Thursday, December 25, 2008

Kashmir winter: Of shikharas, Uncle Tom's shayaris and Orkut

10 years back, if you told someone you're traveling to Kashmir, they would have told you that it's a bad idea. But after the drama that unfolded on 26/11 in Mumbai, my plans for a Kashmir trip elicited this response:

"Well, Mumbai isn’t safe anyway. Have a good time."

And so I pack my bags, hop aboard a flight with a 6-day itinerary in the snow-capped tip of northern India - the sights of which first fascinated me in films such as Roja and Mission Kashmir. I watched the latter several times, to learn the steps of Rind posh maal, a song which I eventually choreographed in my school’s annual day function. (Psst..all this, just to woo my first crush. It was Class nine!)

When I reach Srinagar, it's the same song that Ishfaq, the 23-year old boatsman of my shikhara hums (and follows it up with Bhumbro) as he takes me across Dal lake to the houseboat in which I’d be staying.

Sitting in the shikhara – similar to the one which made Shammi Kapoor go bonkers once, I’m told - I soak in cool weather. The mercury hovers around 2 degrees, and as we bob across the maze of houseboats camped like exhibits, Ishfaq and me get talking.

I ask him whether it’s a safe time to be visiting Kashmir. He nods. When I tell him I’m from Mumbai, he asks me, "Have you heard of Qazi Tauqeer? Humaara Kashmir ka singer hai! He is in Bombay now. Bahut artist log Kashmir chhodke Mumbai gaya. But Inshallah, Kashmir is much safer now. Terrorists are everywhere. Mumbai ko bhi nahin chhoda.”

Some artists come back though. Like Tom Alter, who drops by a couple of days later to meet a friend. He’s originally a Mussoorie man, and the last time he came to Kashmir was 24 years ago.

I meet him at a common friend's residence, where we’ve been invited for Eid and our host treats us to an elaborate feast of kebaabs, biryani, mutton rishta, chicken curry, paneer. Uncle Tom’s impressed.

Before he can burp, a shayari flows from his lips: "Do cheezon ke liye main banoo musalmaan. Ek seekh kabab aur doosra Waheeda Rahman."

More shayaris follow, as we travel 40 kms from Srinagar to the Rashtriya Rifles base in Beeru, on invitation from a friend in the army. When we reach there, our hosts are pleasantly surprised to Uncle Tom in tow.

We chat – about life in the army, how unfortunate the terror attacks in Mumbai were, how things are changing in Kashmir. At the end of it, comes one defining moment of Alter’s visit.

"Sir", a major says addressing Alter, the same man who for years remained a symbol of British imperialism in several Hindi movies, "Your role in Kranti curdled my blood. The way you said 'Bloody Indians!'…As a young boy, I felt like strangling you then. And today, you've walked into our karmabhoomi. It’s a great honour for us, Sir."

As drinks, music, and a game of basketball follow, the army men convince us that things have changed for better in Kashmir.

Maybe they're right. The next day, after Alter departs for Delhi, I set out for Gulmarg and Sonmarg to experience torrential snowfall. On the way, I notice kids, women – they appear to be straight out of a Majid Majidi film - walking about in gay abandon. Our vehicle attracts their curious glances. The women, sometimes slowly bite their protective scarf and smile, waving cheerfully as an afterthought. I feel welcome in their territory.

Still, Kashmir’s image as a hotbed of militancy now overshadows its past crown of 'paradise on earth'. Indian film-makers who once would spend months shooting there, now shoot in the Swiss Alps.

Things take a pleasant turn though, on my last day. As Ishfaq rows me across Dal lake, one last time, I click his picture and he asks me if I can send the photo to him. I assure him, I will if he gives me his postal address.

"Take down my e-mail ID," he says, taking me completely by surprise. "Which one do you want? Yahoo, Rediff, Hotmail..? I can put it on my Orkut profile later."

Maybe it’s true. Things are changing in Kashmir. And Orkut Buyyukokten has something to do with it.

(The above write-up appeared in DNA in the weekly column Open City.)

29 comments:

Pooja said...

Sweet and simple... :)

Insha-allah, things will take a pleasent turn for everyone, everywhere! :)

Neha Sachin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neha Sachin said...

Hey arco...

So nicely put in so simple words....

It reading your blog reminded me of my trip to Kashmir.. Of course i dint meet sir Tom but yes it was a great experience though.. something out of the world...

Wish even i could put down my experience in words.. m very bad at words..

payal.k said...

Hey.. Your trip sounds really interestin:)

Drashti said...

ellow! couldnt resist reading abt kashmir! especially when someone known visits it. felt lovely to read ur article! lovely! sigh! journalism has its moments of beauty too!

TechToNiK said...

Your post reminded me of my visit to kashmir.. was there for a year when i a kid.. dont remember everything though but my photos does remind me.. kashmir seems to have not changed enough from then to now..

Seems like u had a wonderful time..

Cheers!!

TechToNiK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dsi r4 said...

Nice post. It reading your blog reminded me of my trip to Kashmir..I mis that atmosphere. It was a wonderful trip.

Burberry Scarf said...

This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.

Anonymous said...

ah at last, I found this post once again. You have few [url=http://tipswift.com]useful tips[/url] for my school project. Now, I won't forget to bookmark it. :)

Anonymous said...

porno [url=http://pornushi.ru/english-version/happy-days-xxx/free-anime-manga.php]free anime manga[/url]

Anonymous said...

beats by dr dre haxbvzmm beats by dre guflghnq beats dr dre kbxnqial beats for sale asszzoxi beats headphones ptbcajkr cheap monster beats chkdmvot dr dre beats aulujqqu dr dre headphones zxpngmbl monster beats by dre xcmtvmcl monster beats headphones qhkmegos monster beats hbairaus monster headphones zvwrchpe

Anonymous said...

cheap nike air max kivayrbi cheap nike free run jspwaljb cheap nike shoes owkqveaj nike air max wuppdcaa nike free run sgqxsyyf nike shoes online zuqmpbdd

Anonymous said...

cheap ugg boots sale byodkynp cheap ugg boots uk bhytesnj cheap ugg boots cvnzjdfb cheap uggs lqzsovum ugg boots sale uk pbozptbk ugg boots sale xoenglla ugg boots uk xwvtnhfn ugg boots drbtrfqn ugg sale rinznvhc

Anonymous said...

ghd fysfauot GHD Hair Straightener lplkzpgh GHD Australia tizaptot cheap ghd

Anonymous said...

I'm really enjoying the theme/design of your blog. Do you ever run into any internet browser compatibility issues? A number of my blog visitors have complained about my website not operating correctly in Explorer but looks great in Safari. Do you have any ideas to help fix this problem?

Also visit my homepage :: crear facebook gratis

Anonymous said...

Hi there! Ӏ just wanted tо аsk if you eѵеr
have any trouble with hаckeгs? My last blog
(wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing months of
hаrd work due to nο ԁаta bacκup.

Do you have any solutіons tо ρroteсt
against hаckers?

Visit my hοmepagе: abrir cuenta facebook

Anonymous said...

WOW јust whаt I was looking fοr.
Came here by searсhing for сomo
crеaг facebooκ еmpresa

Also visіt my web site; crear facebook gratis

Anonymous said...

yοu're in reality a good webmaster. The site loading pace is incredible. It sort of feels that you are doing any unique trick. In addition, The contents are masterpiece. you have performed a great task on this topic!

my blog; www.thecmosite.com

Anonymous said...

I wanted to thаnk you for this wonderful гead!
! I definitеly loved every little bit of it. I havе yоu saved as a fаvоrite to look at new stuff you рost…

Have а looκ аt my web blog crearfacebook.weebly.com

Anonymous said...

Hеllo, Neat pоst. Therе is a problem tοgetheг wіth уοur
wеb site in inteгnеt eхploгer,
may checκ this? IE ѕtіll is the marκetplace chiеf and a
good cοmponent to ρeople will оmіt yοur magnіfіcеnt writing becаuse of
this pгoblem.

Аlѕo vіsit my wеb page ::
facebook cuenta gratis

Abhinav Sharma said...

NICE POST THANKS FOR SHARING!
Kashmir Luxury Houseboats | Houseboats Booking in Kashmir

Daksh Kashyap said...

This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.

Kashmir Holiday Packages

Anonymous said...

I wanted to thаnk you for this wonderful гead! keep up with the good work :)

Leh Tours

Anonymous said...

I wanted to thаnk you for this wonderful гead! :)

- Holiday Packages for Kashmir

riya singh said...

I wanted to thаnk you for this wonderful гead! Keep posting :))

- Kashmir trip

priya pathak said...

This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I ever saw.Thanks for posting this informative article.

- amarnath yatra tour packages

priya pathak said...

Sweet and simple... :)

Insha-allah, things will take a pleasent turn for everyone, everywhere! :)

- tour packages for ladakh

Ajay Jain said...

Very Informative blog post


Nepal Pokhra Tour