Saturday, August 23, 2008

Drugs in Kashmir

The building is in ruins. Garbage is piled in the courtyard, mostly bottles. There are no doors, no windows. Colored polythene and tin sheets cover all openings to light. It is dark inside. I pull out my mobile phone, use it as torch. The walls are cracked with black spots painted on the pale background by cigarette stubs. There is a peculiar smell across the place- as we walk in, it becomes intense. Few old food items lie around. The center of the floor is dark wet and all shit. The smell is unbearable now.
As I step in the room, hundreds of half burned match sticks creak under my sole. Countless sanitary napkins lie in a heap. Cigarette stubs cover the rest of the room. The cement floor is hardly visible. We have to make our way slowly through the left over cough syrup bottles, ink erasers, playing cards and cigarette packets. It is the drug den of Dalgate. Or rather, was.
Almost a month ago, the entire neighborhood started a campaign against the drug dealers in the Dalgate area. Two families were selling drugs in the area and the neighbors ostracized them, pooling in money to buy their houses. “It had become hard to live in this area for us because of these two families. Drug addicts from all around would be roaming in our streets. But for the last month, no one (drug users) comes”, says Shabeer, a resident of the locality. “This is not the first time they (drug dealers) have moved out of here. But they keep finding their way back”, he adds.
The drug trade is almost open in Kashmir- with Srinagar as the drug capital. A study carried out on drug abuse in the Valley by Government psychiatry Hospital reveals that more than 17 per cent of Kashmiri youth—mostly in the age group of 16 to 35—are addicted to drugs. Heroin, brown sugar, cannabis and deadly medicinal opiates top the list. 
On a pavement at the main road, a boy is lying under a wheel cart. I sit at his feet. His eyes are sunk deep with dark circles around them. His hazy eyes are closed for most of the time as he asks us to leave. I make up a story about my drug addict friend who fractured his leg and thus asked me to buy stuff for him. But the dealer he told me about has left his house. He slowly gets up sniffing at his yellow handkerchief. “Yes, they left. You will have to cross the bridge now”, he says with concern. I inquire about money as I have very little with me. “You can get things for 100 rupees, even 50”, he stutters. 
Yasin, lying half awake on the pavement (name changed) is 13, an orphan who sells clothes at Batamaloo. His friends got him into drugs. He does brown-sugar mostly. He has done it today. “I earn 150 rupees a day. The stuff costs me half of it”. He sprawls back on the dusty pavement, his oversized pink jacket covered with soil and his head resting on a half burnt wooden piece.  
We pass the bridge, ask a hawker for brown sugar straight away. No one talks to us. Hostile looks and snarling words greet us everywhere. I reach two guys sitting on the pavement and pull out a 50 rupee note. The younger one smiles. His eyes twinkle. The other guy taps his shoulder but they leave. We follow. They don’t stop. Our clothes betray us, so do my friends’ glasses and bag.  
Most of the drug trade in Kashmir happens around Dalgate, Chattabal, Bemina and Sumo stands. “It is in Sumos and other taxis mostly that stuff is transported”, says Ishtiyaq, an auto driver who was a drug user a year back. 
  The cannabis is grown locally and is available across the Valley, especially in South Kashmir. More refined drugs like brown sugar and heroin, according to local substance abusers, make their way from Delhi to South Kashmir and then to Srinagar. In fact, the crude opioids are actually sent from South Kashmir to Delhi where they are refined and sent back. 
“Brown sugar and heroin mostly come from Sangam (a village in south Kashmir),” says Aijaz Ahmad as he smokes with a couple of guys. “We often go there to buy stuff. It is less expensive there. For the same stuff I earn 1500 rupees in Srinagar as compared to only 500 in South Kashmir”. 
Nannu (name changed) leans back in his Ford Car. The music plays loud and the smoke envelopes everything inside. He takes a deep puff at his cigarette- his eyes red, fingers shivering. I am on the back seat passively smoking Charas, the local weed. “It is fun man. What is life without Charas dude?” says Nannu passing over the joint to me. Naanu is a doctor in one the biggest hospitals in the state. His father and mother are doctors as well. “I am high all of time but that doesn’t hinder my work. It makes me more efficient”, he says, as wisps of smoke come out of his lips.
  For the rich like Nannu and his engineer friend Jimy, deals happen with much more sophistication. One phone call and things reach you, provided you know the number and they know you. 
“While all these people keep killing themselves, someone somewhere is getting rich”, a photographer in Dalgate laments”. “It is better you catch him but I know you wont. He must be one among you educated people.”
It is dark across Lal Chowk. I walk back home. The stench is still lingering inside me. My head is dizzy, stomach revolting. I sit on the pavement and puke on the side of the road. Yasin would still be half awake under the cart, sniffing at the handkerchief, his pink jacket almost black by now. Nannu would still be in his car playing with smoke. Or maybe, operating someone on the surgical table, his eyes red, fingers shivering.  

Dance of freedom

the resistance dance of kashmir- 'Ragda'

With arms entwined, bodies pressed together forming a huddle, feet tapping to a rhythmic slogan, Kashmir has its first dance of resistance. ‘Ragda’- as it is known in Kashmir has emerged as the symbol of anger and resistance in the ongoing mass movement. 

Some one standing in the middle of the circle chants ‘Bharat ko Ragda’ (we have stomped India) and the people in the huddle shout- ‘de Ragda’ (stomped it) while vigorously stomping their feet on the ground. “It is a mark of Kashmir’s anger against all betrayals and inhumanities. This dance best describes the passion we have for freedom”, says Jamshed Shah, 19, a boy standing in the middle of the huddle. 

The dance was first visible during the 9- day uprising in July over the Amarnath land row. When the order was revoked, the streets of Lal Chowk were stomped till midnight- and the dance was born. Earlier restricted to Srinagar city only, ‘Ragda’ gradually made its way to all parts of Kashmir.

In a massive gathering of people today at Eidgah, nearly filling the ground with an estimated capacity of 10 lakh, the ‘Ragda’ dance was complimented by the beat of drums. The thud of drums followed by the pounding of the feet could be heard from quite a distance. “We got the drums yesterday because we thought it would go well with the dance”, says Tariq Ahmad (name changed), a university graduate who bought the drums.  

Women stand close by the side and clap to the beats, young girls jump to have a peep in, and their voices screeching distinctly. “Do the ‘Ragda’” says Rakshanda, a 7 year old girl hunched on the shoulders of his father to people sitting on a truck. Some teenagers jump down and start the dance. The girl also joins and soon dozens of young kids form a huddle of their own and tap their feet on the road. “We love this dance and practice it at home at evenings. We have also made a game called ‘Ragda’”, says Rakshanda, as she climbs back on her father’s shoulders.

At around 7 in the evening, people on around 400 bikes rode through the entire Srinagar city, beating drums and stopping at every neighborhood to do the Ragda. “It (Ragda) is the symbol of resurgent Kashmir which has an equal passion for freedom as it had 20 years ago. We thought of this bike march yesterday and got more than 400 bikes with us”, says Yasir, a biker.

“It has become our anthem. I keep humming it unconsciously and thought I had become obsessed with it but I understood there is nothing wrong with it when my friends said the same thing”, says Yasir.  


Thursday, August 21, 2008

letter to a dead friend

dearest faiz,

You live somewhere on my bookshelf, on the second row. You live some where in my laptop, far from the nude girls. You hum in my cassette player, almost always. You looked nice in 1951. you have been always young on my CD shelf. You are alive in my room. Not a mere silouette, but a rebel... in flesh and soul. 

You taught me the sensiblities of life, the madness of love, the rush of blood when the soldier rests his gun against the wrinkled neck of Ishtiyaq's grandmother, when the butt of the gun comes down on the soft knuckles of Saleem,who came out of the womb just few years ago.

No body reads your poetry here except my friends and me... of course. I love you. We are both fucked up, u know- u and me. You fought for this Pakistan, didnt you. Then why do you hide in my room. Go and see what has become of the pure land.

52 dead just now- 2 bomb blasts. It is red with blood...ur pakistan.  

So is my Kashmir, fucked up. You know, i saw intestines, red with blood, hanging of this boy's belly. His mouth was open. He was gasping, taking in as much breath as he could to stay alive... but he died. Are intestines so important? How come you never wrote about them? I bet, u never saw intestines in your life. Wish you had seen the boy, at least, you would have written a poem on intestines. The intestines would have lived for ever, a nice tribute to the boy who died there and then. It would have been in the book, right next to dogs.

what could i write. 2 dead, seven injured. Fuck. 

You were right always- i rememember subh e azadi... how could you understand things so early. No, u took along time as well. you got your self in jail. didnt you?  

you should have written on the last page of your book. 

zaahir- only read me, dont believe me... 

Soccer War

dearest Ryszard, sorry for stealing your title. But i had read that literature belongs to the one who needs it and loves it...

It is the story of kashmir, of politics, of freedom and of soccer...  

The stands are full, the crowds ecstatic. Thousands of Kashmiri spectators are supporting the local team in a recent soccer match. For the first time in more than 20 years, Kashmir have made it into the quarter finals of India's leading football tournament, the Santosh Trophy. 

Every dribble by a Kashmiri player is cheered, every shot applauded. Every save is followed by a Mexican wave in the stands. 

But suddenly, a shot from the striker in the Punjab team finds the net. The crowd goes silent. The Punjab striker slides to the ground, punches the air with his fist and gestures to the crowd. 

Some spectators run on to the pitch. Players flee to the dugout. Police bludgeon two spectators in the middle of the pitch. The crowd howls in protest and soon a full pitch invasion is under way. 

The fans pelt police and paramilitary troopers with stones, burn banners, overturn score boards and uproot flag posts. They shout anti-India slogans with a vengeance and demand independence for Kashmir. A football match suddenly become a separatist political rally. 

The police call for reinforcements. A heavy baton charge leaves more than 40 people injured. Dozens are arrested. The match is cancelled.

Soccer has a long history in Kashmir and the game has reflected some of the tumultuous politics of this disputed Himalayan region. Before the recent vicious conflict that started in the late 1980s, Kashmir had more than 20 teams representing different government departments. Today there are just four. It's hard to make a living out of the game. "This is discouraging for the players. And the last 17 years have been dreadful for football as well," says Majid Kakroo, local l star and coach of the Kashmir team. 

But as violence has declined in recent years, football is regaining its popularity in Kashmir. However, you can't keep politics out of it. "Football has always been one front of our freedom movement," says 85-year-old Agha Ashraf Ali, a noted Kashmiri educationist and an ardent football fan. 

He narrates a story going back to the days of the British empire, when Kashmir was ruled by the unpopular Hindu Dogra royal family. When a local Kashmiri team, the Friends Club, defeated the Dogra royal police team the crowd hailed the local players and jeered the royal players. The royal players could not take the defeat. They got the Kashmiri tonga wallas (horse carriage drivers) to take them to cantonment area where the police were stationed. Once inside they refused to pay the carriage drivers and instead beat them up. The drivers went home in rags, empty handed, beaten and bleeding. 

When Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the Kashmiri leader who later led a revolt against the royals and became the first prime minister of Kashmir, heard of the incident, he and a few others armed themselves with hockey sticks and attacked a group of royal soldiers. "That was the birth of the rebellious Kashmir," says Mr Agha. 

Football was introduced in Kashmir by CE Tyndale Biscoe, a British missionary who founded Srinagar's historic Biscoe School in the autumn of 1891. It was then an affordable game for underprivileged Kashmiris living under the autocratic rule of Hindu royals. 

A British football team was then formed in Kashmir by Young Hardow, proprietor of the Hardow Carpet Factory. British officials working in the telegraph office in Srinagar were included in the team. British soldiers posted at Rawalpindi were brought to play matches in Srinagar and showed Kashmiri players how they needed to develop their skills. 

Slowly the game began to gain popularity - as too did the political unrest in Kashmir. "When in 1941, the Kashmir team defeated Jalandhar by 7-0, Srinagar's top undergraduate college declared a holiday for three days. It was victory for Kashmir", says Mr Agha. 

"The war in Kashmir changed everything," says former local star Farooq Ahmad Bhat. "At four in the evening we used to lock our homes. Who could play soccer amid the bullets, curfews and the suffering? Our standards are lagging behind by 50 years." 

But now, with hopes for peace, the game is back and the stands are full. But the connection with politics is still there. 

"Just get one goal in the Indian net," an old man, fists-clenched, biting on a cigarette, uttered in agitation at the Kashmir-Punjab match. That is why when the home team defeated Delhi in the Santosh Trophy competition, a banner displayed, "Kashmir defeats India".