3 May 2006

The War Zone

We were lazing around in the wooden slats outside the houseboat, when we met three Israeli travellers (2 guys and a girl) in the neighbouring place... Gopal spent the entire evening showing off and amazing them with his (extensive, I must say) knowledge of the Middle-East.

We were getting ready to ride out somewhere, when this 25~ yr old nephew of Shauk walked by... the three of us took turns to introduce ourselves... then he said - "Omar... I heard there's an Israeli chic in there... I've fucked every single Israeli girl who has stayed here!" The 3 of us exchanged blank looks, smiled at Omar and rode away.

We understood the meaning of 'heavily militarised' while in Srinagar... there is an army jawan posted once ever 30 meters, and a bunker every 100 meters... with sand bags, barbed wires and all that... if we pulled over by the side of the road, the nearest army jawans would rush towards us and ask us a dozen questions... suspicion is too light a word to describe the mood. In some places, one half of the road would be taken over by the army for setting up bunkers.

We felt like we were riding thru a war zone. One could see the toll taken by years of violence in the eyes of the people there. I don't know how people can say that Kashmir is returning to normalcy... I don't think any of the politicians who say that live in Kashmir. It's all too easy to sit in a Delhi fortress and talk crap.

Imagine being a jawan, standing by the side of the road all day... you've seen colleagues, who've stood next to you, being blown to smithereens by suicide bombers... and you don't know who's turn it is next... constant fear, for days, weeks and months together... I wonder what it does to their heads. I think it explains all the irrational behaviour in some of the jawans... like suicides and going on a shooting rampage, killing fellow army men. I bet it does permanent damage to their heads. When some of these people get killed, after all the shit that they go thru for the country, their families get peanuts. They go on protest outside India Gate, get some airtime on ndtv... but it's so depressing.

Majority of us would be scared to walk alone thru an unlit road late in the night... imagine living in a world characterised by perpetual fear of the unknown... and people call it return to normalcy. Bullshit.

I often wondered why we fight so hard for Kashmir, sacrificing so many lives and blowing up so much of our resources... then, when I went there and saw the place... no wonder they're fighting over it. It's so pretty! Everything is green, there are clean waterways running all over the place, the weather is just perfect, the mountain air is fresh and pure... there is beauty everywhere. We're just too soft... shouldn't have conceded anything in the first place... all the non-violence and peace diplomacy is crap. Our wartime leaders are never held responsible for plunging an entire state into violence and fear. Only Airports and Universities are named after them... I can't imagine how beautiful Kashmir would've been a hundred years back.

We lost our way in the streets of Srinagar... Joy went back immediately to the houseboat, while Gopal and I rode around for an hour... when we got back, we had more Omar talk to contend with... he bragged about how women go weak on their knees when he rolls out his charm... Gopal was evidently irritated with Omar's false claims to his Casanova throne... but he let it pass by, and Omar yapped on... and we yawned.

The Israeli hippies were a really nice bunch... the female had six-pacs neatly carved out on her abs... I've never seen a fitter female. She was really smart, funny and sweet. Omar got snubbed and humiliated, all laced with humor. One of the guys was intense, but humorous in a subtle way... the other guy was like Ian Wright on Lonely Planet... made us laugh so much. The common thread that I noticed, was their open mind, free and independent thinking, and living in the moment.

We had a nice chat that evening.. the Shauk's dad joined us, and we spoke about the changes in Kashmir over the years... his perspective was really different and eye-opening... he was deeply hurt that the army men don't trust anybody... not even people like him, who've been here for over half a century... he just wanted an end to the violence, and self-rule for Kashmir.

The next morning, the two Israeli guys, me and Gopal were on the boat (they're called shikaras) to see a floating vegetable market... Joy and the Israeli female were snoring in the warmth of the houseboat... sunrise was stunning... it's not like boating in Ooty or Kodaikanal... where they just dig up a large-sized round hole and pour some water and take us on a boat round and round till we get dizzy, faint and fall off... these are proper functional waterways... the vegetable market (wholesalers to retailers) was OK... it was different.

We were taken to Hasina's Honey Farm. She is the most dishonest businesswoman that I've ever met in my life. She sells flavoured honey... apple, lotus, almond, ganja, opium... she lets the bees out on a farm full of apple trees to get apple flavoured honey... like that. Anyway, she claimed that her honey has medicinal properties... and that between her various flavours, all ailments and diseases known to mankind can be cured... from backpain, diarrhoea and common cold to alzhemir's, cancer and aids... you name it, she had a honey to cure it. Poor docs are gonna become obsolete once her biz expands.

We went to the touristy Mughal Gardens the next day... hated the tourist crowd, and the neatly trimmed trees in the shape of dinos and elephands... it was too artificial for us. After all the natural beauty and wilderness, any form of man-made structure given to nature seemed ugly. So Gopal and I dozed off, while Joy wasted some tape shooting random objects for his doc film.

The next morning, we left Srinagar... on our way out, we were stopped by some random Sardar, who on seeing our backpacks, figured out that we were bikers heading for Jammu, and informed us that we were taking the wrong road... kindness of strangers.

As we rode on, we crossed the Jawahar tunnel, and had the company of countless army trucks and buses filled with army men going back home... then, around one bend, a signboard requested us to have one last look at the Kashmir valley... we did, and then we were off, determined to hit the plains of Punjab before sleep and fatigue conquered us for that night.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

:) what can i say...you guys were crazy but amazing. im proud of you all.