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Wednesday February 28, 2024

The weather report

May 16, 2020

The daily grind of life has evolved new forms thanks to the gruelling regime introduced by the ongoing crisis caused by the novel coronavirus. Because of the halt on motorised means of travel and the ensuing traffic jams, the fog around cities and town centres reluctantly cleared, enhancing visibility to the naked eye.

This has afforded us some solace in enthralling new visual records of our conurbations and monuments that look pristine in the absence of smog and plumes of pollution. Such was the visibility, a recent report circulating around social media claimed, that the snow-peaked mountains of Kashmir were visible from Rawalpindi. If true, I foresee some divine counsel and hope such a vision was available from Islamabad as well.

So far, the suspected court spiritualists and pundits have failed to build on it. But now that I have brought it to notice such a miracle shall soon attract attention with the consequent prophecies to assure us of a victory lurking about the horizon slightly out of sight due to the restraints of our own limited field of view. Regardless, such wild optimism received a flip when the official radio and television news bulletins from Islamabad suddenly started to carry weather reports from Srinagar.

I am not sure if it would help the besieged people who are not visible perhaps due to the mountains blocking the view further afield but it does signify some seriousness on part of the government. After all, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s promise at the UN last year to breach every boundary for Kashmiris remains fresh in memory. Some people might be tempted to dismiss the watershed forecast on account that it was in reaction to the meteorological feud with India that started by their updates on Muzaffarabad and Gilgit weather, but such a thought would snub the sentiment.

I watched a clip from the leading Muslim-bashing Indian television, Zee, which usually criminalises Kashmiris and advocates violence against them in between dazzling soap operas and twirling Bollywood choruses. The anchor, with her laminated face, looked fearless in her featureless guise under the shiny studio lights. She gloated about the new weather tradition that was to lay the ground for something momentous. Regardless of her demeanour, I am assured that Pakistan won’t roll back from its renewed commitment to broadcast Kashmiri weather. Rather, it could go a step further to even capture temperatures of an assortment of towns and villages scattered around the terrain.

To be fair, Radio Pakistan and PTV sounded as if they were really smitten by the novelty so much so that one of the Radio Pakistan tweets mixed up the maximum with the minimum while mentioning the temperatures. This, to me, signified that the official machinery was yet to develop a proper appreciation for Kashmir’s temperatures.

The weather reports kindled a certain and now-faded nostalgia as I started to reminiscence about my youth in the early 1990s. I still remember the Eidul Azha of 1990. Kashmiris had broken the myth of being 'hato', a disparaging salutation allegedly invented in Lahore in the early 1900s for those Kashmiris who had escaped the brutal shackles of anti-Muslim Dogra tyranny. Successive oppressions – from Afghans to Sikhs and Dogras – had not only pauperised but also disempowered them to the extent that it became common for Punjabis in Lahore and Amritsar, the main places that Kashmiris thronged for earning a livelihood or escape, to subject them to such reproachful jokes as the well-chronicled 'Dhup tapsi toh thoos karsi'. This was meant to belittle the meek Kashmiri for his supposed inaction to change his lot. The expression was invented to display his cowardice, indecision and lack of soldierly posture. The phrase meant that Kashmiri resolve was so hopeless that it would keep a loaded gun in the sun so it will fire on its own.

On that fateful day, moments before we stood up to pray at the old Eidgah in my hometown, Bijbehara, two Kashmiri youth with their faces covered, rose on the pulpit waving the firearms. This was an unexpected sight, never seen before. Therefore, it provoked a frenzy of thunderous slogans of 'Pakistan zindabad' and 'Hum kya chahtay azadi'. One of the mujahids, as he was later called, fired several shots into the air to the wails and cries of the people who thought the movement of national deliverance had perhaps arrived. He presented a very short speech that promised azadi that was to arrive soon and advised us to adjust our watches to the Pakistan standard time. This was to signify our unity of purpose and thought, he said. Everyone complied on the spur of the moment.

A few months later, word floated that the resistance had got its own radio station. Soon, everyone was listening to the songs of jihad or sermons that called for the supreme sacrifice. It germinated inspiration and optimism at a time when we faced the worst state-organised human rights abuses including gruesome torture and deaths on a daily basis. Parents or siblings from many families whose youth had taken the message to heart and left for the arduous journey across the mountain tops to train for the ultimate fight were among the dedicated audience. They would listen to every public address and news bulletin carefully for it stated the names and addresses of those who made it to the other side. Thousands never earned the mention on the revolutionary airwaves for they perished en route to the trophy hunting of the Indian military. The fallen were abandoned to the elements of wilderness. They ended up unattended, un-mourned and their memories erased for ever.

Sometimes, the station relayed information about the weather and temperatures in Muzaffarabad, provoking comparisons to our own milieu. Regardless of the coarseness of its untrained announcers, the radio lived up to its name, Sada-e-Hurriyat, as it continually promised us the freedom that was just on the horizon slightly out of sight due to the limitations of our own restricted field of view.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli