Saturday, December 16, 2006

This Above all
Kashmir: The last chance

I welcome the offer made by President Pervez Musharraf in his interview with Prannoy Roy for a compromise settlement of the Kashmir problem which has fouled India-Pakistan relations for 60 years. Before we look into the details, we must clear the cobwebs of make-believe which have clogged our minds.

I will spell them out as bluntly as I can even though however unpalatable they may be to my countrymen. To start with Kashmir was never one unit; it was always three divided by religion, language and perception of the future. The Valley of the Jhelum was, and is, predominantly Muslim and Kashmiri-speaking, Jammu was, and is, Hindu and Dogri or Hindi speaking, Ladakh was, and is, largely Buddhist with a dialect of its own.

All three regions being treated as one unit is a legacy of the Dogra autocratic rule in which Dogri-speaking Dogras weilded the real power, Kashmiri-speaking Pandits were ministers and civil servants, Kashmiri Muslims were hattos or serfs. All that changed in 1947.

The Dogra rule was abolished, Kashmiri Muslims under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah backed by Pandit Nehru-led India came into their own inheritance. They repulsed Pakistani-inspired attempt to grab the state by force but had to settle with a chunk merging in Pakistan. The agreement to have a plebiscite under UN auspices was a non-starter.

If the choice was between India and Pakistan, Kashmiri Muslims would have voted for Pakistan. If the choices were India, Pakistan or autonomy, they would have voted for autonomy. That is what Sheikh Abdullah and his National Conference hoped for.

When Sheikh Sahib began to air his views, he was arrested and kept out of Kashmir for 11 years. Pandits pulled out of the Valley in large numbers because they no longer felt secure in their ancestral houses and migrated to Jammu and elsewhere in India.

The Valley has in effect been under Indian military rule ever since. All elections were rigged to ensure its continuity with India. There has been widespread denial of human rights. Despite the billions that India was pouring into the Valley and tourists who keep its economy going, there is no evidence of Kashmiri Muslims change of mind — they like our money but not us. They don’t much like Pakistan either, they want to run their own state themselves. We must honour their wish to be masters of their destiny.

Musharraf has broken the impasse. He is willing to give up Pakistan’s claim to Kashmir and the demand for plebiscite. India should grasp the hand of friendship extended by him by giving up its rigid stand on Kashmir and withdraw its Army. Set up a Council of Kashmir under the aegis of the UN in which both India and Pakistan are represented but Kashmiris have the dominant role. At all costs, guarantee the people the right to safety of their lives, houses and properties. The risk is worth taking.

Waiting to die

On his way back home from the US, Fali Nariman, eminent jurist, picked up Art Buchwald’s latest book Too Soon To Say Goodbye (Random House) to while away the hours during the long flight from Washington to Delhi. Having done with it, he sent it to me as a gift from him and his wife Bapsi saying he had enjoyed reading it and thought I would too. Evidently, he did not think it deserved a place in his library.

Having read it, I also felt Fali had given up half way because many pages of the latter half of the book were still glued together. I don’t blame him: Buchwald is not among the columnists I enjoy reading. Despite having won Pulitzer prizes, the Legion d’honneur, and many other awards, he is uniformly a second-rate show-off who goes down well with taxi and truck-drivers, barmen, saleswomen and others of the American working classes.

However, the theme of this book was of personal interest to me. Buchwald’s kidneys failed and he had to put on dialysis; one of his legs had to be amputated for fear of gangerene. He was 80.

He was told he had only a few weeks of life to him. He decided to spend his remaining days in a hospice designed to make exits of people stricken with terminal diseases smoother and dignified.

Buchwald had time to think of the purpose of life and the meaning of death. He writes: "At a certain time in life — actually, right now — the two questions that become uppermost in my mind are "What am I doing here? and "Where am I going?" The first answer is a narcissistic one. I was put on earth to make people laugh. The second one is much harder — I have no idea where I am going and no one else knows. And if they claim they know, they don’t know what the hell they are talking about."

This is exactly how I feel about the subject. I also agree with him that one should tidy up one’s worldly affairs in good time and not leave them in a mess for one’s children to clean up. Buchwald did that and a lot more: he chose the site of his final resting place of his ashes next to his wife’s grave, selected the urn to contain his ashes, named six pall-bearers, men and women who would make speeches at his memorial services, the menu for the feast to be followed. And that kind of trivia.

He invited all his friends to bid him farewell, appeared on TV shows, received visitors by the score every day. However, he did not die. His kidneys began to function. He is back in his home in Martha’s vineyard. He put all this, including his sex life, and tributes his friends would have paid him on his death, and we have yet another Buchwald pot-boiler. It has also won him another Pulitzer.

P.S. He has also donated his sperm to a few sperm-banks. So that women who wish to bear his progeny may have his seed planted in their wombs and thus give Buchwald’s name immortality. Vain survivor.

Tree’s lament

Ye who pass by and would raise your hand against me, hearken are you harm me.

I am the heat of your hearth on the cold winter nights, the friendly

Shade shielding you from the summer sun, and my fruits are refreshing.

Draughts quenching your thirst as you journey on.

I am the bean that holds your house, the board of your table,

the bed on which you lie, and the timber that builds your boat.

I am the handle of your hoe, the door of your homestead, the wood

of your cradle and the shell of your coffin.

Ye, who pass by, listen to my prayer and harm me not

(From D.C. Kala’s Frederick Wilson — published by Ravi Dayal)