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The night that changed everything…

It was 6th September 2014. The water level in Jhelum was rising in Srinagar. Some low lying areas were already under water. South Kashmir was already flooded.

That evening was the first time when an announcement regarding floods was made on the mosque loudspeaker. Everyone was requested to come to the Jhelum/Chuntkul bund so that sand is filled in bags and put as a temporary embankment to prevent water from entering into Maisuma. People were seen emptying their shops in Maisuma, many were helping in filling the sand bags. Some even started to flee with their families to their relatives in Downtown/Soura/Nishat,etc A PNB ATM at Amira Kadal was by chance open even at 9 PM. Water had already reached the parapet of the bund and it was just a matter of time that the extra water would have entered the locality.

Maisuma Bund- 6th September 2014

Maisuma Bund- 6th September 2014

We returned home. I had told everyone at home to sleep so that I remain awake and stay alert if something happens. I was using Whatsapp to communicate with my out of station cousins so that I can give any info about South Kashmir to them because communication to South Kashmir was already blocked. At almost 3 AM, water started to enter Lal Chowk through Abi Guzar. Kashmir twitterati had already started sharing pics of inundated Lal Chowk, Lal Ded Hospital and other areas.

I slept only at 6 AM when my parents woke up from their sleep. But that was short lived. Somewhere around 9 AM, an announcement was made that water has started to enter the neighboring locality. In all the nervousness, the electric department cut off the power supply. At the same time, Airtel’s network went down to zero. The last update I got that my maternal relatives had been evacuated because water had already entered their locality. In all the hara-kiri, I couldn’t sleep again. Another announcement was made. This time around it was a request to shift the belongings from the ground floor to the 1st floor. Everyone started to do that. By 1 PM, we had shifted everything to the 1st floor. At 2 PM, we went to the Gowkadal bund again just to see the level of water. Water was already spilling over the Gowkadal gate onto the Chuntkul side. Water entering the localities was imminent but who knew, there was worse in store.

At around 5 PM, water started to come up in our locality. It was mostly because of blocked drainage of one side of our locality. We somehow removed our car from the garage and got it at the highest point of the locality so that it is least affected by the inundation. Another relative called in to know about us. They were evacuated to SMC HQ in Karan Nagar. BSNL had also stopped working by then.

By 7 PM, water had already started to seep into our home. Everyone in the family was monitoring the increase in the level every time. Having dinner already in a disturbed state, we stood on the verandah just watching the garden filled with the murky water. At that point no one amongst us had thought that this is not even a quarter of the water level that is going to surround the house.

At around 11:30 PM, we were still sitting on the verandah of our home. The first cry of a neighbor was heard. The embankment adjacent to our neighbor’s house had just started to weaken. One could only anticipate what could be next. There was no electricity. Only a few lights because of inverters and generators. Hurriedly everyone entered the home. The first thing I did was to close all the windows and doors so that water actually takes time to enter our house instead of getting filled instantly in case water enters. The only source of light for me was my mobile phone while others in the family had a torch. As soon as I closed the ground floor’s door and hurried towards first floor, there were deafening cries of ladies from our neighbors. The embankment had already broken. Water entered into the locality as if a gate had been opened up in a hydroelectric dam. The flow of water destroyed everything that came in its way. Walls were broken, pillars damaged, an iron gate just came out of the pillar. The way water just barged in, I can never forget that sight. It was so scary that not even a Hollywood movie on floods can replace that for me. Considering the height of water in the river, it was understood that the inundation will not be limited to the ground floor alone. I already started to move my books to the 2nd floor now. The closed windows in the ground floor could have given us a benefit of only few minutes. I just once started to look out of my window. Water had already started to come into our lawn over the boundary wall. A sight similar to the incoming waves on the sea shore. From the time, we went to the ground floor, we got only 15 minutes of time and we could hardly shift things. The 1st floor had items from the ground floor as well as its own. I still remember my brother shouting that water has entered the 1st floor now. As soon as I lifted my foot, the water had already lifted the carpet with it. After that, we could hardly save anything other than our lives and food.

At that moment, that one scene of Titanic flashed before me when water enters the corridor of the ship and everyone is struggling to move out of the ship. Similar was the situation. Once the water reached waist level, we left everything as it is.

We were already on 2nd floor now. The water had almost reached half the height of the 1st floor. Surrounded by almost 18 feet of water, we were staring at a nightmare. By the time we could just sit down, it was 2 AM. Aircel phones were working even at that point. I told Dad to call just one of my cousins in Delhi so that our situation is known to every relative of ours outside the state. That one call and within minutes Aircel went down.

Who could have slept? Everyone just was lying down. An eerie silence had already fallen around. Not even single whisper was heard outside. No one was sure whether the next door neighbors are alive or not since the houses were relatively distant from each other. After lying down, I heard a dog trying to swim in the middle of nowhere. Someone who is already in fear, such things give you a panic attack. I didn’t realize when I fell asleep but I woke up with the sound of a neighboring house collapsing down. The inhabitants had already fled 2 days back but the house went to dust.

A peek from the window - 8th September 2014

A peek from the window – 8th September 2014

Another one - Don't get fooled by the appearance. The ground stories of these houses are under water

Another one – Don’t get fooled by the look. The ground floors of these houses are under water.

Can anyone imagine a boat passing through his home? Can anyone imagine a boat moving above the kitchen garden in your house? Can anyone imagine a boat reaching the windows of your 1st floor? No one does, at least I didn’t but that was a reality at that time. Over the next few days, boats were taking out people who were stuck in the locality. Some fled in makeshift boats, either made of PET bottles or some made up of rubber tubes. After 2 days, there were only 4 families living in the whole locality who decided not to leave. We stayed witness to everything. I saw at least 5-6 houses surrounding my home collapsing due to the waters. For the rest, I could hear only the sounds. A staggering 26 houses had collapsed in just a small locality of ours. Though people had already left everything behind. With every collapse, the fear used to increase lest the next will be ours. But thanks to Almighty, that didn’t happen.

Ground floor still full of water - 10th September 2014

Ground floor still full of water – 10th September 2014

Over the next 10 days, I was stuck in my home. I didn’t know how to swim. I moved out of my house for the first time on 15th September. With limited food, limited potable water and limited resources, we had survived almost 10 days. The first genuine outside help reached us after 6 days and they were some youth from the adjacent locality distributing medicines, potable water and candles. In the 6 days in between, I could see helicopters only making sorties from Nehru Park to Airport. Just twice it came around of which once they dropped expired foods and other time they wasted a lot of effort by throwing food in the murky water. In those days, I was literally cut off from the world. We didn’t leave home for 2 reasons. It wasn’t better to be miserable at a relief camp than to be miserable at home. And second, home is where the heart lies.

The day I first moved out of my home after the floods.

The day I first moved out of my home after the floods.

Once everything was settled, relatives had started visiting. They would weep seeing the destruction around but we weren’t sad/emotional at any point of time later. We had seen the worst, worse than one could imagine of us and by the grace of Almighty we had come out of it.

The embankment broke here to create havoc.

The embankment broke here to create havoc.

I could have written thousands of words about the same but then it will go on like anything. I always wanted to write about whatever happened during that fortnight, never got the chance or the desire to do so. But as 1 year has passed on, instead I decided to write about that one night that changed my life forever. I still remember each detail of the time. Even if years pass on, I will never forget it…

The scars still remain - October 2014

The scars still remain – October 2014

P.S. As we observe the 1st anniversary of Kashmir floods, I would like to say to everyone who helped Kashmiris whether they were locals or outsiders during that tragedy needs to be appreciated, irrespective of the quanta of the work they did, a big THANK YOU to all of you from a flood survivor.



What I think of Haider as a Kashmiri?

A poster of Haider

A poster of Haider

Usually I don’t write reviews and this is probably the first time I am writing one. The thing that motivated me to write is all the brouhaha about the movie. Many Indians declared it an anti-national movie for showing the Indian Army in a bad light while for Kashmiris, there has been a mixed response. Just like a friend Ruhan Naqash puts it, “The reality is, those Kashmiris who praised Haider didn’t expect even this much from Bollywood, and those who criticized it, expect too much”. It very much sums up the mind of Kashmiris pertaining to Haider.

Let’s be honest about the movie. It’s not a movie about Kashmir at all, but a movie that is set in Kashmir. It is Hamlet set in Kashmir. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark has been the thing I have loved the most that has ever come from William Shakespeare. I haven’t found a tragedy as tragic as the one belonging to Hamlet. Vishal Bhardwaj has been known to adapt Shakespearean plays and adapt them into movies. He made Maqbool (based on Macbeth), Omkara (based on Othello) and now Haider (based on Hamlet) which is the third of his Shakespearean trilogy. All his movies have been of critical acclaim, but there has been nothing as buzzing as Haider. No doubts for guessing the sole reason for that, yes it is Kashmir.

Kashmir has been a bone of contention between two nuclear powers, countries who were themselves colonies in the erstwhile British Empire. More than the two powers who share equal claim to it, it has been Kashmir that has suffered the most. It has suffered politically, emotionally, economically and the most important, on accounts of lives. There has been literally no accurate estimate of how many Kashmiris have died till date and no estimate (God forbid more deaths) how many more the 67 year old conflict will take. How does it feel to make a fortified wall in a single house and divide a family? Yes Kashmir is divided by a wall they never wanted. They didn’t want to be separated by their own kith and kin. A wall that many attempted to break took many lives with it. Kashmiris haven’t been as lucky as the Germans who broke the wall that separated them. What place can be as tragic as Kashmir, where you don’t know whether you will return home after you leave in the morning? A place which is treated as a piece of land, where the world forgets that it has inhabitants too who are humans, who want to live and die peacefully.

Vishal Bhardwaj has used probably the most tragic place in the world to depict one of the best tragedies. And it has been an intoxicating combination, at least for me. Over the past few years, Bollywood has been coming back to Kashmir for movies. Some come only for a song sequence, while others set their stories in Kashmir with a local tinge. Most Kashmiris complain that Bollywood never shows reality pertaining to Kashmir and I am there too among the lot. Bollywood has always been unfair to Kashmir and it has always been showing what they want to see rather than what we want to show the world. Whether it has been Mission Kashmir, Lamhaa or some other movie, we watch it because of Kashmir in it not because of those stories they show which we don’t even consider worth discussion.

It was probably for the first time I was watching a movie for the story and not for Kashmiri locales. Honestly I didn’t expect it to be that great, especially after the Indian Censor Board had 41 cuts for the movie. Indian Censor Board has been one of the reasons that Kashmiri stories don’t find a place in the Indian commercial film industry. Kashmir as such depicted has only been depicted well in documentaries which include Jashn-e-Azadi (by Sanjay Kak), Inshallah Kashmir (by Ashvin Kumar), Kashmir’s Torture Trail (Channel 4), Ocean of Tears (by Bilal A Jan) and others. We identify ourselves with depictions like these and not by movies which are made for the Indian consumer who wants to have a wonderful 2.5 hours with his family and a bucket full of popcorn in the theatre.

Vishal Bhardwaj has entered a territory where no commercial film maker has entered till date. Yes Haider doesn’t tell you the story of Kashmir fully, but it takes that first step towards telling that. The first half of the movie have many stark facts which have never been heard in a theatre and I thank Vishal Bhardwaj for that.

The film starts with a depiction of the time of the events “1995 Srinagar India”. Was it necessary to omit Kashmir in it? There is a Srinagar in Uttarakhand as well. And even a pro-nationalist Indian would have loved to see a mention of Kashmir in the phrase, let aside a Kashmiri watching it.

A doctor trying to save a patient without considering whether the subject is a military man or a rebel much to the respect of the Hippocratic oath, just a replica of a scene in Mission Kashmir, though this time it is shown opposite to that with a perspective to show enforced disappearances. An encounter is shown just to depict the way how it is done where a house is blasted to finish an encounter with no consideration of the one who owns the house. But do only those disappear who have apparently connections with the rebels or have sheltered them? If you check with the kith and kin of those disappeared (APDP), many were taken randomly, some were taken because of animosity with the informer, and some because of other reasons.

A scene that shows the announcement of a crackdown by the troops shows them without shoes. But do they actually remove shoes in Kashmir while entering a mosque? I would say one in a hundred, that too if the trooper might be belonging to the same religion. There have been many incidents of desecration over the past many years where troopers have violated the sanctity of a mosque or the Holy Book.

When Haider returns, he finds a checkpoint to welcome him. The reference to the Islamabad question is wonderful. But were people only detained for calling Anantnag (official name) as Islamabad (people’s name) as shown in the movie? They were rather beaten. There was a time when mentioning of Islamabad invited the fury of the army personnel and they would thrash you for the same. The bus drivers who showed Islamabad as their destination were accordingly dealt with and told to change the destination to Anantnag. But Kashmiris as resilient as ever replaced Islamabad with Khanabal and not Anantnag. Khanabal is the entry point of Islamabad. Today as violence has waned, transporters have again started the use of the name Islamabad, a name that existed even before the country with the namesake as the capital was created and a name that exists in Sir Walter Lawrence’s book “The Valley of Kashmir” (1895).

Another scene that caught my attention was when Arshia’s brother Liyaqat catches Haider and Arshia together. The threat “Disappear kardunga” used to be a common threat at one point of time in the region.

A mention of half widows had come first in Lamhaa but this time it was a kind of inappropriate seeing a half widow romance his brother in law or having a Oedipus like situation with her son. Kashmir is a culturally sensitive place where usually such things don’t exist. Kashmiri women have faced the worst in terms of the conflict with rapes, sexual assaults as well as having their family members affected. Half widows are the worst affected lot among the Kashmiri women with husbands disappeared, children to support and no avenues of moving on with life. Showing a half widow from Kashmir doing such actions doesn’t match with Kashmir, though one may have a thought that it might be unintentionally included to go with the adaptation and not to malign half widows of Kashmir.

The scene where the army brigadier played by a stern looking Ashish Vidyarthi talks about history of Kashmir is something that doesn’t reflect reality. 1948 should actually be 1947 in the scene. When asked about the torture in Kashmir, the army brigadier mentions that their army is the most disciplined force in the world, something at which every Kashmiri would have laughed at. Disciplined armies don’t commit massacres like Gawkadal, Sopore, Handwara, etc or rapes like those in Kunan Poshpora or the case of Mubeena Gani. It was as ironical as Barack Obama winning a Nobel Peace Prize while he had his armies in alien lands in the Middle East and Afghanistan killing local populace with drones and bullets. The brigadier also refers to the tragedy of Kashmiri Pandits. The tragedy of Kashmiri Pandits has been one of the most unfortunate incidents in the history of the Kashmir conflict but at the same time, it is not a justification for the injustices meted out at Kashmiri Muslims. Usually Indian nationalists refer to human rights in Pakistan Administered Kashmir when asked about human rights in Indian Administered Kashmir, but is it worth speaking? Have you ever seen a murder accused seen himself defending by saying that look there is a murder accused sitting in the crowd, so exonerate me of my crimes? Yes, the former mentioned excuse looks exactly ridiculous. Though at the same time taking the argument, there are hardly any violations on that side.

When establishing the Ikhwan ul Mukhbireen organisation, the movie points at two things. First of all the usage of houses belonging to Kashmiri Pandits who left the valley as torture centres/military camps. Second, the issue of fake encounters where Lalit Parimoo clearly says “Aaj kal ek militant ka daam 1 lakh hogaya hai”, something that clearly shows the lust for encounters among security forces for promotions, cash and gallantry awards. There are many fake encounters that happened in Kashmir and nearly all of them still haven’t seen the light of justice.

The film has shown the emergence and the rise of Ikhwans and literally all the blame of the bad activities done have been thrown on their shoulders while the army has been shown innocent. Yes, Ikhwans were notorious and cruel, but the question remains who encouraged them to commit atrocities, who gave them money and arms for their operations, who proposed Padma Shris for them and were they the only ones in committing the atrocities?

It was nice to see torture/interrogation centres shown in the movie even though they were named with similar sounding fake names, Mama 2 (for Papa 2), Bobo Land (for Gogo Land) or even Faraz Cinema (for Shiraz Cinema). The scenes depicting the torture techniques, many of which already suffered cuts from the Censor Board was still powerful. But were people who were tortured all rebels/militants as shown except for a youth shown saying ”Maine Kuch Nahi Kiya”? Clearly not.

The movie referred to the unmarked graves with a clear mention of Boniyar. It’s interestingly something that the state admits and denies at the same time. There are many unmarked graves in the state with no knowledge about who the buried are, while most probably they are those who have been disappeared in custody.

For me, the scene that stole the show was when Haider was at Ghanta Ghar and giving a speech. Standing at Ghanta Ghar reminding the viewers of the promise India’s first PM made to Kashmiris at the same place, reminding of the UNSC’s resolution passed in the 1940s which yet awaits implementation, of which Parvez Lone (Lalit Parimoo) separately says in a scene with Haider. The slogans “Hum Kya Chahte Azadi – Is Paar Bhi Lenge Azadi, Us Paar Bhi Lenge Azadi” silenced everyone in the theatre.

The most amusing thing was the Kashmiri pronunciation of English (lov-ed,etc used by both Shraddha Kapoor and Tabu) used in the movie. Though many of us speak with the same style but we don’t do it as much as the film has laid stress on it, more than required.

The Bismil song shot in the town of Mattan didn’t amuse me at all. Was that costume relevant to Kashmiri culture in any way? The movie claims to be set in 1995. At that time, there was no cellular telephony in Kashmir, but the song has a cellular tower in the background.

There have been many scenes in Haider that have been poignant for only those who understand them, not for those who only find silence in them. One of them includes when a mute Basharat Peer refuses to enter his home until frisked. For people around me, they never understood it because that seemed something comical though it was something painful for someone who understood. The scene where Haider shows his disappeared father’s picture to a lady who had also come with a photo to the camp, and all they could do is silently sympathise with each other. I have seen that scene of support that the kin of the disappeared give to each other at an APDP sit-in, I once went to attend. The lines at the military camp “Catch them by their balls, hearts and minds will follow” are known to be from a famous torture centre which has been known for its grave methods of torture.

And last but not the least, the Hebrew word “Chutzpah” pronounced as “hootspa” and not “Chootzpah” as shown in the movie. The word which has the meaning of insolence and impudence is apt with the situation in Kashmir especially when it also rhymes with AFSPA(acronym for Armed Forces Special Powers Act), an act that has always been violating basic human rights and justice in Kashmir as well as north eastern states of India. It’s a law that is basically the cause for the human rights violations by security personnel without actually caring for the rule of the land, because it clearly exempts them from law, encouraging crimes.

I appreciate Vishal Bhardwaj for having Kashmiris in his movie whether it included Aamir Bashir, Lalit Parimoo, Basharat Peer, Sumit Kaul, singers from the Bhawani family or all those who aren’t even professionals. Using Kashmiri catch phrases like “Mouji”,”Myuan Soneh Gobur” or even the Kashmiri songs like “Roshe Walaa Myaani DIlbaro” or Rasul Mir’s lines sung by Shraddha Kapoor was great and gave a feel about Kashmir.

One Haider is clearly not enough and will never be enough. Though there are many documentaries made on Kashmir which tell you far more comparably, this is unarguably the first commercial Bollywood film that presents uncomfortable questions to the Indian viewers pertaining to Kashmir. That’s why it has created a buzz in India.

Kashmir at the end of the day is a political problem and it has to be solved. Just like Lalit Parimoo says in the movie “Jab do haathi ladte hain, to sirf ghaas kuchaljati hai”, in the conflict between India and Pakistan, its Kashmiris who suffer whether at the borders or in the mainland. It’s high time that the Kashmir issue is resolved as per the wishes of the people of Jammu & Kashmir and not as per the wishes of the Indian and Pakistani people or their respective governments.

Feedback on Twitter: @fouadfarooq

The Chronicles Of Gulzaari Laal

“The Chronicles of Gulzaari Laal” , the choice of this title came from the literary work – a series of novels by C.S. Lewis titled “The Chronicles of Narnia” which later on was also made into a series of movies. What relates the two is the fact that on one hand was the unprecedented rise of an ordinary carpet weaver to a self-styled Dervish or Peer who had a obvious large clout and on the other hand the rise of an ordinary girl Narnia to a fantasy world of magic, mythical beasts and of course talking animals. There isn’t much difference in the two cases since Gulzaari Laal as I call him also claimed of divine revelations, especially of the nuzool of Quran to him in Kashmiri, dreams of informing him of a Sufi lineage and the divine order of having 72 wives though spiritually.
Since the past few days , the above mentioned person has been in the news mostly for the wrong reasons. There have been accusations and counter accusations as well. There are people accusing him of sexual exploitations while some are there who definitely are there to claim his innocence. Whether he is guilty or not, God knows the best and maybe in the coming days investigations will bring it to the fore. My reason of writing this piece is somewhat else.
For the past days, I have been reading nearly every news article about him and the things that pertained to him. For all the things that he did, I wouldn’t blame him entirely but I would blame those people equally who followed him. An illiterate carpet weaver who doesn’t know beyond the two kalmas was raised to such stature. It surely is the fault of the people. Didn’t they ever try to verify his credentials? When we marry our relatives, we go from one corner to the other verifying the credentials of the person whom the person is getting married with, but this wasn’t done here because we have left our religion aside. The Holy Quran (17:36) tells us not to believe/propagate anything unless we verify it completely to our satisfaction, but when we left our religion in the hands of such people, such things are bound to happen.
Another thing that makes me wonder about his intelligence or people’s stupidity was the slogan “Deenas Bahaara Syed Gulzaara” that was chanted by his supporters during a protest at The Press Enclave Srinagar. This reminds me of the classic slogan of the old times of Kashmir “Laa ilaaha illa Allah Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah”. It amazes me to the extent that I think that we are the same illiterates of the 1940s and 1950s.
Nuzool of the Quran was the most interesting thing I heard about him. Nuzool first of all, that too in Kashmiri! Aren’t we Kashmiris literate enough to know that Quran was the last divine book to be revealed upon the Prophet SAW and there will not be anyone worthy of Prophecy after him?
Pertinent to mention, I was going through a post where a girl on a so called confession page had claimed that he is a great man. Her aunt couldn’t conceive for years and she went to this Dervish. He gave her a Tabruk and she conceived. And what was the most interesting thing was she credited this all to Gulzaari Laal and not to God. Has our faith reached to this level? Prophet Ibrahim AS didn’t have a child for many years. He used to pray God for it not someone else. Had he gone to a Peer Baba at that time and credited him for everything, we wouldn’t have been here today.
We surely are not God loving people, we are God fearing people only remembering him during adversities but not during the bliss of happiness. Hence we try to evade the actual procedures for everything.
I respect all sorts of faith whether within Islam or outside it. I also acknowledge the fact that all sorts of Peers aren’t like this. Some are religious too, but raising them to a demi-God stature would be nothing but throwing a axe on your own feet in this world as well as the Hereafter. I may not be a perfect Muslim, I consider myself a big sinner but at least I have the brains to know and study about my religion myself and not trusting someone’s word blindly.
P.S. Constructive criticism is welcome. And I am in no means trying to demean anyone’s faith by writing this

A must read for those who desire a love marriage in Kashmir

Love Marriages around the world are
Boy loves Girl. Girl loves Boy…
They get married…
In India, there are few more steps…
Boy loves Girl. Girl loves Boy…
Girl’s family has to love Boy. Boy’s family
to love Girl…
Girl’s family has to love Boy’s family.
family has to love Girl’s family…
Girl and Boy still love each other…
They get married…
In Kashmir, there are further more
Boy loves Girl. Girl loves Boy…
Girl’s family has to love Boy. Boy’s family
to love Girl…
Girl’s family has to love Boy’s family.
family has to love Girl’s family…
Girl’s family has to love Boy’s relatives.
family has to love Girl’s relatives…
Girl and Boy still love each other. They
get married…
Happy Ending… 🙂

(inspired from Chetan Bhagat’s Two States)