It is that time of the year. We bid farewell to 2017 and herald a new year, thinking in our naivety that everything bad and unpleasant is behind us, but you see, our fears never leave us. They are like those fake charges that the NIA uses every now and then to scare off the poor Hurriyat leadership. When the first flakes of snow fell on Srinagar in early December, the government decided to serve a quick ED notice to Geelani Sahib in the same manner one would serve Harisa to a guest on a cold morning. It is not that the authorities in Kashmir have no sense of humour, it is just that they have too much of it, perhaps. Why else would they arm-twist people to talk to them? Hey, look here, you are not talking to me, I will show those old love notes to all your relatives – and they will then bitch about you.
In a fit of sudden benevolence, PM Modi appointed the ex-IB Boss, Dineshwar Sharma, to hold parleys (interlocutor in mediaspeak) with Kashmiris in 2017. Since October the affable Sharma is camping off and on in Srinagar. Initially, the ‘talks’ garnered a huge amount of interest in TV studios. At 9 o’clock – which is Prime Time in India — that out-grown schoolboy, who lords over the Republic, was so wild with excitement, it felt that he would burst anytime. It is hard to tell if he got hard by the announcement itself or was it the hallucinogenic effect of yet another retired babu spending his summer (and winter) in Kashmir, talking to the already converted. During his last visit to Kupwara, no cameras were allowed. Maybe the former sleuth, given his career as a spy, remembered a thing or two about discretion. Even if it came a tad late.
There is no indication as of now whether the phantoms of 2017 shall revisit us again in 2018. The braid choppers have vanished as suddenly as they came. God knows how many poor lover boys and random folk got beaten up during those insane summer months when the so-called ‘braid cutters’ (armed with nothing except a pair of clippers) descended upon Kashmir. Everywhere you looked, some hapless woman had her ponytail chopped off. The cops went bonkers, while conspiracy theorists had a field day.
One unlucky boy, mistaken for a braid chopper, was nearly burnt at stake. Another place an entire village chased a jinxed lover, who had come to secretly meet his Shakeela (or whatever her name was). Lucky he got away, but not before his kameez-yezar was torn into a million shreds. Repeatedly he kept telling the frenzied mob (and a dozen odd boys filming his ordeal on cell-phones: Mye haz chu true love/I have got true love). It is a lament that real ashiqs understand in peaceful times, but alas in an atmosphere of mass hysteria versus it-is-the-damn-Indian-agencies, all affairs of the heart are lost. In the end, as autumn changed into winter, the scissors simply dissolved.
There was a lot of scaremongering over Article 35A in the year bygone. A mixture of fear and dread engulfed Kashmir. While people were bracing for the worst, a relief came in the form of adjournments. First the case was postponed to be heard after Diwali, and when a Supreme Court bench examining the constitutional validity of Article 35A, convened in late October, they put it on hold for a few more months. Which means that while the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads has been replaced for the time being, come February or March (or May/June when we are at our most pugnacious best) it will be re-hung. Let’s just hope we survive the final swipe.
While we await our fate, someone (most probably bored) in the government suggested a plan is afoot to set up two villages, model villages, if you may, where there shall be zero human rights violations. Suppose the cops need to haul someone up. Instead of picking him up in the middle of the night and breaking his bones, they will send him a summon (wow!) and call him to a police station. How novel! Suddenly it looks like some tooth-fairy has visited the powers that be, and extracted all their wisdom teeth. Be that as it may, there are questions abound on the ‘no-human-rights-violation’ village. If there is voting, let’s assume, do the inhabitants of this model gaam get an automatic immunity? Will they be tied-up to bonnets of military jeeps if they vote? The government must kindly clarify.
Back in the Azadi camp, Geelani Sahib, I am told, is terribly upset at the idea of throwing open cinemas and operas in Saudi Arabia. Just like Kashmir, Saudis have had no cinema for about three decades now, and some of them, like us, are terribly blasé. The thing with smartphones and high-speed internet is that almost all of us carry these miniature cinemas in our pheran pockets. You stream videos live or watch them later at your convenience. The debate over whether theatre is haram or halal in 2017-2018 is like an argument over the utility of banks which operate purely on interest. In the 21st century, without a bank account, you cannot prove that you exist. What if Modi suddenly decides to demonetize our 100-rupee notes? Where shall we go to exchange our dyaar?
Banter apart, there is a beautiful world out there, if you look up from your cell phones. A few things better than fighting over social media in Kashmir in 2018: talk to parents, play with a kid, confab with friends, watch it snow, or watch Call Me By your Name, the best movie of the year. Better still, cuddle up with a good book. When there is spare time, come back to Facebook, like all the random pictures, watch a couple of stray videos, say your lols or say awful things to Tasaduq Mufti.
Happy New Year, you all.
The author is Deputy Opinion Editor at Gulf News. He previously worked with Khaleej Times, Hindustan Times and Alphaville, London. Sameer’s debut novel is out soon.