It’s half three in the morning. The effects of the brandy that I nursed, while both father and daughter stared at the tele in utter dismay, have worn off. Went to bed early, thinking ek naya din hoga, but the nightmares woke me up a while ago…it’s pitch dark outside.

Flashes of conversations shouldn’t be called nightmares. But not everyday does the discourse sink so low that it actually makes you want to leave your country! A month ago I returned home shaking, the apparent ‘debate’ which was nothing more than the ghost of Arnab, entering the body of someone I had seen growing up, asked me to move to Pakistan if I so disliked standing for the national anthem, in a movie theatre. The national anthem not being my issue, the appropriateness of the venue and the subtle ways in which we are being reprogrammed, being my worries. I merely suggested a few other places little knowing that it would lead to a yelling match in a hospital. The convent education and my natural reaction to shut up when faced with someone who just doesn’t want to listen, calmed the situation down, which is the ugliest discourse, I’ve ever been a part off. The trolls sending messages, calling one a terrorist mean nothing. When you see the face of someone, convulsing with hate, that has a deep, lasting impact.

‘Why don’t you marry a Muslim man?’ asked my friend the other day. ‘You even look like us!’ she exclaimed. Don’t worry, she wasn’t trying to convert me, it was just her way of finding out if I was dating someone, she and most people I know suspect, I’m seeing. Knowing about my past affairs, should have made people around me better at the guessing game, seeing that I’m not a hysterical mess (means there’s no one particular guy). ‘ Now, I can’t! The man will be scared, to raise his voice, unless he’s wealthy or well connected and then I’ll have to be scared!’ I tried to keep it low key for her, benefit. I couldn’t tell her about the awful, Islamophobic bullshit, I’d heard repeatedly over the years. To find a man with a strong spine was hard enough, to find a Muslim man, who is vocal about his dissent would be even tougher. The dissent slips into my messenger, but isn’t ever public.

Everything plays on my mind, right now. The Babri Masjid, my dad telling me about neighbours who were unwilling to give him shelter in their house, during the ’84 riots. The Kashmiri pandit exodus, someone asking me if I am Khalistani? Kafur, remarked a lady in a village. All the hate plays on my mind, in a loop. I deleted yet another person, who in her andh bhakti, forgot her manners. Relationships have been lost at the altar of power, I suspect over the next few years, many more will die, quite abruptly. The hate won! Everything that was hushed in murmurs is now, part of our daily discourse. My Hindu friends, feel scared in this country (no guesses of what) the less than 2% of us should be terrified!

Solo Date # 64-Hunger Club

On an afternoon in March, when I had a couple of hours between two appointments, I went to Hunger Club. The previous night, I had eaten at my favourite haunt in Kashmir-a small dhaba called Paakezah and opposite that is this newly opened, swanky restaurant in Rajbagh.

Post lunch it was fairly deserted- too late for the locals to eat and no tourists in town. The chicken was delicious, but it was the company that was quite interesting. No, I didn’t go with someone, it was while I was there, by myself, enjoying my meal, that I met the owner. I was just going about my routine, eating, chatting with the waiter, in this case making a few suggestion about the place, when the owner overheard the conversation and asked if he could join me. Anywhere else in India, I will look a man up and down, think ‘what the hell does this one want?’ and utter something quite obnoxious to make the man split. In Kashmir, I’m someone else, quite chatty, unlike my usual porcupinal ways.

The conversation of course remained about Kashmir, we were joined by a friend of the person who sat opposite me. Before I knew it a couple of hours had passed and though I was asked very subtly, if I was a Khalistan sympathiser (which is the the rudest thing I have ever been asked. I didn’t want to stay in Hemkunt Colony and I definitely would never move to Punjab…so I don’t need a Khalistan, thank you very much) it was a fairly engaging, well spent afternoon.

Raghav Chadha

The AAP candidate from South Delhi, was present at the Phool Walon Ki Sair, last year, where I shot him. Gul Panag and Prakash Raj, were present at a rally on Tuesday, to support him, the youngest candidate from AAP. Chadha, a Modernite, is a 30 year old, Chartered Accountant, who is pitched against Bidhuri ( BJP) and Vijender Singh (Congress).

Solo traveller in Kashmir

I took the flight day before yesterday, hoping the journey would be less frightening than last times. More than a month ago, I got on an Indigo flight to Srinagar. Due to turbulence, the journey was so uncomfortable, that the thirty people who were returning from Umrah, started chanting Allah’s name, a woman started vomiting and I too was left feeling sick to my stomach. Due to my general absentmindedness, I told my Dad I was flying Go and throughout the misadventure, I kept thinking that if the plane crashes, my parents wouldn’t even know I was on this particular flight. But this was better, we landed ahead of time. Comfortably? Nothing about flying makes me feel comfortable, in the first place!

The lamba chauda Jat ( reminded me of the ex) who I met at the hotel last time, had sent me photographs of the tulips from his official, weekend trip. Assuming, I too would be able to find some, I dropped my bags and rushed out. I got on a shared cab, which took twenty bucks from me and dropped me, close to the garden. I walked, bouncing away to glory, as I usually do, listening to something cheesy, while the uniformed men, eyed me suspiciously. The sign at the door said, ‘closed to general public’. Since, I don’t understand signs, I end up pulling where it says push and pushing where it says pulls, invariably I’ve headed right into the men’s loo more times than you can imagine (absolutely sober,fyi) I just pushed the door and walked in. Once, I walked in, then they couldn’t throw me out. I searched for tulips and found a few, which had withered. Two older gentlemen working there, then took me to the official area, where I found the last tulips of the season. As I was walking out, there were a lot more men at the gate, who looked at me curiously. One tried stopping me, ‘aap aayee kaise, andar madam?’. ‘ Jadu, se sir, aur ab jadu sai ja rahee hu!’ Off I ran.

In the evening, I went for the Urs of Batmaloo Sahib. My experience with the boys of the area, hasn’t been pleasant. That’s the only place in Kashmir, where the stone pelters have hurled abuses at me and I genuinely feel scared of them. Not having any of the boys, who have worked with me earlier, doesn’t help. I no longer have a mediator. My main man, is sitting in a far away land, trying to earn money for his entire family and should hopefully, be back on vacation, before my next trip.

As soon as I walked towards where the Ferris wheels were, I wanted to crawl underground. There were so many young boys there, some who I recognised and most who recognised me. They stood there, pointing towards me, all their heads turned in my direction. ‘Mar gayee, aaj to tu mar gayee’, I hummed to myself. Tried to make some photographs but the constant surveillance, hassled me, too much. I called one of them over to clear things, ‘kyaa hua?’, I asked. ‘Kuch nahin, hum aap ko jante he!’ replied the eighteen year old. ‘I’m not here to take pictures of any of you, I’m not looking for trouble, I’m just here for the fair!’ I said, feigning a sternness, only SB can pretend to have. He nodded, smiled and then went to inform the rest. I took some pictures, went to the Dargah, to which I was followed but by then I knew, they weren’t going to do anything, for now. Made some more pictures, walked out of there, knowing I was being tailed, caught an auto and stopped at the Boulevard, went to a restaurant to eat (hide) and then came back to my hotel.

You would assume, this would stop me from going back but a girl’s got to do, what a girl’s got to do! So, last evening I went back. The rain kept most people away and the boy from my hotel reception, came to check on me. He took me around, showed me his family graveyard and then we stood in one corner, in plain sight, chatting as it rained. Once enough people saw me with a Kashmiri man, I knew I was safer. As soon as it stopped raining, he went away and I went back to my business. Made a live video, distributed my card, by the time I return today, hopefully, they will be rest assured, I am not an Indian spy!