October 14, 2002


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Varsha Bhosle

On wazwans and elections

Happy reticence! If I had shot off my mouth on the probable outcome of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections, I'd have had to eat crow today, convinced as I was that the Maino domestics would absolutely sweep the state, with the exception of Ladakh. This conviction stemmed mainly from wishful thinking. To my mind, Omar Abdullah's National Conference had no chance, the BJP didn't want one (more on that later), and the PDP alarms me. So, I rooted for the Kaangres. For, no matter who heads it and how nauseatingly servile are its rank and file to the Shroud, the party is still unlikely to let an Indian state secede from the Union. Besides which, Ghulam Nabi Azad lays out the best wazwan it's possible to get even in the valley and I wish him well.

And now, I just have to digress. For, did you know, I started my career as a food columnist, and "wazwan" is making me nostalgic about the sheer pleasure I once used to derive from putting ink to paper. Some say that I'm in the pay of the Sangh Parivar, but here's a confession: If at all I could be bought, the cost would be a meal straight from an all-meats-serving heaven (which, of course, is how a Hindu heaven must be). The Parivar, I'm afraid, just can't cut it.

In Kashmiri, "waza" connotes an expert chef, a title grudgingly given to a chosen few after years of apprenticeship to the vasta waza -- a master chef, somewhat in the tradition of Paul Bocuse or Ken Hom, an artist of the culinary world who's obsessively passionate about his work. Where he differs from the Western grande chef is in that his gastronomic skills -- and recipes -- have been handed down through the generations, from father to son, for hundreds of years. "Wan," on the other hand, denotes a store stocked with all kinds of meats, spices and delicacies. Put the words together and you get only a faint inkling of the unique concept of wazwan.

The cuisine of the Kashmir valley evolved over several centuries, with the native Hindu fare absorbing and modifying facets of Persian and Afghan cooking. Our "secular" lot, not to speak of the Pakis, love to say it's the "Mughal" effect, but, what element of gastronomy could the marauding hordes from Samarkand possibly have carried to countries as rich and bountiful as Hindustan and Iran?? Cardamoms? Saffron? Pomegranates?? Gimme a break! Only the samovar, obviously! Besides which, if the Mughals had influenced Kashmiri cuisine, we'd have had a similar strain of it in the food of Dilli and Lucknow, too. However, the food of these Mughal-ruled areas is different, distinctive -- and totally shorn of the essence of Kashmir.

The truth is, the food and language of the Mughal courts were wholly Persian, and thus all our present-day "Mughlai" fare has its roots in that mother cuisine. For the man in Tehran, Indian-Irani dishes such as sabzi polow, roghane, haleem -- all Farsee words -- are as unlike their local counterparts as kedgeree is from khichadi. We kept the names and the mode of cooking, but what we did to the food itself is, well... India. The native Avadhis added their own spin to biryani, as did the Hyderabadis, Punjabis and Kashmiris. Other original Farsee words: garam masaleh, beryan (baked), serkeh (vinegar), tikkeh (cubes), koofteh ("pounded"), halvah (flour-nut fudge), ferni, zoloobiya (jelebi) golaab (rose-water), naan, dampokhtak, etc, etc. Point is, garam masaleh isn't remotely like garm masala.

Though Brahmins, the Saraswats of Kashmir are generally meat eaters (just as the Saraswats of Goa are fish eaters). The basic difference between Kashmiri Pandit and Muslim fares is the abundant use of asafoetida (hing) and curds, which Muslims avoided, and onions and garlic, which KPs shunned. The kabargah, for instance, is a rack of ribs made without any garlic at all -- very unusual for Indian meat cookery. But I'm told that the dividing line is vanishing over time. I don't quite believe it.

Kashmiri Muslims, however, steal a march on the KPs with their banquet. The wazwan is a formal, sit-down meal consisting of, I kid you not, a minimum of 36 courses, of which about two-thirds are varieties of meat, kid goat being the preferred kind. Many of these dishes require to be slow-cooked overnight, under constant supervision of the vasta waza and his apprentice wazas. Large taramis (plates) heaped with saffron-flavoured pulao, seekh kebabs, methi korma, tabak maaz, and two types of tarami murgh (badami and zafrani) are placed before the diners. And that takes care of just the first 2 or 3 courses... Successive courses that follow include roghan josh, rista, daniwal korma, aab gosht, mirchi korma, etc, etc, etc, till the traditional signal of the end: the gushtaba -- dumplings made of meat pounded so laboriously and for so long that the result is a consistency of soft sponge. After that, there's the phirni, and a cup of saffron-, cardamom- and almond-flavoured kahwah. Frankly, hosts should also provide a crane to lift diners to their feet.

In short, the Kashmiri goes out on a limb to satiate his guests, and does it with style. There's a lot of talk these days about "Kashmiriyat" (a load of bull, if you ask me), but if that thing exists, it's in this great tradition of Kashmiri cuisine: a ritual offering of all the food there is in the house, and more, to the honoured guest. Can you seriously believe that the dorks of the Hurriyat, all on the pay-roll of Pakistan, and the Hizbul Mujahideen, scumbags who take innocent lives on a whim, have any clue about the "Kashmiriyat" they claim? Nowadays, the wazwan experience, naturally, is restricted to weddings and special occasions, but there was a time when regular meals of more than 20 courses were quite common in a significant number of Kashmiri homes. I hope that era dawns again.

Ok, now that I've indulged myself, we can go back to things of less importance: politics and elections.

At the time of writing, not only are the Congress and the PDP locked in a battle for chief ministership, but the 4-member Panthers Party, too, has thrown in its hat in the ring: Bhim Singh, without having contested the election, and whose manifesto pushed the creation of a separate state of Jammu, wants to be CM, and that, too, without the support of the two largest parties. Before that, PDP vice-president Muzzafar Beg had a two-hour, closed-door meeting with Farooq Abdullah, indicating a possible move to shut out the Congress. Meanwhile, a "Democratic Peoples Forum" has just been formed by four Independents headed by the Peoples' Conference proxy, Ghulam Mohideen Sofi, to demand ministerial posts in the government. Needless to say, the two CPI-M members are part of this sub-coalition -- who else would come up with empty words like "democratic," "peoples" and "forum"??

No, honestly, as far as J&K is concerned, any ruling formation without the Congress or the BJP in leadership scares the shit out of me. Can you imagine the situation if a "proxy" CM (whether separatist or pinko) raised the Paki flag on the assembly building...? The Centre would have to mobilise the troops against an elected state government! If you think that's la-la land, guess what happened when the PDP's Qazi Mohammed Afzal defeated Omar Abdullah in Ganderbal: "Soon after the result was declared, Qazi, who is his late 50s, was garlanded and then his supporters lifted him up on their shoulders. Surprisingly, one of the slogans being raised by them was: 'Pakistan Zindabad'." (The Asian Age, October 11). All in all, it's SNAFU time as always: situation normal all f***** up.

Meanwhile, the BJP leadership is sitting pretty in Delhi, enjoying the applause of the international community. And the media is having a field day crowing over its defeat and the "politics of hypocrisy" and "unholy alliances." But it's my belief that the BJP bosses at the Centre simply didn't want to be responsible for the conditions that will begin to unfold in J&K. The RSS' digging up the state's trifurcation issue and its support to the Jammu Sangharsh Morcha (whose single-point agenda was trifurcation); the BJP state unit's forming an alliance with JSM; the Delhi leadership's rejecting the trifurcation scheme and avoiding to campaign in J&K... all seemed like parts of a set piece to me. I've never been convinced about trifurcation as a solution and, obviously, nor has Jammu, which voted overwhelmingly for the Congress. That the grass-root activists of the Sangh Parivar were oblivious of the people's mood, is a factor I do not buy.

Which is not to say that the BJP had a fair chance at victory, or that the state unit was party to the machinations, but just that this singular defeat seems engineered from the top. Think of it, if the despised-since-decades NC can emerge as the single-largest party, couldn't the BJP have won at least 6 seats...? With just one seat in the assembly, it is of zero consequence in the opposition. Meaning, it cannot be blamed for what transpires in the state henceforth -- the overall development, the train link, the municipal nitty-gritties, the wooing of industries, the policing, etc, are all the Congress' headache. In short, the BJP is striving to keep the Centre while letting the Congress do all the hard work in the state. And that's why they've avoided Constitutionally putting to rest the bogie of Sonia as PM.

The NC was destined to lose because of its history of rigging, ongoing bad governance, reports of massive corruption, and the projection of an "outsider" as CM. However, the media has chosen to sideline these crucial factors and has latched on to "the unholy alliance" with the BJP. Example: "Farooq Abdullah's party has been punished for, among other things, his alliance with the BJP, the party which is not only against autonomy for Kashmir, but is also seen negatively after the Gujarat riots." Point is, Dr Abdullah was not in an alliance with the BJP but with several regional parties that came together to provide a government and avert another election. And since the Kashmiris have voted in the Congress -- which is strongly against secession -- as the second-largest party, why would they see the government at the Centre as the enemy?? But then again, if the media chose to be a rational, how would it bring up Gujarat...

If the local media weren't enough, we also had an "independent" team of Indian observers from an Indian "think tank" declaring its views to the BBC, which promptly broadcast them under the title, "Kashmir elections 'fair but not free'." Eh?? Not even when the participating political parties say so...? Nope, not for the peace fairies of the Institute of Social Sciences, who, in any case, are more at ease organising lectures by Noam Chomsky (November 2001), or deliberating on "decentralisation" with Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Surjaykant Mishra, B Raghavulu, Tapan Chakraborthy and Pinarayi Vijayan -- all CPI-M heavies (May 18, Thiruvananthapuram). Makes one worried about the extent of "decentralisation" envisioned -- controlled borders, maybe...? How did these CPI-M lackeys become "independent" observers, anyway?

To leave you in better spirits, let me take you to America's vassal state next door. The PML(Quisling) emerged as the largest single party in the national assembly; it supports General Mohajir, of course. And the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, an alliance of six jihadi groups, surfaced as the third largest party at the national level, while sweeping the NWFP and dominating Balochistan at the provincial level. Meaning, the MMA will have sufficient clout in government to hinder an Indo-Pak dialogue that the West so desperately wants. And, it will certainly make things very difficult for the US forces near the Afghan border. Already, Munnawar Hasan, a senior jihadi of Jamaat-e-Islami, has declared, "We will stop the ongoing pursuit of Taliban and al Qaeda when we form the government. Taliban and al Qaeda members are our brothers." Heeheehee! What goes round, comes round: The Yanks truly, truly deserved this :)

The J&K Election: The Complete Coverage

Varsha Bhosle

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