I remember!

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

When I peep into the past, I am swamped by a torrent of bitter-sweet memories. I grew up in a small-town of Himalayan valley, nestled amidst the gushing blue streams, lush-green meadows, blooming orchards and romantic houseboats. I would wake up in the morning to the trilling and warbling of birds sitting atop majestic chinar trees, the music of wind as it rustled through the leaves, the laughter of rippling rivers and cascading falls, and the smell of intoxicating aroma all around me.

I vividly remember my first day at a local primary school in Srinagar, as a little boy. It was a frosty winter day. The snowflakes were descending from heavens. Unmindful of the inclement weather and the snowstorm, I jumped and frolicked as my mother held my icy cold hands and took me at school. Teachers at school were nice and one of them even offered me a chocolate when I started crying and missing home.

As a small boy, I fell in love with Gulmarg’s sprawling meadows, where the world’s highest gondola lifts now ferry skiers up to 12,900 feet. I was fascinated by Pahalgam’s trout-filled streams, shimmering lakes, and mighty glaciers that feed the rivers below. I remember riding the shikara (canopied boats) in Dal Lake, on a moonlit night when the waters reflected the town’s glittering lights and brooding mountains.

But as destiny had it, things took a nasty turn in early 90’s. The paradise was ravaged by bullets and bombs. I remember stumbling across a barbed wire fencing just across my house, and hurting myself badly. It was very scary when the deafening sound of gunfire would break the monotony of dark gloomy curfewed night. But more disturbing was when an ‘outsider’, heavily armed military man would subject you to frisking and ask for an Identity card, in your own home.

As a young 12 year old boy, I was dispatched to a boarding school, far away from home. I remember looking down from the plane and waving my hands at those beautiful green orchards, juxtaposing the fleet of sand bunkers, occupied by‘occupational forces’.

I finally landed in an alien territory, with strange people and unusual weather. As I ran inside the school hostel, a tall, broad-shouldered man escorted me to my room. He was the hostel warden, a cross between Gaddafi and Hitler. I got clear-cut instructions of do’s and do not’s. I remember getting the first call from home and breaking into tears. I missed home. I would anxiously wait at the hostel gate every morning for newspaper vendor. The first thing I would do was check the news reports about Kashmir. I used to feel sad and outraged every-time the news was about those tender-aged boys murdered in cold-blood, for the crime of playing cricket on a curfew day. I would lose my sleep on hearing about the young, school-going girls gang-raped in the frontier districts of valley. Many a times I felt like dropping the pen and picking up the gun, but I was helpless.

I remember the Indian Independence Day, falling on August 15, when I refused to join my school-mates in saluting the tricolour, simply because I failed to identify myself with it. Every time I looked at the Indian flag fluttering high in our school campus, I was reminded of the Howard Zinn quote, “there is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people for the purpose which is unattainable”. I remember being suspended from classes, and being called a traitor, because I refused to sing the national anthem. I remember how a rebel in me was born again that day.

I remember how leaving home early in life proved a blessing in disguise for me. I remember, many years later, when I rather audaciously mentioned “Kashmiri” as my nationality while applying for a job in the capital city of India. Whether I got the job or not is a different matter. I remember the goose bumps I got, when a famous auditorium in Delhi came alive with the thunderous slogans of Azadi (freedom for Kashmir).

I remember because there is nothing to  forget. “Memory,” as Oscar Wilde says, “is the diary that I carry about with me.” It reminds me of my home, my paradise, and my people, no matter where I am. It reminds me of the cause, we are all fighting for.

“Hum dekhenge, laazim hai ki hum bhi dekhenge…” Faiz Ahmad Faiz

Good old school days!

 Syed Zafar Mehdi

In Ellen Howarth’s words “Ti’s but a lil’ faded flower, but oh how fondly dear. It will bring me back one golden year through many a weary year”.

As memory leapfrogs back in time, luscious nostalgia hugs me tight. Gosh! That breath-taking aura of a boarding school, those strict-cum-sweet teachers and mentors, and yes, that marvelous bunch of bosom buddies. What fabulous times they were! When life was fun, a roller-coaster ride of sorts. When love was loveliest and dreaming was the favorite pastime. When fairy wisdom was the prized possession and innocence was at its best. It passed like a wonderful stream, running through the realm of tears and smiles, with faultless rhyme and seamless rhythm, and eventually leaving behind the storehouse of memories forever. Life was perfectly beautiful. But as they say- all good things come to an end.

Judai par hi qayam hai nizami zindagani bhi

Bichad jata hai pani bhi, galay mil mil kay sahil say

Sentiments overwhelm me, as I muse back into past. Really life in a boarding school is simply awesome, awe-inspiring, a lifetime experience indeed. Today I sit back and cherish the fond memories of those good old days. Boarding school was a catalyst in my overall transformation. It stirred to life my self-belief, woke me up from the deep slumber, jolted me out of my romanticism, and transformed my life inside-out. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It remains the most beautiful period of my life hitherto.

As a kid, I was stubborn, naughty, maverick, and spoilt to core. My parents fed up with my irksome antics eventually resolved to dispatch me to a boarding school in Aligarh. Hoping against hope to see some sort of transformation in their “naalayaq” son, I was sent packing when I was barely 13.

As a 8th class boy, I took a bow in Sir Syed’s land, and fell in love with the place at first sight. My school was nestled in cool and tranquil environs in the vicinity of AMU. Hostel life was an alien territory for me, coupled with the terrible feeling of homesickness. So obviously going was tough initially, but as I discovered my comfort zone, fresh innings of my life actually kicked off.

Deprived of the cosy comforts of home and adhering to some cast-iron rules, I learned the lessons hard way. Besides the “over-load” of studies, there was more in store to straighten a crooked stick like me. Keeping our rooms shipshape, cleansing our utensils, setting bedding in order, and at times washing and ironing our clothes. It was a consummate and rigorous ‘drill’ to bring to maturity a spoilt brat like me.

Our Warden was a no-nonsense person and a tough taskmaster, a perfect blend of Amrish Puri and Hulk Hogan. He was always up to the task. A charming personality; he was tall, broad-shouldered and hard-fisted man. None of our “lame excuses” ever worked their magic before him. His high pitched voice would puncture our mild ear drums at 4 o clock in morning, forcing us out of our cosy beds. Our school principal was indeed a guardian angel for us pardesis. Personally, she was a mother-figure to me. We were truly blessed to have trained, dutiful, and laborious teachers who took immense pains and toiled hard to sterilize our shabby brains. They played the dual role of teachers-guardians to near perfection. And finally a special mention of our four special teachers cum guardians, to whom we literally owe our life.

Memories of hostel will live with me forever. Some special memories are deeply engraved in my mind. Forming long queues before kitchen many times a day, chatting and gossiping non-stop with friends in hostel dormitory till late mid-nights, having reading sessions of Shakesperean plays and Dicken’s novels through nights and days. Celebrating every special occasion together with pomp and splendor and playing funny pranks on hostel mates all the time. Literally toiling hard to get warden’s signature on outing permission slip. Sometimes, locking horns with him in heat of moment. Jostling for space in TV room to get a glimpse of Jet Lee or George Clooney flicks. Helping out kitchen staff occasionally in their chores. Giving-n-taking our favorite samosa-chatni-chowmin treats among friends at college canteen each day. Unsuccessfully fabricating lame excuses to escape punishments. Well, I can go on.

It was pleasure to take square meals together with buddies in our giant dining hall. Sundays were for cricket, football and volleyball. We had a huge peer circle, always there for each other through thick and thin. Whenever we felt low, we took solace in each other’s soothing company.

Finally the momentous journey ended, luckily on a high note. I bid last adieu to my school and buddies. Parting was painful, but life had to move on. Almost four years have passed since, but it looks only yesterday. I really miss those wonderful times, those beautiful friends.

Ujalay apni yaadoon kay hamare saath rahne do

Na jaane kis gale may zindagi ki sham ho jayay

“What if” — The year that wasn’t!

Syed Zafar Mehdi

 

What if England had pipped New Delhi for the hosting rights of CWG 2010?

Thousands of crores from state exchequer spent on the Games could have been pumped into many nationwide social welfare schemes and in the development works. The large-scale embezzlement of money by powerful Games committee officials may not have happened. The ignominy and shame could have been averted. India may not have got such a disastrous PR in international press. The ugly showdown between Shiela Dikshit and Suresh Kalmadi could have been avoided.

 What if PR diva Nira Radia had not mediated between DMK and Congress?

The phone transcripts may not have leaked, and those hotshot journalists could have escaped the scrutiny of their own fraternity. Perhaps D Raja would have found it difficult to grab the coveted telecom portfolio, and pull off the biggest swindle of all time. The multi-billion 2G scam may not have rocked the country. The debate over media ethics may not have taken new dimension. Ratan Tata would not have felt the need to move apex court, claiming right to privacy.

What if there were no reality shows?

The enormously talented “stars” like Rakhi Sawant, Rahul Mahajan and Veena Malik would have got no takers. We may never have seen Dolly Bindra’s angry-old-woman avatar. Swayamwars would not have caught the frenzy of showbiz world. Youngsters may never have differentiated between sur and taal. Dance academies would not have suddenly got so over-crowded. We may never have seen top celebs having hot coffee with Karan, and firing verbals volleys.

What if cupid had not struck Shashi Tharoor at 54?

The charismatic politician may not have got into controversies and perhaps would have retained his ministerial berth. His public showdown with Lalil Modi, and the war of words could have been avoided. His image as a seasoned diplomat and respected writer may not have taken a beating. He would still have been blue-eyed boy at South Block, rather than slipping into oblivion.

 What if Lalit Modi had stayed as full-time biz honcho?

The billion-dollar Indian Premier League (IPL) may never have become a reality. Indian cricket’s clout would not have touched a new high. A breed of small-town talented young cricketers may not have got a better opportunity to make a mark. Modi would not have faced the interrogation by CBI for large-scale financial irregularities. He would not have become the favorite whipping boy for all and sundry.

What if Sachin Tendulkar had retired after World cup 2007?

He would not have completed 20 years in international cricket and registered staggering 50 centuries in test matches. Saeed Anwar’s record for highest individual score in an ODI would perhaps never have been broken. His purple patch that came after 2007 World Cup would not have happened. We may not have seen the veteran fight it out in IPL with young players from across the country. The “ICC Player of the year” would have eluded him forever.

What if court had not delayed the final verdict in Ajmal Kasab case?

The uneasy suspense could have been broken. Justice could have been done to the victims of Mumbai carnage. The astronomical expenses incurred on him from taxpayers’ money may have been saved. A strong signal could have been sent to terrorists across the border. Politicians may not have used it as an issue to woo voters. P Chidambaram would not have to confront the irksome question on his trail.

What if Sanjay Dutt had won the Lok Sabha elections on SP ticket?

He would have taken a sabbatical from films, and donned the khaadi. Like other filmstars-turned-politicians, he would be spending more time in his farmhouse than his parliamentary constituency. His attendance in Parliament would be dismal. He would be following his mentor Amar Singh on his padh yatras and Page 3 parties. The sibling rivalry with his sister and Congress MP would have taken a new dimension.

What if MS Dhoni had not tied the knot with his Welham girlfriend?

One of the country’s most eligible bachelors would still have been up for grabs. Tabloid gossip columns would be filled with the juicy rumours of his link-ups with rookie models and established actresses. He would be tired of giving clarifications on his relationship status. Deepika Padukone, fresh from her split with Ranbir Kapoor, would have again fancied her chances on captain cool.

What if there had been no building collapse in Delhi?    

MCD would not have swung into action and ordered demolitions of illegal and unauthorized constructions across the city. The vicious nexus between property dealers and MCD officials would not have come to fore. It may not have become an emotive issue for politicians to lock horns with each other. The loss of innocent lives could have been avoided.

I am missing home!

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Those snow-capped mountains, lush-green meadows, blooming orchards, gushing blue streams and romantic houseboats. I am missing home, my paradise. Kashmir, the Himalayan haven of alpine forests and crystal clear lakes is beckoning me.

I am missing Gulmarg, its lush-green sprawling meadows, where the world’s highest gondola lifts ferry skiers up to 12,900 feet. I am missing area’s emerald golf courses, where I, together with my golfer friends, would tee off in summers. I am missing Pahalgam, its rolling meadows, trout-filled streams, shimmering lakes, and mighty glaciers that feed the rivers below. I fondly remember the days we would head there for white-water rafting and fishing.

I am missing gardens of my land, home to a variety of flora and delightful water systems. I am missing Shalimar and Nishat, a visitors delight. I am missing Chashmashahi (Royal springs) and that spring of refreshing digestive mineral water. I am missing Harwan and its huge garden with a spectacular canal passing through its heart. I am missing Sonamarg, where we would go for trekking and mountain climbing adventures during springtime.

I am badly missing the scenic hill towns of Sonamarg and Yousmarg. I am missing winters and the sheen, and sheer fun of making snow caricatures.

I am missing those fine-looking fleet of houseboats lined up on boulevard. I am missing the thrill and excitement of riding a shikara (canopied boats) across the lake, particularly on moonlit nights when the waters reflect the town’s glittering lights and brooding mountains. I am missing Dal’s adjoining sister, Nageen Lake and its breathtaking vista.

I am missing the splendor of Royal Springs Golf Course, offering panoramic views of the Dal Lake and pine dotted mountain peaks. I am missing cricket and the picturesque SK Cricket Stadium, encircled by towering chinar trees.

I am missing Kashmir, the melting pot of religions and cultures. I am missing Dargah Hazratbal, Dastgeer sahab, Khankah Muallah, the revered shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi, St Mary Church on the Residency Road, Chhatti Padshahi Gurdawara among others. I am missing the rugged beauty of Parihaspora, Harwan and Kanispura-Ushkura, one of the famed sites of Gautam Buddha, which still have ruins of Buddhist monasteries.

I am missing the palpable buzz of Lal Chowk, the ever-bustling Amira Kadal, the lover’s favourite hunting ground Partap Park. I am missing the remarkable quietude of The Bund and the commotion of Batamaloo. I am missing home food, the wazwan, haakh, gaadi. I am missing my friends, the whole gang. I am missing everything.

I am missing Kashmir, my home, my paradise.

Miss you Chachu!

Syed Zafar Mehdi 

… It has been quite a while now, but these wounds won’t seem to heal. This pain is just too frigging real. Your graceful presence still lingers on; still your absence is sorely felt. I have tried hard to convince myself that you are gone, but though you are still with me, I have been feeling lonely, abandoned and weak. Chachu, you used to captivate us, you used to be the cynosure of eyes, the centre of attention. Now we are bound by the life you left behind. I wanna cry sometimes. I miss you.

I never thanked you for everything you did. I thought I might get one more chance, now I will never have one. I closed my eyes last night and saw you coming to me on silver wings of light, asking me what was wrong, I smiled and said nothing. When you turned around, a teardrop trickled down and I whispered to myself, everything is. Yes, in your absence, everything is. Chachu, I know you are shining down from heavens, and I know we will be together one beautiful day. But I miss you.

Every time I feel low or sad these grueling days far from the folks at home, I wish you were here to comfort me in your inimitable style. Whenever I have a long hard day at work, I wish I could smile knowing that soon I’ll be seeing you, and everything would seem better, even if it’s just for a moment. When I lay down at night, I just muse back and cherish the old memories we have had together. When I get up in the morning, I wish I could smile, knowing that this will be another day we’ll be together. I miss you Chachu. Why did you leave us like this? So suddenly, shockingly?

Chachu you had so much to live for, so much to do, then why did you bid us adieu like this. Emptiness and memories have taken your place now. But I won’t stand at your grave and weep; I know you never slept much. You are the thousand winds that blow, the sunlight on ripened grain, the diamond glint on snow. You are in my heart and mind. You are in my prayers and in everything I do. But I still miss you.

I vividly remember the days you would drop us at school every morning and bring us back home in evenings, walking all the way to our school through those long paddy fields in scorching heat. But why did you go like this, without even informing? Nothing hurts more than waiting, since I don’t even know what I’m waiting for anymore. I wish I could hold you now, talk to you, be with you somehow, somewhere.

Chachu, I will always carry the regret that I couldn’t get to see you one last time, to be with you before you took the long walk back to heavens. I couldn’t be by your side when you were lying in excruciating pain at hospital in your last days. I wish I could look into your eyes one last time and tell you how much I loved and cared. I just don’t feel like going home now. I hate desolation. In our absence, everything has lost sheen. But, life moves on. Nevertheless.

Jaate hue kehte ho qayamat ko milien ge 

Kya khoob qayamat ka hai, goya koi din aur 

 

Remembering a visionary, a legend and a grandpa

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

“To live in hearts we leave behind,” says Campbell in Hallowed Ground, “is not to die”. Aga Syed Ali Safvi lives on. He must live on to keep inspiring us every moment. Today, on his 30th death anniversary, we pay tribute to the man who in words and deeds taught us that politics does not necessarily have to be a ‘necessary evil’. It can indeed be a weapon to improve the lives of people and pave way for positive social change.

A statesman par excellence, freedom fighter of highest pedigree, mass leader, and above all a distinguished scholar and writer. Safvi sahib remains the beacon of inspiration to local politicos, policymakers, his disciples and the man on street even today. Sticking to the sacrosanct ideals of altruism and honesty, Safvi sahib dedicated his entire life to selfless public service; thus carving a space in the hearts and minds of people in Kashmir. His political principles put him in a different category among his contemporaries. He never allowed personal considerations stand in the way of performing public duty, and in letter and spirit followed Lincoln’s words, “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it”. Politics and social service may be strange bedfellows for most, but for him, they were one and same thing.

Safvi sahib’s greatness was deeply rooted in his simplicity and honesty, as Emerson seconds, “Nothing is simpler than greatness; indeed to be simple is to be great”. His ideals were superior, his demeanor was down-to-earth, and his words and deeds were in sync. Always bustling with ideas, his political acumen was admirable. He preferred pragmatism to populism and steered clear of all sadistic controversies until his last breath. Safvi sahib was blessed with “best of both the worlds”. While dutifully and diligently performing his public duties and attending to all his worldly affairs, he never skipped a prayer, even when assembly used to be in session.

Safvi Sahab was born on 23rd Ramadhan 1336 (AH), into the reputed Safvi family of Bemina, which traces its roots to Iran’s once ruling Safavid dynasty. The family has been famous for its religious scholarship since ages, and has produced several luminaries in past. He received elementary education within family, later joined Islamia School, before completing his (B.A) from Punjab University (now in Pakistan). As per the traditions of family, he simultaneously equipped himself with religious education under the able guidance of grand Islamic authorities Aga Syed Ahmad and Aga Syed Muhammad Budgami. He studied broad range of subjects like theology, philosophy, logic, history and jurisprudence from them besides receiving Quranic education from his father and noted Islamic scholar Aga Syed Taqi Safvi.

Safvi sahib was a multi-linguist, holding mastery over Urdu, Persian, Kashmiri, Arabic and English. He frequently dabbled with Persian, Urdu, and Kashmiri poetry. He was a Marsiah nigaar and Zakir e Ahlebait (as) of repute, and compiled many marsiahs in his lifetime. Owing to his deep understanding of Sharaih laws, people of the area regularly came to him with various religious matters. Being the head of Panchayat committee in Bemina, he also settled family, property and land disputes among people, and his decision was always respected. He served on boards of many religious and social organizations at regional and national level. It is widely believed that had unavoidable circumstances not forced him into politics, he would surely have left behind many more literary treasures to be cherished. But still, armed with a weapon of neat politics, he served the people of state in many capacities, and attained the status of a legend in state’s politico-social history.

Safvi sahab was born to lead. And his fervor for public service got boost when freedom movement spread its tentacles across the state in 1930s. He played catalytic role in Quit Kashmir Movement, rubbing shoulders with top-notch freedom fighters of the time. In the first ever extra-ordinary congregation of Kashmiri militants (mujahids) called at Mujahid Manzil in 1932, Safvi sahab had the privilege of leading the scout’s team as their Commander. Then, in 1951, when Constituent Assembly came into being, Safvi Sahab’s contribution to the freedom movement was rewarded and he was chosen as its Member. He had the full backing of Shia community and the then top-most Shia cleric of state Aga Syed Yousuf Almoosvi. After CA changed into Legislative Assembly, he continued representing his people of Budgam constituency, there. He served as MLA, for three consecutive terms (1952-67), and during this 15 year period he assiduously worked for the welfare of people.

His honesty, uprightness, and integrity were acknowledged by all and sundry, including the opposition camps. Besides being in legislature, he also served as National Conference Tehsil President, Budgam, and District President Srinagar. He eventually rose to become NC State General Secretary in 1964. He was also a member of Public Accounts Committee (PAC), besides being editor of newspaper Nawa-i-Kashmir. He never switched loyalties despite umpteen lucrative offers coming his way. He shunned materialistic pursuits, and lived his entire life in the same ancestral house, which stood in crumbles when he ultimately took a walk back to his Lord. A minor accident resulted in his untimely death on 29th July 1975.

A Sachs says, “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives”, and Safvi sahab is the perfect example of that. I just wonder how he would have felt today, to see these politicos “murdering” rather than “serving” the people. I am glad he is not around, though he lives in our hearts and minds.

On personal note, I just wanna say that I love you Dadu. I am proud of being your grandson and proud of the fact that you are my hero, my inspiration. I just hope I don’t let you and the family down, ever…