mr Sajad Lone the subject matter. The content mostly sarcastic. Largely meant for those who had wished luck to separatist leader, Mr Lone. The SMS displays a sort of ‘obituary’ for the first separatist leader who broke the election boycott call to stand as a contender.

It reads:

Marci 4r Sajad—Election Ladeth Konu Moudokh, Hindustans Saeth Ruzeth Kith Roodukh, Te Harith Zinde Keth Roudukh.

Means:

· Why didn’t you die after contesting elections?

· How come you exist while siding with Hindustan (India?)

· How are you alive after losing elections?

I read the SMS, save it and keep the phone in my pocket before having a final look at the youngman.

Before this place, I toured many parts of the city. Everywhere people hooked on instant announcements, sequestering themselves before TV sets and radios that reflected larger mood prompted by the parliamentary poll results and greatly by the Lone’s decision to vie.

In a corner of a dimly lit hall, at my college where I had just gone to get a certificate, and check the mood as well, I saw Mr Sheikh—a senior clerk literally hugged to a small black Kochibo radio.

Across the day, I was told by the staff around that Mr Sheikh was snooping to know who had won. He had had more than a dozen cups of tea besides three packets of cigarette.

Mr Sheikh is thin and lean with typical sharp features. Dark face, laced with patchy skin. His best possession right now. Radio.

He has been listening to radio for a day and a half. A more than five hours of news without any work didn’t lead to any withdrawal symptom.

At another tea joint I visited, just before 4:00 pm, someone scorned Varun Ghandi’s win at Philibit saying that he made his victory sure by indulging in anti-Muslim tirade, but at the cost of BJP’s stature.

Others but well-informed enthusiasts deliberated on the wisdom of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram.

“The economists have ultimately prevailed. It is another six-year government,” a youngster said.

In Kashmir’s markets, across the day the usual crowd was there, but those who turned up were more fascinated in poll gossip, instead of hedging over prices.

At bus stands, in grocery shops, colleges canteens, offices everywhere I went people were snooping over what the final results would mean to Kashmir.

“PDP has lost in South,” Bilal, a student told me in a rough voice, before boarding a Sumo vehicle for Pulwama. He did not vote when South Kashmir went for ballot, however, he wanted PDP to prevail.

Quite usual in South Kashmir.

In the evening I was at Kashmir’s one of the angriest spot, Batamaloo where irritation against troops– together with frequent traffic jams, run deep. Here too people visiting shops and saloons had vigorous debate on the results. With mostly Mr Lone dominating the topic everywhere.

Perched on a shelf in a saloon, youngsters waiting to get shaved or get their hair done, were glued with the TV screen amid conversations.
“Again Congress,” Rafiq who is known to me sighed. “But how will it matter to us,” he told me when I began to leave.

Rafiq didn’t want Mr Lone to win either. Reasons, he said, were known to everyone.

He liked to say; however, that it was a sign of Mr Lone’s immaturity and that he was quite opposed to, what he believed was like an ‘incredible stage-managed polls where Mr Lone was bound to be among the losers’.

Rafiq was convinced that everything went according to the script.

“And that's progress…..” he laughed.

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