kAhei ko duniya banAyei?
(whatever got into your head, o creator/ why did you create the world?)
Lines from a film song that have comprised absolutely my mother’s most favourite poser. And mine as well.
She has now entered her one hundredth year—you heard that right—and is tough-minded enough to say she still does not have an answer, although her ninety nine have been full of observance and piety.
So, does she not fear death and the alleged aftermath? I suspect she takes cognizance of those things, but refuses to attach herself to an order of constructions that she remains unconvinced about. Mama, I salute the integrity of your mind and heart.
Being of a high intellectual calibre, and honest to the core, she is unable to say that watching cinema in a theatre or drinking a shot of whisky now and then are acts guaranteed to send us to jahanum (hell). I recall her remarking off and on how such injunctions are merely man-made, and entirely meaningless to those that may have felt the presence of the divine.
Which reminds me.
I think the first ever movie I watched at age seven or so was in the then Regal theatre in Srinagar, Kashmir. The film was either BAzAr or Jignu, and my father was as excited to be in the cinema hall as either of his two boys. Touching and edifying story-lines and heavenly music, ah. How noisy the world seems today.
In the city of Srinagar those days, the most heroic thing that a posse of young Kashmiris—Muslims and Pandits—set themselves to do was to buy a cinema ticket for the matinee of any new movie, even if this meant brawling with milling crowds at the crevice of a ticketing window, or literally scaling the aspirants in a flying tackle to get to the window before anyone else.
The successful galahad received the awed acknowledgements from lesser combatants, and often the legend of that success did many rounds in galli and mohalla.
Remarkably, through our college careers—naughty times those were of a very sweetly honourable ambience—we Kashmiri young people across communities often visited the cinema without falling into horribly bad ways.
Often, working late nights in laboratories over gravimetric experiments, we sang those Rafi, Noor-e-Jahan, Lata numbers that remain with us even now, and will remain so after all the Mullahs and Pundits have wended their holy ways to heaven. Where else would they be going?
As to liquor, we had our stolen moments, to the accompaniment of expansive verses from the subcontinent’s renowned and beloved urdu poets. “PilA dei okk se sAqui gar hum se nafrat hei/ PiyAla deita nahi hai na dei,, sharAb tou dei” we would sing (pour thou that wine into the hollow of our palms/if you have no tankard, just give us the wine). And we sang of love as well in affected ways: “Ulti hogayein sub tadbeerein, kutch na dawA nei kAm kiya/ DekhA iss beemAriyei dil ne Akhir kAm tamAm kiya”. (all remedies fell flat, no medicine ever worked/ the heartache in the end did us in).
Yet no domestic or political elder seemed ever to mind, or caution us against the pain of hellfire to stay away from cinema, song, or love; as to liquor or smoke, they had the excellent good sense to know when we were about these things, and to let us find our depths or shallows. If an admonition came, it came as a honeyed word of care, never as some monster doctrine that was waiting to swallow us into satanic oblivion. And such admonitions for that reason were often heeded and effective.
And, look, at the end of all that, we haven’t done too badly, have we?
But the onslaughts of the 1989/90 moment were set to change much of how good-natured, caring, secular Kashmiri young people lived and bonded.
The Pandits having exited the valley, barring a few thousand, the demographic field seems more and more amenable to doctrinal fiat.
The return of peace and normalcy do not seem destined to bring back those magnificent swathes of syncretic innocence that made of going to the cinema or visiting a liquor shop—of which Srinagar had many—a matter of ordinary occurrence or conjoint camaraderie.
Many who buy pirated movie CDs or DVDs from ubiquitous street shops and watch them at home, or indeed watch movies off the television screen dime a dozen admonish that cinema houses must remain closed, since cinema is “ un-Islamic.” Think that it never was so for as long as cinema has existed.
Same with liquor: any number of knowledgeable Muslims have recounted to this writer how the Quranic attitude to imbibing can clearly be seen to have evolved over time. An earlier surah alludes to liquor as fraught both with potential “benefit,’ especially for men, and with sin, where sin may tip the scales (Surah Baqarah, 2:219; also Surah Al’Nahal); after an interesting episode of misdemeanour that would take too long to recite here, the injunction was laid not to use liquor during prayer times: “O Believers, do not approach Salah while intoxicated” (S. Nisaa); a further episode of misdemeanour by an inebriated Ansari youth who threw a bone at Hazrat Saad Ibn Abi Waqqas out of tribal animus led to the more decisive outlawing of intoxicants (S, Maidah). It may be permissible to conclude here is that the injunction has less an ontological basis, more a revulsion against the likely loss of civility and social responsibility. .
Think that whereas in a theocratic Pakistan, cinema houses run well and happily, and many of India’s cinematic icons draw raging adulation, the valley of Rishis and Sufis seems set to out-Herod Herod. Think also that the Shariat Court in Pakistan ruled not too long ago (2005) that imbimbing was not tantamount to Hadd, and that it is un-islamic to punish the offence with 80 lashes. The recommendation has been made to make the offense a bailable one.
One must thus be pardoned for asking what was the tehrik(Movement) of 1989 about after all? Is the misgiving justified that some influential vanguards may have had more than merely the sanctity of the ballet in mind? Or the formation of a secular state away from India?
I was all of fourteen years of age, and privileged to be included in a Kashmiri cricket team to play an exhibition match with a posse of film stars from Bombay who had landed in Srinagar. These included such legends as Dilip Kumar, Nargis, and many others.
Then when the match ended and the stars came walking out of the Amarsingh club grounds, poor Dilip sahib was all but swallowed by droves of college girls who had come to watch. Unforgettable sight. Yet no solemn Kashmiri voice, or stern newspaper editorial thought the episode sinful or “ un-Islamic.”
How times change, or do they?
I imagine if a Shahrukh, or Salman, or Amir Khan were to visit the valley this day, and go among the crowds, nothing much might have changed as far as ordinary Kashmiri Muslims are concerned. Indeed, these “fallen” cinema icons might even be graciously invited into pristine Islamic homes for food and photo ops. And why not.
If the new and uncharacteristic expressions of puritan teaching in the valley are to be believed, some of India’s greatest poets and Muslim-humanists, beginning with Mir and Ghalib, are set to be proscribed, no? Little wonder that the one poet who seems everywhere among the valley’s literati these days should be Iqbal, and for reasons only tangential to his stature as a poet.
All this seems rather diminishing and sad. And perhaps indicative of what colour azadi (secession from India) might take if and when it transpires.
And then if Kargil, a Shia majority area of the valley, were to seek azadi as well on denominational grounds of identity (after all, think of the news that the world brings everyday of the horrendous killings between Sunni and Shia Muslims), would they be wrong?
If I therefore find myself on the side of Farooq Abdullah on the desirability of opening up, it is not out of any mercenary anxiety about wealth from tourism, although anyone administering the state cannot but think hard about that as well.
Rather from a larger consideration about what the future shape of Kashmir is likely or not to be.
Think of it this way: if imitation is the best form of flattery, then Narendra Modi does seem to have many admirers in the valley, endorsing the general right-wing principle that what may be indulged at home is not what may be allowed in public, constitutional provisions notwithstanding. Gujarat, as you know, is a dry state wherein, nonetheless, the grapevine flourishes more than elsewhere. Indeed, the vigilantes of the Sangh Parivar who go about destroying art works, attacking women, and such like might become role models too. And what a shame that would be.
Surely, we deserve to return to being Kashmiris.