Bury My Heart at Handwara

A local prima donna of the time was my excruciatingly handsome advocate uncle, Prithvi Nath Kachroo who seemed a figure out of fairy land, surrounded as he was all hours of the day by clients and gorgeously devoted friends and peers, and, more to our point, loaded with currency notes which he tended to treat like water through the fingers
Bury My Heart at Handwara
File Photo

Within  years of my birth at Handwara seventy five years  ago,  the  town and its environs and its noble and loving people were to become the refulgent playground  of my extended boyhood. A local  prima donna of the time was my excruciatingly  handsome  advocate uncle, Prithvi Nath Kachroo who  seemed a figure out of fairy land, surrounded as he was all hours of the day by clients and  gorgeously  devoted friends and peers, and, more to our point, loaded  with currency notes  which he tended to treat like water through the fingers His closest associate professionally  was the late  Abdul Gani Lone, of whose  quiet nobility and wisdom  I carry  warm memories.  Maam's  copious  house  by a steam that flowed from the resplendent  Maavar—a favourite picnic spot where our beloved  tongawala, Shabana, often took us to the ringing chimes of his  quite magnifcicent  horse's bells—was the site of  effusive gossip  to the accompaniment of the card game, Bridge, at which  I and my brothers became accomplished players  literally at nubile age.  Lone sahib and my father, who reigned as the  Tehsildar, were among the  best of the players,  The idyll of  intimacy  lit up and sanctified by  the interminable hookah which  passed around in true communitarian ritual.    The most joyful adventure for  Hindu and Muslim  equally was to set off for the  pilgrimage to  Bhadrakali—a  rough and tumble shrine atop a hill within a dense and uninhabited pine and walnut forest some  six miles  onward from Handwara. At the time  the retinue for long years comprised  almost exclusively  my father's clan—my father having been the first disciple of the  Pandit Ji  to whom the shrine had, it was said, appeared in a dream—Maam's  extended  amla, and vendors and helpers who  were part of a caring family.  Zunat, a six foot amazon, nambardar of the  village of Wadipora which fell enroute to Bhadrakali, and my  nurse maid—in every way comparable to  Peggotty in David Copperfield—loomed  over the region like a pillar of assurance as she smiled relentlessly through  the resplendent  snuff  (naswaar) that  covered her  strong  set of teeth.  This extraordinary  woman  had saved  more than one Pandit family from the   invading tribals  in the wretched month of October, 1947.

As you might imagine from this maudlin recall, Handwara has remained a strong emotion with me.  So when I hear of its troubles—of a kind that  we never experienced—I am more than a little moved  to  say  "a pox on all those who trouble  its peace and  spiritual languor."     I am struck with  pride that despite every provocation  during the current episode  of needless violence, and despite the  temptation to use the  turbulence to  plant some red herrings, the people of my town have remained true  to their nobility and desisted from pointing fingers  at  those whom they have reason to  dislike.  They  have named only those who  they knew to have fired the  shots. Just as the brave young woman has stuck to the truth of who it was actually sought to entice her into profane  complicity, 

Come this summer, and I hope to pay obeisance to the ground of my joy.

Removed from all this  is the question of   the catch  22 that now  governs the state.  After last year's  binary electoral  verdict  it was perhaps  logical to assume that  the coming together of the  BJP and the PDP  would bring the provinces and the communities together.  The arithmetical mechanics of the numbers seemed a strong argument for such a course. The late Mufti sahib's reading  of the situation  was thus informed by a noble desire to affect a marriage  that would, in his thinking, secure stability and peace in the troubled state, and  additionally  bear the promise  of negotiating  the internal and external historical problematic with a more real chance of success, since the Hindu-rightwing ruling party at the centre when involved in governance in the state as well would be furnished an opportunity to  rethink the  Kashmir and sub-continent from an altered perspective.

A counter view to this  was that what  seemed tantalizingly an invitation to a marriage of convenience  might in fact  turn out to be  one of  great inconvenience;  the logic of the numbers, far from sealing a new covenant, might in fact  exacerbate the fault lines several fold.  Just as well to say that this counter view was informed by a  more canny and less congenial understanding of the  RSS and its role in governance than Mufti sahib may have persuaded himself to acknowledge.  This certainly was the impression this writer gathered from him when we met for an hour on October 17 at his Gupkar residence.  Parties like the BJP which draw breath from the Sangh  are hardly equipped to manage or assimilate the politics of plurality, especially of such mind-boggling dimensions as pertain in the state; not to speak of making any macro-historical concessions to  democratic nuances and practices which do not flow from one coercive, unified idea, whatever the history of those  democratic negotiations and  of the discrete agreements  between centre and state, the boast of "co-operative federalism" notwithstanding.  Far from yielding to the complex  imperatives of the  Valley's   problematic, the RSS  is most likely to remain unwilling to  let go this one opportunity   to bring the Valley to heel around  a flag and a slogan.  Alas, there is so little that the RSS seems to want to learn from the history of the very mentors who brought Europe and the world to grief  less  than a hundred years  ago.

Those that are inclined, innocently or not, to read the N.I.T  episode as just another  localized  disturbance  may only be doing a tactical ostrich, even as they know in the  heart of their heart that this may be the thin end of a new, highly determined wedge. The catch of course is that, sharing power, the PDP may have  deprived itself of any consequential  politics in the matter.  It will remain to be seen  how far the party  will find itself able to ride the whirlwind, having sown the wind.  Its failure would be particularly affecting since,  it must be conceded, the reach it sought to make was  perhaps  nobly  informed. 

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