Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Journal Entry - 14/6/12

Nandita and I have been invited on a day-trip to the beautiful mountain region of Pehelgam by our two unlikely new friends. Being away from the public gaze of our small town has relaxed us all noticeably, and our conversations have grown increasingly more casual over the course of the day. While Aamir bombards Nandita with enthusiastic stories about his love life, Syed is answering my questions about the history of Kashmir and its recent (current, really) conflicts. Boyish Aamir is without question the louder of the two, so I have to strain to follow Syed’s intricate and articulate web of events and ideologies through Aamir’s punctuated exclamations of “She is my sweetheart!” and “I am loving all of the women!” Syed’s just gotten to the part about Hari Singh signing a conditional accession agreement with India when Aamir stops all conversation by loudly declaring “I am so fast!! Sometimes I do it in three minutes!!” I fall over laughing, “Dude, that’s not something you brag about.” Syed grins incredulously at his ridiculous best friend.

We love these boys. Syed, the intellectual of the pair, has a simple and direct way of speaking about human nature, giving him the ability to communicate a perspective on war and conflict that is neither sentimental nor dramatized. He also has strong political beliefs and stands passionately behind the ideology Kashmiri independence. Aamir is all heart, like a big clamouring teddy bear, and couldn’t care less about idealogy. In one of the simplest and clearest examples of the complexity of war, it is Aamir who has borne arms, thrown stones, clashed with police, and led ambushes; politically passionate Syed would root his friend on from the sidelines, but never physically engaged in fighting himself.

A second example of the complexity of conflict: Aamir and Syed’s close friend Sameer, who they have considered a brother since primary school. Sameer is a Kashmiri arms dealer and military contractor who works with the Indian Army posted in Kashmir. Nandita and I constantly rib the three boys by telling them that one of these days, Aamir is going to get shot by a gun sold to the CRP by Sameer. They laugh it off, they really aren’t bothered by the glaring contradictions in their beliefs. Aamir himself goes from telling us stories of cradling dying children shot by “those bloody bastard Indian Army” to inviting us to have lunch with his friend Mr. so-and-so Commander or Police Superintendent.

This is something I found echoes of in all of my travels: the more steeped in conflict a place becomes, the less possible it is from anyone to speak of the situation in simple us-and-them terms. Even in a region with a clear-cut oppressor and oppressed, the blacks and whites of governments and ideologies will inevitably fracture into a million shades of grey wherever individual people are concerned.

I say something to this effect, and Syed tells about a day during the 2010 unrest when a CRP officer showed up at his polyclinic with a badly mangled hand. Syed, who runs the clinic, was in the process of bandaging the man when he received a frantic call from Aamir. Aamir explained that he was hiding next door because he’s just come from a skirmish with a group of CRP officers. Aamir found himself momentarily alone with an officer in an alley with a stone sink. He grabbed the officer’s hand, rammed it in the sink, and smashed it repeatedly with a large rock. Then he fled as other officers began firing. Syed, unable to respond in present company, told his friend he’d have to call him back. Syed is tutting and smiling as he tells me this story. “Of course, on one hand, I believe in resistance, and I am happy that Aamir has done this thing, but then this is a human being in front of me, you know? It touched me like anything.”