Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Dialogue That Heals

Shyamji describes a cultural Academy event held in Jammu in late March

(Mr. Shyam Kaul, 76, was born in Safapur, near Lake Manasbal, in the Gandarbal District. He did his schooling in the local area (then part of Baramulla District) and his graduate studies from the Sri Pratap College and the Amar Singh College. He obtained double Master's degrees in Psychology and Philosophy from the University of Lucknow. Subsequently, he moved to Mumbai and obtained diplomas in Advertising and Journalism. His first job in 1950's was with the Jaico Publishing Company in Mumbai as an Editor. Following a brief stint at the Filmistan Studios as the Marketing Manger, he returned to Kashmir where he became associated with the All India Radio (AIR) and various media outlets before joining the National Herald where he stayed until his retirement in 2002. He is now a free lance journalist and his commentary appears regularly in various J&K dailies. In his leisure time, Shyamji enjoys writing poetry in Urdu and cooking.)

Dialogue with Difference

Come April and the friendly sun turns warm, hot, and then torrid, with all its fury. One is reminded of a rookie British officer, who had his first encounter with the tropical sun when he was posted in India during the raj days. He wrote back to his people at home, "The summer in India is never hot, it is hotter or hottest."

Here in Jammu, as the month of April advances, rapid change comes in the ethnic complexion of the city's shopping centres, roads and chowks. The fusion of the Residency Roads of Jammu and Srinagar cities that we see during winter months, starts disappearing. The buzz and bustle of the intermingling gradually dies down as the migratory flock makes its way back to Kashmir. The Darbar turns its eyes and ears to the valley, things are packed, and the caravan of Darbar moves over to the land of cool and bracing summers. And we here, the people like me and our ilk are left back, like "Begaani basti mein beghar diwana."

In this atmosphere of partings and farewells it was an enthralling experience to watch, what could be called the leave-taking evening of Kashmiri song and music, organised by the Cultural Academy at the Abhinav theatre, on the last date of March. It was exclusively a Kashmiri Chhakri presentation, by four leading singers of Kashmir, Abdul Rashid Hafiz, Gulzar Ganai, Manzoor Shah and Abdul Salam Qaimuh.

Rashid Hafiz is unlike all others in his profession, both in the quality of his voice, and distinctiveness of his style. There is depth in his voice and, when he sings, a pronounced drawl in his style gives poignancy to his performance. Vocal and instrumental music, poetry, spirituality and pathos, are closely linked. Our sages, devotional and sufi singers, poets and musicians, have amply demonstrated it down the ages. Add to this the ear-catching dolefulness for which Kashmiri song and music are known, and you find some glimpses of the legacy in Hafiz's renderings.

Salam Qaimuh has a powerful voice and he adds high pitch to it. A very expressive singer, he acts his numbers, and gains instant connectivity with his audience. He gets fully immersed in his song, which lends intense feeling to his performance. It is an asset for any artiste. At Abhinav theatre he knew the audience he was entertaining, almost wholly comprising of displaced Kashmiri Pandit men and women.

He sang a highly emotional number, recollecting wistfully and with deep longing the combined way of life that existed in Kashmir, not long ago. Nostalgic memories wakened up in every heart, which was too manifest in the response that the packed hall gave him.

When Manzoor Shah came to the stage, it did not take long for one's eagerness, to listen to his once honey-sweet voice, getting belied. The tenderness, melody, modulation and refinement of his voice that would keep his listeners awake for whole nights, had become a thing of the past. What has gone wrong with you, Manzoor? You seem to have lost yourself somewhere. Come back and rediscover yourself and don't disappoint your admirers. Your are an asset for Kashmiri music, and we do not want you to sink into oblivion so soon.

Gulzar Ganai is a seasoned singer, popular among lovers of Kashmiri Chhakri, wherever Kashmiris are. He is an astute and artistic innovator, and can turn and twist old melodies, lending them new throb and swing. Additionally he is a methodical manager and an excellent PR man for himself, which makes him the most sought after singer, especially among the displaced Kashmiri Pandit community in different parts of the country.

One of the curses of our kind of politics is that it divides people, and worse still, most of our politicians thrive on it. We don't have to look far to substantiate these impressions, and convince ourselves how our politicians always look for opportunities to play upon religious, regional, caste, linguistic and other parochial sentiments, only for their own electoral gains. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are the most typical instances of the mischiefs, machinations and manoeuvers of politicians to sharpen the divisions for exploiting the electorate.

Fortunately, however, not all people can be misled and exploited for all time. There are nature's bestowals in plenty on mankind that counterbalance the vile practices and evils of politics and politicians. Music is one such priceless bestowal. It knows no barriers whatsoever, nor practises any. Naushad was the most liked and respected music director for all Indians. When Michael Jackson sang and danced, he sent younger men and women the world over into ecstatic gyrations. Wherever Indian film music is liked in the world, Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi are the craze. A.R. Rehman has captivated the fancy of music lovers, as much in the west as in his home country. Mehdi Hassan and Gulam Ali have more fans in India than in Pakistan. Ravi Shankar mesmerised people wherever he performed and Bismallah Khan's haunting Shehnai recitals continue to vibrate in the hearts and souls of people all over India and in other countries.

Music is the gift of God of humanity. It is one single whole entity, and thankfully, stands safe from the depredatory hand of man, and has not been degraded into an instrument for dividing mankind.

In its own small way, the audience of homeless Kashmiri Pandits at Abhinav hall, demonstrated that the glory of music is beyond any divisions and barricades. It was touching to see doddery, old men and women, being escorted and helped by their relatives to reach the venue to listen to and enjoy the Kashmiri melodies by singers from back home, their own Kasheer.

Ours are, what may be called, 'dialogue times'. We have a variety of dialogues, most of them inconclusive though, like internal, external, inter-party, inter-coalition, inter-regional, etc. The State Cultural Academy has also lately come up with the innovative idea of a dialogue, declaring 2010 as the Year of Cultural Dialogue. The logic behind the move is that it is within the functional ambit of Academy of Art, Culture & Languages, to work for strengthening human bonds of understanding and cordiality, by cutting across religious, regional, linguistic, social, ethnic and other differences.

The scope and sweep of Academy's functions, says the resourceful secretary of the institution, Zafar Iqbal Manhas, has no limits, because it is exclusively dedicated to finer human pursuits. The focus, he says, should be on reaching the utilitarian goal of building larger goodwill among the largest number of people. One simple way to do it is by innovating and formulating productions, presentations, performances and other programmes, that would create ample opportunities for people to meet and interact together freely. This would naturally lead to understanding and kinship, said Manhas.

What he says is positively worthwhile and should actually have been thought of and done much earlier. But any time is good time for doing good work, especially in a place like Jammu and Kashmir, whose soul has long been thirsting and crying out for goodness.

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