by Rafiq Kathwari
If you go to Kashmir today this is what you will see. As you drive away from Srinagar’s Hum Hama airport, a large green billboard with white lettering proclaims, Welcome to Paradise.
You will whip your head from side to side absorbing the sights and sounds of heaven: men in khaki in single file, machine guns slung over their shoulders. This will not seem odd, for you have heard about armed men in khaki necessary to secure paradise where they are called—what else‑—Paratroopers. This was once a paradox, but the paradigm is prescriptive.
Honk, honk, beep, beep, the shrill blowing of horns are the first sounds you will hear as you become aware that there are no traffic laws in paradise. Wow! No rules, only a few bearded men in blue, displaying PP insignia on their shoulders, clenching long bamboo sticks, idling indifferently at roundabouts as pardesis —what else would you call those who live in paradise— rush on, everyone including your driver wants to be on the fast track, all at once. You cannot but marvel at the paradisiacal confusion that follows.
Your driver is horn happy seemingly more than a paratrooper is trigger happy, and keeps his thumb glued to the horn, swerving left and right, overtaking in the face of oncoming Parutis and Puzukis, barely scraping the two holy cows slumped on the median. He hurls a loud paramzada at the green Paradise Public Transport bus that has braked abruptly and is spewing magnificent diesel fumes into the pristine air of paradise. A painted sign on the rear bumper reads: NO EVE. NO TENSION.
The cacophony of horns and hurls abates a bit as your driver negotiates a daring right turn at Paradise Park —named after a bank that bankrolled the park. Outside the Jannat Sports Stadium are many armored vehicles parked in paramilitary precision. And a sign painted in blue says, PRP, Paradise Regiment Paratroopers.
You cast a quick glance at a big bunker outside a rundown pea green building with a sign, The Hospital Named After A Poetess, but the taxi moves on and you find you are being driven parallel (pun intended) along the banks of the sobbing Jhelum, one of five rivers that have their source in paradise. Those heavenly rivers give life to the parched plains of the Punjab in the largest paramocracy, and its neighbor, Paradistan, both have warred to make paradise their integral part, or their jugular vein, mainly because it is the source of so much water. And if one was sincerely sincere, one could light up even paradise for a thousand years with so much aab-e-hayat, Water of Life.
A decrepit building with a gabled tin roof, barricaded by barbed wire, guarded by paratroopers is to your right. This is the Paradise Museum. Behind the barbed wire and those dirty panes are some clues to the origins and development of what pardesi’s call their Parmiriyat, but you can’t argue with the sheer brilliance of the logic that dictates Parmiriyat must be so secured, and you can’t wait to find what the hell it means in paradise. You nod approvingly at the paratroopers and wave at them with glee. Why flirt with art or learn about culture or discover history when you are already in paradise?
Across Zero Bridge (0, the irony of it all) an awesome sight: sheets and sheets of corrugated tin atop a high granite wall, rows and rows of barbed wire spread at the base of the wall, and at every 10 -15 feet along the wall, elevated posts for paratroopers, the barrels of their machine guns poking through improvised metal shields. There are several armored vehicles in the front of this barricade, their gun turrets slowly revolving. The scene is grim. For the first time since you arrived, your heart sinks.
The building behind this conglomeration of barricades ceases to be a mystery when you crane your neck through the pane to see antennas soaring above the rooftop. So, this is Radio Paradise, the VOH, Voice of Heaven! No wonder, the elevated security. This is the theatre reportedly where the best pundits of spin operate, working day and night to churn out Breaking News that keeps pardesis believing that there is no other paradise than the one they are in.
Your heart lifts at all the possibilities inherent here to master the spin to better coerce unification of opinion, which you know leads only to the unanimity of the graveyard, to test all the fascist theories you have learnt but never found a place or moment to put into practice. You rub your hands together, delighted at your good luck in paradise.