(Disclaimer: The following write-up is a work of fiction and satire. Any resemblance to any person or organisation would be utterly shocking)
At 24 I was completely broke. Worse: I was madly and hopelessly in love with my two-years-older-than-I girlfriend. Worse still: Her parents were desperately looking for a match to marry her off. Needless to say, she wanted to tie the nuptial knot with me but I was unemployed. Problems galore!
But it’s not that I hadn’t tried and land a job in some ‘decent’ news organisation. I was going through the worst time of my life and in the recent past I had suffered three setbacks at three different places. The first newspaper I joined after my Masters was locked down within a week from my joining. I was earnest and wanted to work diligently. But my newspaper published some slanderous news report about a sitting minister who was “allegedly” involved in some white-collar crime. The minister took umbrage at it and got the newspaper office sealed.
I didn’t lose hope and moved on with my life and tried a different newspaper. For three days, at my new job, I was ordered to prepare tea by my boss. I had never made tea at home and my naïve self thought my Editor was just testing my resilience. But after three painful days when I was told to leave, I was taken a bit aback. I knew I couldn’t write well so instead of vouching for my journalistic credentials I tried to justify my tea-making abilities. I matter-of-factly told my boss that the milk that was available at the office kitchen was from a shoddy company who diluted the milk and added detergent and fertilizer “to compensate for losses in manufacturing.” But I was shown the door and told to learn to make tea first.
My next adventure took me to a weekly newspaper office where I worked as a Sub-Editor. I had taught myself to write better by then and after the preliminary ‘screening’ I was taken in. I enjoyed my new job so much that even after my boss didn’t bother to pay me my dues at the month’s end, I didn’t mind it a least bit. Two months passed and my palms began to feel the itch. Few more days passed but the salary wasn’t released. I was a big fan of Batman movies; in the second part of the Batman trilogy the Joker says: IF YOU ARE GOOD AT SOMETHING, NEVER DO IT FOR FREE. That dialogue had etched deeply in my mind and when I confronted my boss about my dues he gave a dirty laugh, much like the Joker had elicited from the Mob bosses when he had told them he wouldn’t kill the Batman for free.
My boss was a heavy drinker and he enjoyed the patronage of high ranking Army officials, so I thought it prudent to forget about the money that he owed me. I swore therein that I would better join my dad in business than return to this ‘undignified’ profession. My other batch mate who was also exploited for six months at a so-called pro-Azadi newspaper Kashmir Leader also quit the job for good. At this time two of us and a few other class mates came together to start our own venture. The road to success was long and laden with difficulties by we were ready to take the challenge.
Soon we were approached by a foreigner lady to teach the dark secrets of journalism to the “vulnerable and underprivileged children of Kashmir.” The lady, named Yellina, was in her forties and was well versed in over a dozen languages including Hebrew, Persian, Urdu and Kashmiri- a perfect CIA recruit to lure the stone-throwing, the American Flag burning but Coke and KFC loving, rebellious youth away from the path of resistance. Except the lady was an Aussie (I love their work hard and party harder mantra of life).
We were introduced to the lady by our friend Big Babool- who was a black-belt in Karate from Kashmir University. Those who are wondering if KU offer training in Karate should note that you could get a certificate of any damn subject on earth; be it the DNA testing, stem cell research, genetical engineering, Wizardry and poultry science (whatever that means) from the varsity if you had the right ‘channel’ and new which palms to grease. (Note: I am not insinuating that our female friend indulged in such malpractices). Ms Babool loved to kick ass, albeit on Facebook, of Boko Haram and its apologists. Needless to say I was really fond of her, not because of her terrorist-bashing credentials but for her sharp wit and her professional brilliance.
The program christened “KYU” went on smoothly and as proposed, for some time until the professional jealousy crept in and the things went haywire. The foreign lady’s deputy was a local artist of considerable renown. He had done his Masters in painting from the little-known Blacksmith University of Democratic Republic of Congo. The local lad had returned to his native place with an aim to set up his own venture and to promote the Kashmiri art. Rumour had it that his newly constructed Museum Zero point One- the building equipped with the state-of-art modern facilities like Gymnasium, Sauna Bath and Home Theatre- cost 36 crores in black money ( Black money is the money invested by Black people).
The local lad took over the proceedings from the foreigner and that didn’t go down well with all those who had invested their time and energy (blood, sweat and tears wouldn’t be a hyperbole either) in this project. The incensed members shot an email to the foreign lady telling her they wouldn’t take diktats from the local lad. They had even mentioned that the paintings the local lad drew (most of the paintings were pegged at no-less-than a hundred thousand bucks) would find no takers even at the road-side vendors. The email riled the foreigner and she ‘Yelled’ for the first time at such bickering between the members. When it was learnt that Ms Babool was the co-founder of the project, the team felt betrayed at having been kept in dark about this ‘fact’. The project was left in limbo much to my annoyance.
Reminder:I was going through hell at the time.
I knew my girl loved me as much I did and she would have gone to any limits to scuttle her parents’ move to hitch her, but I didn’t want that. We were poles apart and had we been married to each other, our relationship wouldn’t have lasted even till the Satim Saal. So I came up with a scheme to separate with her.
One fine day, much before I was afflicted with love, I was mindlessly flipping the pages of my elder brother’s engineering book- Strength of Materials- and I had come to the conclusion that we could apply the same techniques to test the strength of people. The book was awash with illustrations, designs and the laws of physics. I loathed all such things and in hindsight I feel I didn’t understand a thing from the book.
Nevertheless, I needed to shake the foundations of my girl’s love-castle and I came up with the most benign and subtle words. I told her I had lost interest in her. It worked wonders and the imaginary castle came crumbling down. I was blocked both from WhatsApp and Facebook instantly (The sanctions were in effect while I was writing this).
She was the first love of my life and her separation plunged me into grief and mourning. I reminisced about the good old days when we were together and that didn’t help my cause. I remembered the day when her gaze had cut me deeper than a butcher knife. I remembered the day when I had bruised my finger and she had lovingly and carefully tied her handkerchief around my hand; it was the cutest moment of my life.
Everything was not hunky dory in our relationship though. We frequently fought over petty issues and often blocked and un-friend each other on social networking sites. But when the pangs of separation hit hard, we hastened to patch up.
Our love story had a fair share of Shakti Kapoors in it as well. One of the many was Suzuki. He was a pint sized guy who had a classic sense of humour. Suzuki wanted every girl in town as a pillion-rider on his Hero-Honda bicycle and my girl was one of them. Suzuki had tricked her once into entering his house, and once there, had introduced my girl as a ‘friend’. My girl’s beauty and simplicity had charmed Suzuki’s mother so much that she had assured her son that she would get him married with her. I cursed my stars.
I lived in the heart of Srinagar-its commercial hub of Lal Chowk. I loved its bustling streets; the screams of street vendors; the honking of vehicles; the Ghanta Ghar; the Bund; the Footbridge; Hollywood Restaurant- the favourite haunt of journalists, always-whining cartoonists, the scheming photographers, the conspiracy theorists who believed the Great Deluge was the handiwork of Hindustan, the pro- Indian-politician-bashing fan-boys. I loved the Kothi Bagh, the Women’s College, and the Amira Kadal. I had this delusional grandeur of being a “special” city-boy who lived close to its nerve center- Lal Chowk. I would have given up all my joys and everything dear-to-me just to be at this place of endless joy. But my parents had other ideas. They had had enough of the noise and yearned for a breathing space and peaceful environs.
We bought a house in a nondescript village where every other wall was plastered with Dr Bengali’s “100% guaranteed treatment for impotence” advertisement. This new place was quite the antithesis of Lal Chowk;It was sleepy and excruciatingly boring. Here the shops were far and few in between and the shopkeepers invariably went to take a nap after Zuhr prayers. Some of them returned after a quick siesta while others were roused the next morning. I categorically told my dad that I was not leaving Lal Chowk come what may. The place was the traditional fiefdom of the self-proclaimed “LION of the region”- Mustafa Ataturk, from the newly elected party BEEDI PEE; election symbol: BEEDI and Ashtray. The ‘Lion’ had courted a controversy when his photograph in full-body armor wielding a toy-gun went viral on Facebook. I knew toy-guns were sexy as I myself had taken a photograph with it in my childhood (See fig. 2 ½). Unlike his namesake from Turkey, the politician was deeply religious and a pious man.
When the skies unleashed hell in early September, we were almost ready to shift to the new home. But I was adamant to not to leave. I was sulking. Having had enough of my intransigence, my dad and brother tied and gagged me, tossed me into the car and whisked me away. I was held captive in my own room for three days and three nights while the unrelenting rains wreaked havoc in Srinagar. When the reality dawned on me, I felt ashamed and couldn’t face my dad.
Back in Srinagar, Suzuki attributed my narrow escape to “HER” arrival in my life. He had recounted to his mother, somewhat disappointingly, how the floods had left his bête noire unscathed. I didn’t doubt him but my dad had suffered losses worth lakhs and “her” good fortunes, perplexingly, didn’t work on our business. Never mind!
I was in a melancholic state after witnessing my dear city being ripped apart by the floods. Every day I would make my way to Srinagar and watch depressingly the partially visible houses submerged deep in water. After the waters retreated did the full scale of destruction come to light: the Bund had been blown apart beyond recognition, the city I was enchanted by had turned into an unrecognisable place which only evoked sadness and grief. It seemed as if Srinagar’s good luck had deserted it, just like mine had too. Our plight was the same and there was nothing else to do than hope for better times to arrive. (To be continued…)
(The above is the Part One of a three-part-series write-up)