Monday, November 22, 2010

Of Weddings in a Village

Made a slap-dash trip to Breswana recently to attend a family double-wedding. Photo-story follows [click on pics to magnify]:

Started with road trip from Jammu towards Kishtwar on NH-1B; disembarked 8 hours later at small roadside town of Prem Nagar. Where one crosses a footbridge to get to the mountains on the other side. At this time of the year, the Chenab has shrunk considerably because the source waters in the mountains are now freezing etc. Do the geography yourself.
Here is the bridge we cross and the other half of Prem Nagar built into the facing mountains. It's about a hundred metres max, if that, though when I was little I distinctly remember it being about 5 kms longer.
Once at Prem Nagar, the horses await, and we start our upward ride: 3 to 4 hours at a comfortable amble. Pits stops and refreshments are to be had as you like it.
 Ahem. By the way, this is my new gorgeous black mare. So far I call her Black Mare, which is #FAIL.
Finally reached my home in the hills after sunset, and it was c-c-c-cold, but aha! What's this I spy in my room? Verily it is a blazing fire. Zzzzzzz.
After a great overnight rest, which was preceded by fresh warm buffalo milk and a good hot water foot bath, I awoke the next morning to play with the pups and a few village shrimps. Boy on left is our in-house Gujjar kid, Hashim Din. Boy on right is young Irfan, who has some sort of mental disability and is still stuck at an infant's level of mental development. He's great with animals. :)
Close up of baby cocky spangrel [Cocker Spaniel+mongrel mix], Motu, at his favourite spot, under the dahlias in the sunny front yard.
Anyway... Wedding time, and we head to the next village where Shahida and her brother Nisar were both getting married on the same day. Shahida to leave for her new home, and Nisar to bring his new wife in.So this is the path we take.On foot and horseback, as the road allows.
Now, a village wedding in my ilaaka is of monstrous proportions for the very simple reason that everyone in a village is related to everyone else in the village... and very often the adjoining few villages as well. So a general invite to the whole world and its family is sent out, and since weddings are fun times and provide a rare reprieve from their daily lives to our hardy village peeps, everyone takes advantage of these occasions to come out in numbers. Huge numbers.
What makes a village wedding doable, for even the poorest of people, is the fact that everyone pitches in. Every single family offers something to the wedding preparations. People will either bring milk, curd, ghee, livestock, rice, wheat or whatever they have to help the host families do their thing. This is apart from the cash gifts they give to the bride and groom.

This particular wedding I was at was expected to host 700 peeps at each meal. And so cooking preparations were awesome to witness. The Culinary Department at such dos is the biggest deal. An outdoor cooking camp is set up, with logs, gigantic vessels and impressive manpower at work the whole day. They are in charge of providing chais, rotis, main meals and other special requests for special guests from time to time.
At meal times, the guests are called in batches to the eating tent. Catering units form a human chain and after the hand-washing routine [in Kashmir, hosts go from guest to guest, after they are seated for a meal, carrying the 'tash-nerr' (which means receptacle and kettle respectively) for them to wash their hands in], the preserved plates are brought in piping hot from the cooking area.
The pre-served plate will normally have a bed of rice, some chutney and a few pieces of meat from the various dishes on the menu. Then one by one, a line of servers start making rounds carrying huge buckets serving various curries or topping up plates and refilling rice as the case may be. Water bearers do their thing simultaneously. It is most wonderful to watch a well-oiled meal service in action.  [Please note, this is not a Waazwan. This is a most simple wedding meal practised in the poor mountain areas of our district. Waazwan happens in proper Kashmir, i.e. the Valley.]
Here is the young team of Caterers at Shahida and Nisar's wedding.
Inside the wedding house, the aim of the game apparently is to cramp as many human bodies as possible within the smallest confines, then sit and talk loudly or sing folk songs as the mood sets on you. :) The ladies and kids come decked up in their finest, they sit, chat, meet long-lost relatives, gossip and in general make for a very noisy and entertaining scene. For people who don't like crowds [guilty] it is a bit much, and I found myself standing outdoors, in the shamianas or secluded in a separate room with no intruders. Still, most interesting to watch.
 The men and women sit separately, with most of the men involved in the actual running around and wedding work. The ladies just have it easy.
And so, Day 1 of the Wedding, which was Mehndi Raat. Shahida's girlfriend from college in Doda came up to the village to do her mehndi and makeup.
Cute decorations for the next day, when the two brides would be seated side-by-side: One, the new incoming bride and the other, the bride to leave for her new home. [Check out the heart garland. #WIN!]
 New bride arrived in a paalki. Her village was about two and a half hours away, on mountain roads- which means uphills and downhills! Most impressive of the paalki-wallahs.
 And soon after, Shahida's groom arrived. [On one of our horses. :]
 Here are the two lovely ladies. Shahida, screen left, and new bride, screen right.
Cash garlands are a very big deal here, as in UP and Mayawati. Except these are believable sums, and ten rupee notes.
Another funny tradition: After the baraatis/groom come to the bride's house, a select group of close lady relatives from the girl's side, gets to come to his room and stare at him for a while. After many awkward moments, and a heavy silence, suddenly every one of them thrusts cash gifts at his loyal companion, who accepts these token as part of his duties. Scene ends.
Here is Zaana Auntie, Shahida's Ma, seated near the groom [but not talking to him: shy].
 Here is the dashing groom Nisar, happy to have brought home a blushing bride.
 And that was that. A most eventful wedding happened. Masses met and good wishes passed along for the next generation. There were no fights which is surprising for such big gatherings. Much chai was had, many songs were sung. One pretty girl left and another took her place. Lots of animals gave their lives for a good cause. Burp.

Back at the Haji homestead, on the morning of my departure, was hanging with our horses in the fields.
Groomed Black Mare for a bit and she was like, "WTF?" Zanskari horses are not namby-pamby and she was really irritated as I brushed her coat. Tee hee.
Quick stop at the school before rushing out. It was the first day of HPS's annual examination for the year 2010. Kids praying hard at assembly just before the event. :)
Examination hall was created outside in the winter sun because it was chilly inside the classrooms and most magical outdoors.
 Hehehe. Check out little Rubina applying herself as she works out an answer.
 Back home to say bye to the two pup faces: Motu and ThinSo. [ThinSo is stray boy we picked up from the streets in Jammu. He's a nutcase.]
 Farewell shot of the school as I left for Jammu.
Downhill is about 3+ hours of walking. We don't take horses going down because of the steep descent, big boulders and generally unnecessary leg-breakage-risk. In this pic, you can see my poor Abba limping along heroically with his cane for support. He had hurt his feet something terrible earlier and they were not healed yet. Toenails falling off, bleeding etc. But he did the trip and did it well. Hero!
 Here we are resting about halfway down. You can see the bridge at Prem Nagar at the bottom.
 Quick stop at our Doda digs and the office of the Amina Trust.

And another quick stop at Kishtwar, my mother's hometown, for a family visit. Here was the highlight of the Kishtwar trip, my bouncy baby cousin Sa'ad, a blonde bonmbshell and most clever kid who I have marked out for greater things in the future.

This concludes the present broadcast. Please leave comments and questions below. Also, point out typos to me. There is no way I'm rereading the entire post. :)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yes, yes, contrary to what you think, I do not write only about Arundhati Roy. [Oh, look, I did it again.]
Anyway, am back from quick trip to Breswana and the school. Attended a couple of weddings, and a couple of funerals. Most disturbing.
Pics soon. Here's a sample, from happy times in Breswana:

This here is my new puppy face. So far have not named him because he has not yet developed an animality. Based on looks alone, we call him Motu. Sometimes we call him Fatty. (He does't respond to either.) He responds very well to food.
He's very adorable, okay? Okay.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Happy Halloween, Ms Roy - XOXO

From Hari Kunzru's blog, direct C&P here:
[This message from Arundhati Roy arrived in my inbox this morning. The allegation that the news media is colluding with those orchestrating the violence is extremely serious and requires a response.]

 A mob of about a hundred people arrived at my house at 11 this morning (Sunday October 31st 2010.) They broke through the gate and vandalized property. They shouted slogans against me for my views on Kashmir, and threatened to teach me a lesson. The OB Vans of NDTV, Times Now and News 24 were already in place ostensibly to cover the event live.  TV reports say that the mob consisted largely of members of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha (Women’s wing). After they left, the police advised us to let them know if in future we saw any OB vans hanging around the neighborhood because they said that was an indication that a mob was on its way. In June this year, after a false report in the papers by Press Trust of India (PTI) two men on motorcycles tried to stone the windows of my home. They too were accompanied by TV cameramen.

What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the ‘scene’ in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime? This question is important, given that some TV channels and newspapers are in the process of brazenly inciting mob anger against me. In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred. So what if a few people have to be sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings? The Government has indicated that it does not intend to go ahead with the charges of sedition against me and the other speakers at a recent seminar on Azadi for Kashmir. So the task of punishing me for my views seems to have been taken on by right wing storm troopers. The Bajrang Dal and the RSS have openly announced that they are going to “fix” me with all the means at their disposal including filing cases against me all over the country. The whole country has seen what they are capable of doing, the extent to which they are capable of going. So, while the Government is showing a degree of maturity, are sections of the media and the infrastructure of democracy being rented out to those who believe in mob justice? I can understand that the BJP's Mahila Morcha is using me to distract attention the from the senior RSS activist Indresh Kumar who has recently been named in the CBI charge-sheet for the bomb blast in Ajmer Sharif in which several people were killed and many injured. But why are sections of the mainstream media doing the same? Is a writer with unpopular views more dangerous than a suspect in a bomb blast? Or is it a question of ideological alignment?

Arundhati  Roy
October 31st 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Arundhati Roy re possible sedition charge - Oct 26th 2010

Dear all of you,
I am sending this from Srinagar. This is my statement in response to the news that I may be arrested soon on charges of sedition. It would be lovely if the whole statement is carried— which is why I am not sending it to the wire services.
All the best


I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning’s papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.

Yesterday I traveled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice. I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer’s husband and Asiya’s brother. We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get ‘insaf’—justice—from India, and now believed that Azadi—freedom— was their only hope. I met young stone pelters who had been shot through their eyes. I traveled with a young man who told me how three of his friends, teenagers in Anantnag district, had been taken into custody and had their finger-nails pulled out as punishment for throwing stones.

In the papers some have accused me of giving ‘hate-speeches’, of wanting India to break up. On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians. It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one. Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.

Arundhati Roy

October 26 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Glory Days

India's thrilling, tear-inducing, goose-bumping gold medal win at the CWG 2010's 4x400m Women's Relay event.

Utter fantasticness. Wooo hooo! You know the result before-hand, but does that take away from the adrenaline rush? :) Nope.

Well done, Manjeet Kaur, Sini Jose, Ashwini Chidananda Akkunji and Mandeep Kaur. These lovely ladies finished the race in 3:27.77 seconds, bringing in India's first ever track gold for women at the Games. Way back in 1958, the 'Flying Sikh' Milkha Singh took the gold in the men's 400m at the Cardiff Games. There has been no other track gold for India at the Games.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tripping on Arabic Pop

That's what I've been doing these past few days.
Primary reason being my unhealthy love for the language that is Arabic, with its depth, poetry, romance, and heavy throatiness.
The other being, it is good music. I don't listen to popular Angrezi music much because that often inspires me to attempt to kill myself, but Arabic pop is fun, fun, fun.
But I am a dilettante fan. Have no real knowledge of real great Arab greats. A cursory Google search lands me the usual suspects: Amr Diab, Nancy Ajram, Elissa, Khaled, Ramsy etc. Amr Diab of course seems to be the ishtaar of the lot, and has been since my school days.
In any case, that's my trip currently. And a few important observations after YouTubing Arabic music videos:
1. These modern vids are classy, shot very nicely.
2. The women are gorgeous.
3. The men are gorgeous.

Here's Nancy Ajram with 'Enta Eih'. English subs for your viewing pleasure.

Missing the School

It's been almost a month since I was at HPS Breswana. Miss these imps.
Here they are, demonstrating the hilarity of the word 'Akimbo'. :)
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I, Kashmiri

Hindustan Times kindly asked me to write a personal opinion piece on Kashmir. It was published on Sunday, September 11 (!!!), 2010.
Most of you've read it. Here's the link for the rest.

[Awesome comments of course. :) Like 'leave Kashmir' suggestion. Read for amusement.]

PS: This is not the personal blog post on Kashmir I had talked about earlier ['Kashmir, Let's Talk']. That's going to be much lengthier, more detailed and with no real structure as such. I'll try and address all comments as well. Coming up...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kashmir. Let's Talk.

[EDIT : Waiting esp. for response to Point 4. Please contact. Thanks.]

So... The 'situation' in J&K has gone from bad to obscenely terrible in a period of two months. Death toll of unarmed protesters nearing 60 (or has it crossed already?), most victims of bullet shots from the CRPF and other 'security forces'- above the waist, below the damn waist, who cares. Not a single tangible action from the State/Indian Govt to admit the wrongness of what has occurred. No restraint orders, no pulling up of guilty personnel, no apology to the people even? Oh, hang on, sorry. We have to wait about 20 years for an apology or anything like it.

Anyway, am planning a big post on my take on Kashmir.

Off the top of my head, I'll get into the following: [EDIT: Below points are a way ahead. How the problem ought to be solved. The detailed post will make clearer where I'm coming from.]
1. Kashmir is a political problem, NOT a religious one.
2. Unfortunately, a lot of people (who make the most noise as well) WILL make it a religious issue.
3. Is this communalising of Kashmir its biggest tragedy? Yes. Thank you, Britain, for the Partition and the never-ending mess you unleashed. (Let's blame them!)
4. I am really, really interested in talking with with serious, level-headed, non-combative Kashmiri Pandits - about everything. Get in touch with me, please?
5. Kashmir cannot be compared to Indian states, because it is a completely unique issue.
6. Non-Kashmiris who have not lived here REALLY have no idea, as well-intentioned as you may be.
7. Elections: 60% voter turnout in recent elections does NOT indicate acceptance of  Indian statehood. Ugh. Ask me, I voted. And now my neighbourhood has good roads, yay. How about this: people need a local administration to run things well for a change - that's schools, colleges, hospitals, roads, electricity, water and what have you.
8. Plebiscite? Where is it? Oh, yes.
9. YOUTH: Get together. Sanely. Please. So far, everyone's made a mess of things. Let's get organised and talk.

Incidentally, here's one book I read years ago: Tavleen Singh's 'Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors'. Can't comment on it intelligently, I was too young to critique. All I remember is it was interesting.
Here's Vinayak Razdan's take on the book. (His blog is much too interesting, I say. Recommended.)

Oh, one more thing about the Kashmir problem: Books won't help much.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Help Pakistan Relief Ops

"Sorry for the late," as Pakistai actor Nadeem said in some bad movie, but here's a compendium of links for helping with the Pakistan flood relief efforts.
Please assist in whichever way you can by visiting this page.

It's been an over-busy month (natural disaster-wise) with the Leh tragedy, the China landslides and now Pakistan's increasing grief. The worst bit is the very lackadaisical global aid response to #pkfloods. The scale of human tragedy notwithstanding, people just aren't moving fast enough to help in this case.
As per Lyse Doucet of BBC World News: Pakistan relief official puts it like this." '05 earthquake affected 3.2mn, 1mn tents distributed. #pkfloods 12+ mn, 100,000 tents." (sic)
Boston Big Picture gallery here (above pic from that gallery- as brilliant as it is horrifying).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

GiveIndia - Leh Relief

People living anywhere in the world can reach out and help the victims of the Leh floods through GiveIndia - a secure online donation website. Here's the link.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Help in Leh

Pic and back story here.

For all those of you who have just chanced upon this site, and would like to help in the Leh relief operations, here are bank details you can use.
Beneficiary Name : Flood Relief Fund AMI Leh
Account Number : 0069040100027906
Account type : Savings
Bank Name : The Jammu & Kashmir Bank Ltd.
Branch : Leh – Main
The Rotary International is also assisting in relief operations. Leh's Rotary Club falls under District 3070. RI Distt 3070 can be contacted via their egroup on Yahoo.
The Rotary District 3070 eGroup is moderated by Rtn DGN Upkar Singh Sethi of Rotary Club Amritsar South and can be reached at

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Yeah, We Page 6 Types...

Meaning, BB, friends and I went to friend's awesome restaurant Olio (highly recommended by the way) in Koramangala, Bangalore, the other day and this is what happened...

Yusss. We got featured in one publication which probably no one reads, and we were on Page 6. The horror and cheap thrill of it all was too much. *fist pump*

Please note my awesome tee, custom made in Ladakh to signify that BB and I rode Enfields on our recent trip. BB has a similarly awesome one, but in a different colour.

Just so you know, BB saved a copy of the paper, and so did I. I specifically asked for it at BB's hotel lobby. We will now show it to everyone we know and STILL attempt nonchalance.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

It's Been a While

And it'll be a little more, even.

Verrrry busy past couple of months with the school, travelling back and forth between the village and Jammu and doing this, that and the other.
Haji Public School's first Annual Day was held in May. Great times! The kids & teachers were prepared with song and dance routines, a darling play (Doctor-Doctor) and general showcasing of talents. My pick of the lot: Kids singing folk song "Surayya teri suit ne bigaadi duniyaaaa," a philosophical life-lesson in comic verse. Hilarious. Also a little prize-giving ceremony for the bright sparks of the school.
(Click on pics to enlarge.)

After that trip, it was more running around headless chicken-esque, getting together a Rotary Club in Doda. With help from the awesome Rotarian Adeep Singh in Jammu, we received our official Rotary Charter on May 17, 2010. I am now Rotary President, ha ha. (That's right. It's all about ME.)
Lots of prepping and preening required as a Rotary Club. Also attending meetings and conferences, creating PPTs and talking through them... things I've always LOVED doing. Not.
Anyway. It's a good thing. We can take our school much further this way. And do tonnes of other stuff. God knows tonnes of other stuff needs doing in our rag-tag Doda District - home of the extremely jobless, hay-chewing, laid-back, gossipy mountain peeps who are glad to fill their own pockets regardless of right or wrong, morals or ethics. *snarl*

Wow. Where did that come from?

Anyway. June was a fun month. I hosted my first CouchSurfing acquaintance, Miss Beata Labikova, who also became Haji Public School's first ever teaching volunteer. What an experience. First time toilet paper has ever reached our little village Breswana. :)
Bea is a young scholarship student in Canada, majoring in... wait for it.... Jazz! Yes, and she's doing another academic major as well, which makes her life slightly busier than mine. I found out Bea has no concept of meal times because of her crazy schedule back home. Our Kashmiri peculiarity of four full meals a day came as a shock, and eventual bowel trouble, for her. Oh, the memories.
Bea was a treat to host. Completely no-fuss, low-maintenance, easy-going and a great traveller. Getting to our village and doing the rigorous uphill and downhill stretches, not to mention the long hours of road travel, is not exactly easy for a city slicker. But Bea was not that. She had a pretty good time of it, while I was on a "show off your culture and village" spree for a fortnight. I anointed Bea my offical guinea pig, experimenting on her for future volunteers' stints and used her as a bouncing board for ideas and feedback, especially keeping foreign travellers in mind.
Since she had a relatively short stay in Breswana, Bea did a brief intro session with the kids, talked to them about herself and gave a little presentation on Canada. Over the week she was with us at school she did painting sessions with the kids, a little arts and craft, singing, taught them Hang Man, gifted them stationery, and most fun of all: brought out bubble makers! What larks, Pip, what larks! Forget about the shrimps, we had a pretty good time ourselves. :)

Before Breswana we took Bea to Kishtwar, where she enjoyed traipsing through Chaugan and clicking pics of its trademark donkeys (pronounced 'dunkies' in the real Pahadi accent). Stayed at our khaala's place where we taught Bea the intricacies of a game called 'kirket'.
After the village trip, on our way back, we had to take a bizarre detour to the police station in Doda (escorted by men in uniforms), where the cops 'verified' Bea's authenticity by checking her FB profile. Nyaahahahahahaaa. I.Kid. You. Not. It was hilarious. :)

Overall, great experience.
Note to Next Volunteer: The bar has been set pretty high. You have a class act to follow.

That was May and June. This week it's been paperwork madness, getting together stuff for the Rotary. Rotary Doda is organising a free medical camp in Doda on July 17th and 18h, BTW. And tomorrow onwards, I leave for a month of travelling.

First to Doda to organise the Med Camp.

And then........ *drumroll* ZANSKAR and LEH!!!  Where we have to buy horses to take back home. And in Leh it's reunion time with girlfriends from Down South in Hindoostan. Also, BB the Insane joins us on these mad travels. What excitement I say. :)

Crap. Is that the time? Must pack. Later, all. (Much later.)