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.