A few days back while returning from Islamabad @ Anantnag, I was caught up in a traffic snarl caused by a motorcade which seemed to be part of a political rally. I tried to make out the colour of the headbands that the excited guys hanging onto the vehicles were wearing as well as of the flags they were carrying but since it was rather late in the evening and quite dark already I couldn't make it out. You see colours are very important in this part of the world as life has been a bit of a kaleidoscope in Kashmir what with the rapidly changing colours on the streets. Indeed at times the very survival and safety of life, limb and property came to depend upon these. Ultimately it boiled down to what colour one chose to take refuge in at the particular moment.
Reminds me of that quaint childhood game; one of the many that children used to play in the good old days before computer games turned them into couch potatoes. This game involved colours; a particular colour was called out and if you sought refuge in it you were 'safe'. Without it you were on the loose and had to run for your life because once grabbed without being in contact with the chosen colour, you were 'out'.
There was a doggerel of sorts that went with this game. The 'aggressor' would recite the first line and you would respond with the second and so on. Here is how it went:
"Tippy Tippy Top!"
"What colour do you want?"
"I want a colour!"
A particular colour would be named and then you started running for dear life till you sighted and managed to touch or hold this particular colour. Of course you were easy prey till you established this vital contact. Again the doggerel would be repeated and a new colour would be named and the game and the chase would start all over again.
What colour? Well to begin with it was green. Everybody out there seemed to be carrying a green flag. And then the guns spat out a harsh "Tippy Tippy Top" and the colour changed to red, the red of blood and the red of rage. The red of rage was overwhelmed by the red of blood and then the colour called for would be the black of sorrow and of protest.
I recall how during one of these 'black' phases every vehicle, irrespective of colour, make, size, shape and horsepower carried a black flag. My car was no exception and so it was a very surprised me who was stopped by a posse of young vigilantes who demanded as to why I wasn't carrying a black flag. I indignantly pointed to my car antenna that was supposed to be fluttering a flag so far as my knowledge went. My pointing finger froze in midair as I realized that there was no black flag where there was a black flag not so long back! I felt quite naked without this strip of cloth and my belligerent indignation gave way to abject humility. I blabbered that the flag had been very much there and that some unscrupulous scoundrel must have stolen it.
The vigilantes gave me a suspicious scowl or two but my luck prevailed and I was finally let off with a warning. The incident shook me up and I felt that I couldn't trust my luck to hold out for ever. As I moved on I spotted a car that was considerably bigger than mine and perhaps to do justice to its size it bore a flag that was considerably large. Since nobody was around I initially decided to steal it but then altruism prevailed and I just tore off half of it and so my car and myself were again in the 'safe' zone with a black flag fluttering from the antenna.
Not for ever though, as the situation rapidly changed and so did the 'safe' colour. The very air remained frozen for a week or so because in order to break the vicious cycle of red-of-rage-leading-to-red-of-blood-leading-to-red-of-rage-leading-to-red-of-blood the authorities imposed a curfew. When I finally ventured out in my car during a curfew break I was still carrying the black flag. As I stopped at a busy intersection a group of 'security' personnel attacked me and my car like angry hornets. With half a dozen of them shouting at me and another half a dozen pounding my car and an overenthusiastic colleague of theirs aiming at my head with a rifle butt, I was too confused and too busy dodging the rifle butt to understand what had invited their wrath. Finally after the rifle butt, notwithstanding my vigorous dodging, had tattooed a 'Tippy Tippy Top' on my head I understood that the colour had changed once more and that black no longer spelt 'safe'!
So what colour next? Let's wait and see…
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