Sunday, 13 August 2017

Those Were The Days My Friend...

photo courtesy: Amazon

I have just finished reading Arundhati Roy’s “The MINISTRY of UTMOST HAPPINESS”. It shook me up. Some of the descriptions in the book are unnerving (especially the brutal torture and rape of a Naxalite woman in Andhra Pradesh by six policemen and the callousness, as she delineates it, of the Indian Armed Forces in Kashmir). Truth in the raw is often unnerving.

Arundhati Roy is a consummate writer. I have read the reviews of her book and they are mixed. As Mulk Raj Anand has said: “Nothing is born without pain and blood”. Whatever else people might say about the book, one thing cannot be denied – a lot of pain and blood has gone into the writing of this book. I believe it took twenty years for Arundhati Roy to write it.

What shook up me up most was the portion devoted to Kashmir. I am a State subject of Kashmir (we still own some land there) and I have spent my entire childhood in Kashmir. I consider it home. 

In 1989, we shot a TV serial there called “GUL GULSHAN GULFAAM”. It was shot on the Dal lake. I played the part of a local houseboat owner in it. I thought I knew Kashmir and Kashmiris pretty well. I remember Kashmiris as a sensitive, simple and an emotional lot, secular to the core. During Partition, there was not a single Hindu Muslim riot in Kashmir and during the Pakistan inspired invasion by the Northern Tribesmen in 1948, the Kashmiris fought shoulder to shoulder with the Hindus and Sikhs to throw the “Raiders” out.

 Kashmir has been the cradle of Sufi poets who have preached peace and amity and the oneness of all mankind through the ages.

Yes, they used to be peace-loving people. How different it is now! If all that Arundhati Roy writes in her book is true, then it’s an about turn as far as the Kashmiris are concerned! The peace-loving artists have turned into fierce warriors…

I remember the time when the entire cast of GUL, GULSHAN, GULFAM (both Muslim and Hindu Pundits) came down for the final shooting of the serial to Bombay. There was an incident that I will never forget.

At the HOLI festival, the Muslim lads at first refused to take part in festivities. “It is not our festival” they said. But when they heard that there was a gathering at Shabana Azmi’s place to celebrate Holi some of them decided have a look at what Holi was all about and to meet Shabana Azmi in person.

What they saw at Shabana’s place surprised them. As Kaifi Sahib sat smiling in an armchair in one corner of the garden, the crème de la crème of the film Industry, the big stars, the directors and even ordinary technicians -- both Hindus and Muslims –  threw color on one another and hugged each other, imbibing beer and vodka on the side.

The Kashmiris were at first hesitant, but soon they changed their minds and joined in the festivities with abandon. After splashing color on one another till noon, the entourage then walked to the Juhu beach and took a dip in the Sea. The Muslims among the Kashmiri had never seen the sea before. They stared at the expanse of water in awe and one of them remarked: “Ya Allah! This is bigger than the Wular Lake!” They ventured into the water and were soon frolicking around like little kids.

After the dip in the sea, which washed off most of the color, we all trouped back to the flat the unit members were staying. They all bathed in fresh water and then, donning fresh clothes, assembled in the drawing room. Crates of beer, bottles of vodka and rum had been ordered. It was customary to have a drink after the celebrations followed by lunch and a siesta.

The Kashmiri Pundits and the Muslim lads sat together and chatted amicably. Some of the guys poured themselves a drink. There was much laughter and bonhomie.

 But suddenly an altercation flared up and soon became serious. It developed into a full-fledged shouting match. The fellows were shouting what sounded like invective's in Kashmiri at one another. It looked as though the two parties would come to blows. I asked the leader of the Muslim group, the loudest of the lot, to tell me what the shouting and screaming was all about. He looked very angry.

“The Pundits are the guilty ones!” he roared.
“Guilty of what?”
“They dissembled! They did not tell us the truth!”
“About what?”
“That India was like this!”

I was puzzled.

“Like what, my friend? I don’t understand!”
“Like what we saw today-- everyone celebrating together and hugging one another! There was friendship and peace all around! They didn’t tell us India was like this! They are dissemblers!”

That, to my mind is the biggest mistake that our governments made after 1947! We did not integrate the Kashmiri youth into the mainstream of our national life. Topographically, Kashmir tends to be insular. It is surrounded on all sides by huge mountains. The Kashmiri youth seldom ventured out of the Valley into the mainland. If we had made them come out and study in our colleges or take up jobs in different parts of our country, the feeling of alienation and separateness would not have been felt by them. 

However, it is a complex question. I am no politician. I am no one to determine why it all happened. I am just an artiste. And I love Kashmir very much, as did my father and all our forefathers. I feel sad and hurt after reading  Arundhati Roy's book... It was so different in our days!

"Those were the days, my friend! We thought they’d never end"…

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