Soon everyone had some story to relate of Momma Kaandur’s benevolence. We had suddenly discovered that we had a saint living amongst us!
If ever an international competition of bleeding-hearts is organized we Kashmiris are sure to win it hands down. Indeed we are a sympathetic lot; we possess and profess sympathy by bucket loads. So much so that most of the time we don’t know what to do with this brimming excess and that’s why it ends up as misplaced sympathy ultimately. We may be cursing someone a moment before but if he gets into trouble – even legitimate trouble – the next moment our hearts go all out to the chap and we rally to his support. Of course it must be a well documented fact by this time that we all have an anarchist in us. Perhaps at heart we are all anti-establishment. This is amply illustrated by our tendency of lionising the anti-hero and also by our propensity to pull down heroes.
As an illustration let me cite the example of this Kaandur (traditional Kashmiri baker) in our locality and what all happened to him and the reactions that evoked. This fellow would invariably use the worst possible quality flour to bake bread and then again it would be several sizes short of the recommended size. All of us who bought and consumed the bread he baked used to discuss him no end. In fact at times the emotions would run so high that it would seem like Momma Kaandur would top the ‘hit list’ soon and if only somebody could manage a connection with a contract killer he wouldn’t survive for long. We would often decry the callous attitude of the authorities in letting him get away with his misdeeds and the issue of corruption, which we believed made the concerned agencies unconcerned, would be discussed threadbare. Invariably the discussion would lead to a vivisection of the Kashmir issue because of course all matters finally find their origin in that only in this part of the world.
Then one day the unexpected happened. There was this new resident of our colony who listened silently to one such discussion of ours on the topic of the rogue baker. We didn’t know that his wife’s brother was a top official in the department that is supposed to check on the quantity and quality of food articles. Probably inspired by the venomous discussions about Momma Kaandur this fellow urged his brother-in-law to check out things and brother-in-laws being brother-in-laws the official readily obliged and the long albeit arthritic arm of the law finally knocked on the shutters of Momma Kaandur’s shop. As we were leaving for our offices one day, a couple of vehicles screeched to a halt outside the shop and a posse of men in civvies accompanied by a few policemen got out and surrounded the shop. It was a raid. Samples of various breads as well as various accessories were taken. Two sacks of flour were destroyed on spot and the baker was ignominiously hauled off to the local police station.
Now if you are thinking that the inhabitants of our locality gave a standing ovation to the ‘authorities’ and the police for nailing the culprit, it will only go to show how ill-acquainted you are with the Kashmiri psyche. Yes a few old men and women did mutter satisfaction at the event but it was a muted and cautious muttering and later events gave them enough cause to bite – nay chew – their tongues. If anything the raid caused indignation and resentment which began at the very moment of the raid as was evident from a mini episode of stone-pelting at the site by a few school kids who happened to be passing by at the moment. Slogans were also raised and it didn’t take long for this ripple of a protest to turn into a wave. In no time the whole locality including those who had never tasted Momma Kaandur’s bread rallied to his support and those who knew who was behind the raid cold shouldered the guy so much so that he started looking for customers for his house.
Momma Kaandur became a hero overnight. There were women who recounted how they had seen him feeding bread to starving dogs in the bleak winter.
“I myself saw him handing over a day-old Lavasa (a variety of local bread) to a beggar one day,” one man swore.
“And I am witness to his act of handing over a partially burnt Tsot (another variety of local bread) to an old woman and refusing to take money for that!” said another.
Yet another man bore testimony to the fact that Momma Kaandur at least once filled the Kangri of an old man with coals and embers in winter. Soon everyone had some story to relate of Momma Kaandur’s benevolence. We had suddenly discovered that we had a saint living amongst us! The short-changed low quality bread that he sold us suddenly acquired the status of a tabruk (consecrated bread). If Momma Kaandur had died during this period I am sure a highly venerated mausoleum would have come up in his honour. And of course if he had suddenly got it into his head to contest elections at the moment he would have won hands down.
The long and the short of this story is that the authorities were pretty rattled by the strong reaction demonstrated by the people. A few political aspirants seized the opportunity and plunged into this agitation and at least one established politician who had lately lost favour among his party members as well as the locals raised quite a ruckus. Not only was Momma Kaandur released immediately but the official who had conducted the raid was transferred. The new resident of our colony who had ‘inspired’ the raid shifted to some other place and has uploaded pictures of his house on OLX. Meanwhile Momma Kaandur is back in business and if anything has changed it is that the quality of his bread has worsened and the size has shrunk further. And every time we take this bread we shake our heads and decry the callousness of the authorities and the corruption…
(Truth is mostly unpalatable…but truth cannot be ignored! Here we serve the truth, seasoned with salt and pepper and a dash of sauce (iness!). You can record your burps, belches and indigestion, if any, at [email protected])