Vikas Variahwa and the Muslim Hindu relations in Kashmir
I met Mr Vikas Variahwa (VV – name tweaked slightly) at the recent French National day celebrations in the open but tented lawn in their Embassy . He is 81 years of age and former CEO of a leading compressor manufacturer and a corporate Director now in some leading companies.
When I mentioned I was from JK, he mentioned someone’s name and said ‘you can ask him – I had dealt with him several years ago’. He recalled how Mr Mittal (of Arcelor) recognised him nearly after 20-25 years of his meeting with him, when he had sold him some compressors as a Sales Executive, although it was in competition with 6-7 others.
During the course of conversation, I asked him about his place of residence.
I have two bases – Delhi and Srinagar. Spend equal amount of time in both places.
‘Is Srinagar safe’, I ask (his name was obviously Hindu).
Him: ‘Why are you asking? Whenever I am there, I play my Golf every morning at 6 am. I have been born and brought up there and I have lived there for 80 years now’
Me: Isn’t the place violent and militancy dangerous?
Him: ‘I avoid going to downtown areas. And you don’t go into areas which are into trouble. Apart from that i see no difficulty’.
I would at worst say, things are abnormal but not scary or dangerous.
Me: ‘But that’s not the way we hear from the media and TVs?’, i said. ‘Are the TVs and media mis-representing then’.
Him: ‘They may not be. Whatever they are showing must be true. may be overexposing. But i would still say things are abnormal not scary as you seem to fear’ and his gaze locked with mine and he let the statement hang in the air. I was trying to figure out the meaning. A big sigh.
[My Words: The public expects the Government to run as per its perceptions (nothing wrong), public opinion is formed on the basis of information made available by TVs, Newspapers, and now increasingly Social media (nothing wrong again).The media as it is designed is to report exceptions and aberrations to normal (Nothing wrong again. You don’t keep reporting ‘things are normal’ stuff). But the media by repeating the aberrations and exception again and again may make a 2 to 5% abnormality as 50-60% abnormality and thus create misperceptions of degree – lets call it ‘exception trap’. Both the media – even the responsible ones without any ulterior motives or agenda or sides to take – and the general public can get sucked into it. The reality on the ground may be far less intense, harmful or scary like in the eyes of VV, who doesn’t think he is betting his life by living there.
This exception trap is an unexplored dimension of Right to Freedom of speech]
I felt more confident to raise ‘What about Hindu Muslim relations’.
Relations in my younger days … there was a lot of comradery and cordiality. I would say between the elders even now there is no rancour but friendly exchanges. But we have to recognise it is a Muslim majority state. A minor section of youth – i would not call it anywhere close to majority – is misguided and misdirected. But things will be normal. Things do take time to sort out.
(For the first time I was hearing some comforting and confidence inducing words from anyone on the subject of Kashmir and naturally it induced a huge sigh of relief).
Me: What about Tourism?
VV: Yes it is down. Things can be better.
Me: But who will go there if in danger of life
But they don’t kill anyone at random with whom they have no agenda. Look they may also be sensible in a way… but with an agenda.
Me: So there may not be an issue if i travel there?
Him: ‘Look. If a bullet is meant to get you, it will. (I said you are going philosophical now). Let me relate a story … about Arun Kirpal Singh, brother of Army (some high meaning rank he mentioned). He was travelling to Chennai and he came to the airport … had a peg in the lounge and when it was boarding time he reached the gate only to be told that the flight was getting delayed by an hour and half. So he went back and had 2-3 rounds more and passed out’
VV caught hold of someone jostling his way through by his elbow and said ‘Hi.’ They exchanged some pleasantries of long last friends and he introduced him as the Mr Mishra an ex Cabinet Secretary. (Later i gathered he was Naresh Chandra’s batchmate). ‘I was telling him about Kirpal singh’s story. And resumed.
‘When he got up, he went to the counter which was shut after the Aircraft had left. He argued with the station staff that it was their fault blah blah … and the counter staff kept saying that they had paged for him several times but had to let the aircraft go.
‘Disappointed he started back but before he was out of the airport the Public address system announced that his missed flight had crashed. (I tried re-jigging my memory of AI air crashes for flights meant for Chennai 25-30 years back, but not able to recollect).
‘And a personal one. A few days back there was an accident involving Gondola rides in Gulmarg. (i did recollect reading from papers about 3-4 weeks back some such accident which killed 2-3 people). My Sister, her sister in law and niece had gone there and were seated in a cart with some others. The attendant came to them and said that there were 3 more who were part of same family of three who were already seated with them. He conveyed to them that the others want to be seated together and if my sister would be kind enough to move to the next cart. My sister obliged and moved to the next cart. As it happened there was some strong winds due to which a big tree fell on the Cable sending it wobbling and getting stuck. The cart by which the six travelled hit the pole, the glass door opened and some were thrown out resulting in death. My sister and co were dangling for nearly 4 hours in the next cart before they were rescued. But they escaped death’.
I was trying to connect with a French Banker and had messaged and whataspped him 2-3 times about my whereabouts without connecting with him. I told him finally that i would go behind the Beer Bar and stand with an empty Wine glass so he could identify me. We did connect in 2-3 minutes and I wanted to join back with VV and take a picture and quiz Mr Mishra on a few items about Bureaucracy then and now. But they had melted into the crowd.
There was a gleam in VV’s eyes which conveyed success with the past and hope and confidence about the future. I was 2/3rds his age and the curious quizzer – so he could have easily gotten patronizing or pontificating or at least superior sounding (a disease 99% of Indians suffer from). There wasn’t any of these. He kept his enthusiasm also in check – enough to interest me but not going overboard or argumentative or overly critical (another national epidemic). … I hope someday i would acquire those qualities in myself … in this birth or the next.
For the first time I heard someone talk differently about Kashmir and it was energising and confidence boosting… and that too from a man on Ground Zero. I could not thank him for his inputs though.
Vikas Variahwa and the Muslim Hindu relations in Kashmir