Part 1 Tale of two Poplars

Dated: 24.02.2017

 Part I

What I am going to reproduce is a real story. It is about two majestic poplars which were there when my father (born 1913) was a kid. These trees were there when my kids still in their swaddling clothes would receive lessons in melody from birds perched on the branches of the trees. They were there when Sheikh Abdullah tried to outsmart Nehru and he in turn abandoned his intellectual bravado and used common sense to call Sheikh’s bluff. They were still there when Mrs Gandhi seated before Z A Bhutto in Shimla in early July 1972 was rehearsing the age old wail of the widow: to be or not to be that is the question! The trees were of course there when four wardens entered the cell of the jail where Bhutto was playing possum; lifted him physically on a stretcher for hanging. Tara Masih!

These trees naturally were still breathing life in our neighbourhood when my kids with their friends would assemble and plant ideas in each other’s mind. Often their cricket ball, while playing would trespass the jurisdiction of these sentries of nature. And this would create a problem. The piece of land on which these trees were planted would grow nothing but a very toxic weed called soy in the local lingo. This weed is blessed by nature with high allergic toxins. Once the leaves would touch naked skin, the allergy would set in immediately leaving the victim in tears. When Al Aqsa mosque caught fire thousands of miles away in Palestine, Kashmiris immediately assembled in the streets to protest. It just happened that one European couple were walking along the boulevard by the bank of the Dal Lake, enjoying the scenery. Just then the crowd reached there. The tempers of the crowd were high. On seeing the two tourists someone in the crowd got an idea to avenge the mishap as rumour was rife that the Israelis had torched the mosque. He brought yard long soy grass holding the root with a piece of cloth and rubbed the uncovered skin of the tourists with it. What happened next was mesmerising. The victims started rubbing their bodies and jumped into the lake. The water aggravates the allergy. The boatmen, whose livelihood is naturally linked to the tourism, came to their rescue and saved them. Now this is a digression but once we move down memory lanes we also move in the by lanes unintentionally.

First I shall place the positional bearings of the two trees. Let us Google search to fix the bearings of the place being discussed. If we start from Nehru Memorial Hospital Rainawari (Srinagar-Kashmir) towards Jogilankar, after about 100 meters, we arrive at a 4-way (Kalwal Moholla). The road to left leads towards Hariparbat. A 10 feet wide lane to the right leads towards Kralyar. The Pandit settlement started from this point. In this lane was situated our ancestral house. It was a 2-story modest house constructed some time in 1860 AD. On the opposite side was the abode of the trees. The trees would almost kiss the boundary wall of the land across the road.

The oldest impressions my memory bank often recalls are only two. One: a joint photograph clicked, when I was three year old kid, on the occasion of a marriage ceremony in the courtyard of a school in Motiyar. More than fifty odd faces were photographed at that moment. Since this school became my alma mater for 8 years, the memory of that photographic incident remained fresh in my mind.

The second is the image, awe and grandeur of the twin giant trees. Kashmir as we know it, is a colder place. During the five odd months of the summer we used to shift our kitchen to the second floor. But at the arrival of the next fall would return to the ground floor and abandon the top floor.

During the months of summer these trees were my companions. Since the windows were not barricaded, I would sit by the window and watch the dance of the leaves. The trunks of the trees were by my rough estimate, not less than 2 meters in circumference. They rose vertically up to an amazing height of 60 feet-ram-rod, free from crookedness. Apart from a variety of birds that would frolic and chirp on their branches, what would always catch my attention were the leaves of the trees. At a very early age, I gathered that they looked like palms of a two year old baby- small in size wonderfully waving by- by to the travellers. And after a good downpour, when the sun seeped through the recesses and crevices, the leaves would acquire golden hues. Beauty in golden uniform!

But sometimes, as the mood of the seasons changed so would the giants display their anger as if irritated by the gushing and rushing winds. As the winds gathered speed the giants would call upon their reserve strength to withstand the challenge of the elements. And in this slugfest the trees would sway dangerously threatening the dwarf dwellings all around. Many times, I remember holding my mother tightly as if she was stronger that the raw power of the trees.

But nothing abides! In distant Pakistan, when Z A Bhutto was hanged the anger of the local Muslims erupted against the Jammat- Islami. They went about burning their houses. The anger was especially directed against their shops and orchards. The apple trees belonging to the Jammat people were simply sawed and felled. Now this made big news in, yet again distant Saudi Arabia. The good thing about Saudi Arabia is that they have as much cash in their coffers as oil is under their desert! A call for help made those who manufacture wars under the rubric of helping the poor opened the strings of their purses. Money started flowing in. First of all it was a trickle for genuine help. But when Afghan resistance war gathered steam a full- fledged intrigue under the garb of help was hatched. Give and Take became the mantra. So started a feverish pitch for mosque constructions and propagation of Salafi ideology amongst the most civilised Muslims of the sub-continent!

Kashmir is a food deficit valley. It was always dependent upon imports of food grains to feed her ever growing population. At age ten we came to know that a law passed in America, had brightened the prospects of availability of assured food grains through public distribution system to us. This, as we came to know later on was called PL 480. As we kids started gaining acquaintance with the ways of the world, we rechristened the food grains supplied through this pipeline as the dust of PL 480. Such was the quality of the food grains!

Hak is the staple vegetable in the valley. It was always there in our plates. It still is! The name of the lady, God bless her soul, who brought this ubiquitous vegetable to our door step every morning was Sundri. In the local lingo it means a very beautiful lady. Although she had gained years but was pure, graceful and gentle! She weighed not more than 50 kgs. Her only son was somehow trapped by the puritans amongst the Muslims and indoctrinated.

But he too like his mother was gentle and civilised.

One summer morning, it was Friday; a motely group of bearded persons with skull caps descended upon the 20×20 feet piece of land with tools and tackles and started clearing the land of the deadly weed which had kept the company of the two trees for all the years of their existence. A hush descended on the street. As the Pandit ladies appeared on the windows side eying each other without exchanging words, I enquired from the crowd what was happening. Sundri’s son told me directly that they were going to construct Ahal-e –Hadis mosque on this piece of land. When I enquired what will happen to these trees, he replied, “But we are felling the trees!” That was it when the two giants were felled and relieved of their duty of keeping my company- my childhood friends.

      So in this manner a two story mosque was constructed which in turn started traffic of strangers in a sleepy Mohalla.

PART II Story

So the mosque came up where a small wilderness once hosted the presence of nature’s most upright creation- Poplar Trees, genus Indic. The mosque soon doubled up as a madrassa. In this way a sleepy neighbourhood became a very active place. It became a thoroughfare more for the strangers than for those who would walk down the street occasionally. With the structure in place, a loud speaker was also installed. It became necessary to announce five times a day, that the institution for imparting the Salafi ideology was in place.

What was the need for constructing a mosque in a predominantly Pandit area? All fingers point towards one aim! Unsettle a settled Hindu population. I am not bothered about if every mosque turns into a fortress, because they have to provide logistic support for future battles. Every mosque can keep a tank at its gate and an ack-ack gun on its roof. But what is killing is that every aromatic intellectual as also every chicken hearted politician will say: Oh, that is a dummy tank! That thing at the roof is a star gazing instrument! Don’t worry!

                       Who is there to accept the challenge? Islam will prevail!

Recently one book written by Mridu Rai passed my eyes. It carries a very provocative title: Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects. It is very clear that the author spills beans before she writes the first word. The first day wrote what the last day of reckoning shall read. Omar Khayyam. I started with bibliography. I was appalled to find the names of B L Sharma, PNK Bamzai, Prof Balraj Puri and many others missing. This unreadable book has cherry picked from a mountain of records to fill the pages to smear the face of the Dogra rulers. Who had commissioned a Hindu lady to write a provocative book when India was fighting with back to the wall in Kashmir? Yes, Ayesha Jalal that nice lanky lady who could have done a better job for she is a Prof. of History at Tuft’s University. But being a Muslim, the book would not carry conviction in political circles. The punch had to be delivered through a Hindu. Naturally a Hindu lady was manipulated to draft it. Or is it the draft of the book was already prepared and the name of Mridu Rai punched on its cover? The author does not explore. She arrives at a destination. I normally don’t lose my temper. But this cheap intellectual sleigh of hand made me angry. I immediately drafted a protest note and mailed it to the publisher, PERMANENT BLACK, Ranikhet. But Karan Singh never bothered to come to the rescue of his able ancestors!

What the author has forgotten to mention is that the Dogras did not conquer Kashmir. It was sold by the British in the same manner in which following sale deeds were executed. Napoleon sold Louisiana and Spain Florida to the USA. 2.16 million square kilometres of land of Louisiana was purchased @ less than 3 cents/acre. The sale deed of Florida carried the caveat: All Seminole inhabitants, the original inhabitants had to move to west of Mississippi river by 1835. The Treaty of Amritsar was signed in 1846 AD. Going by the convention/agreements the said treaty is not dead but is in suspended animation. When in 1990 AD Hurriyat challenged the accession and started the freedom struggle, what should have V P Singh done? Had he any sense of statesmanship he should have invited the Hurriyat and the mainstream Muslim leadership as also the riffraff and enlightened them about the pitfalls of such a demand. He should have told them point blank that in case you reject the accession in that case Kashmir reverts back to 1846 position. But I can’t blame him. He was of course non compos mentis. But PVNR disappointed me. He was made of tougher material than any of his contemporaries. He had a lion’s heart in his human body! But every Hindu loses steam when the Muslims challenge them. Sky is the limit! Burkina Faso! Panic! He exposed his flanks before India could see the enemy. The Hindu statesmanship employs an accountant’s approach to overcome conflict situations.  Profit and Loss!  If the Sale deeds, which the USA entered into with France and Spain are still valid, so is sale deed of Kashmir valid.

Mridu Rai has a special respect for Sir Walters but ignores his appreciation of Dogra Rule: One can hardly believe that in 50 years (1846-1896) the Dogras have ruled with such competence that peace has descended on a permanently pugnacious place. She talks about abject exploitation of the Muslim peasantry but fails to mention that the population of Kashmir had shrunk from an all-time high of 12 lacs to 2 lacs between 1560AD to 1835 AD. In 1883 it was 4,91,846 including Muzzafarabad.

The author has conveniently avoided the episode when Maharaja Pratap Singh appointed an Education Commission headed by Sir Henry Sharp in 1916AD. One of the recommendations of the commission was that in order to improve inter-faith understanding and acceptability, the religious education to students should be included in school curriculum. This recommendation was accepted. In this way the foundations of much talked about Kashmiri culture were laid. Kashmiryat!

She has also forgotten to mention that the public distribution system was introduced by the Dogras to put food into bellies of hungry urban population. I think J&K is the first state which tried its hand on PDS, so dear to communists, much before the Hindus in India were dazzled by freedom.

The lady (naturally groomed by the JNU- an expensive miscalculation on record!) teaches Political Romanticism and History’s Indulgences at Yale University!

Let us return to our story of the mosque built on the ruins of nature’s dear creation. The men folk (Pandits) were not bothered with what was going on behind their backs in this locality after the mosque was commissioned because they would move out to attend to their duties every day. The house wives, aged population and children were naturally arraigned at the receiving end. Fridays were days of increased activity. As is wont in Islam the faithfuls have to listen to the address, Khutba, before mid-day namaz. In this way the Pandits would receive the Islamic instructions while sitting in their homes. The subject of address would veer upon the contemporary local politics weaved around the tapestry of Palestinian issue. But occasionally the adult stuff would also become the subject of address. How to do what! When to do it! Desire! Muttah! Idat, Liwat, Awra, Haram, Fitra etc were freely discussed. Now imagine the embarrassment of the ladies who had to ask their elders for partaking of lunch while the live adult stuff was being debated in pure local language. I am talking about the mid 80’s when television had hardly invaded our privacy. The outright disregard of Pandit sentiments emboldened the younger population of the Muslims who threw caution to winds every passing day. A new culture was being planted in their minds. It soon gripped their psyche and became their second nature.

Towards the north of our house- backside, a modest Pandit had constructed a three storey house in the ’35 architectural style. But in early 60’s having fallen on evil days, had to dispose of the house and a highbrow Muslim family purchased it. After about ten years this family too disposed of the house and a vulgar Muslim, who had made good money from sources no one knew about. Now an illiterate person of low culture once he settled his family in better settings started having ideas. “A man thinks differently in a hut and a palace”, says Feuerbach.

We are now in the year 1989. I was posted in Baramulla, a town 50 kms away from Srinagar. The rot of militancy had set in. The state was fast retreating and the space was quickly been gobbled up by the non-state characters. The state employees also relaxed their administrative grip and became mute spectators to the activities of the anti-social elements. In this atmosphere my Muslim neighbour got an idea of constructing an out- house with the idea to usurp the land which is set off in Kashmir to allow space for snow, when it slips from tinned roofs. When he started the construction with the intent of trespass, I was informed about it. So started my face-off with my neighbour! I approached the court and             obtained a stay order. But the state of indiscipline had reached such a level that he continued with the construction. In the mean time I was informing both the Municipal Commissioner as well as the Ward Officer. Since I had to prepare myself for a long haul, creating evidences was my only defence route. The situation had reached a dangerous level. Amidst the atmosphere of distrust, the clouds of terror were getting darker. Fear was the ruling deity especially amongst the Pandits. Many advised me to be more circumspect. But I didn’t allow courage to desert me.

And finally the day arrived when we had to present our case before the tribunal. I drafted my appeal with the help of the evidences I had accumulated. That appeal was, as one lawyer put it “A piece of literature.” The concluding part of the appeal was clinching. “The manner in which the Ward officer overlooked the stay order of the Hon’ble Court and wilfully followed the route of dereliction of duty, has transformed two good neighbours into sworn enemies!” The allegation against the officer stunned the tribunal but it put the decision on hold till further orders.

That was the last time I was in Srinagar. I never returned ever after. The twin trees had while being felled perhaps delivered their last instruction to me, which of course never reached me: Kid! You are a man now. Crime will hold court at this place in near future. Go find a new place! The world is still habitable.

The month of December was counting its days. Meanwhile Kashmir was nursing a death wish.  Stage managing an armed struggle in Kashmir was gaining momentum. The NC had succeeded in pitting people against the centre. The state, to borrow a phrase from Karl Marx, had withered away. The Chief Minister soon left for exotic locations. It was now Muslim swagger versus Hindu dilemma. Ever since the brilliant general of the legion, Mahmoud of Gazni stamped defeat on the forehead of Raja Jaya Pal, the Hindu statesmanship had been sitting on the horns of dilemma: to be or not to be, that is the question! Many writers have explained the import of this ‘wail of the willow’. But one that is dear to my heart and near my person is the one advanced by Goethe: Hamlet represents the type of person whose power of direct action is paralysed by the excessive development of his intellect! This infirmity became an intimate affliction of the Hindu Statesmanship ever after. And when it finally risked a decision in Jan 1950 AD, it took the shortest route to self-destruction!