Fleeting Reminders


Decades have a habit of shrinking and elongating according to the nostalgic content of the past: thus, it is only yesterday that the skies over Kashmir would crimson at the shedding of innocent blood anywhere on its land, but it is two long and excruciating decades since bloodshed, innocent or otherwise, became common enough to merit not even casual mention. The interlude – from the times burglars became folklore on oiling their bodies to help escape capture, to the times when secret codes are used to prang Automatic Teller Machines –  was an evolutionary process of graduating from petty extortion  to armed hold-ups in banks and homes.

Necessary though it is, a discussion on need, want, persecution, the evolution of law (often with the sole objective of protecting the interests of the powerful), and its misappropriation to perpetuate need, want and persecution, is not within the scope of these columns: the intention is rather to attempt a rough profile of crime here, particularly elements deserving the appellation “‘indigenous” more genuinely than the pursuit usually carrying this prefix in the Himalayan region.

It is not clear whether the elaborate planning of an inside job at a bank, with all angles, including the police, covered, carries the same thrill as the wait-and-watch of yore when filching poultry and potatoes, preferably cooked, was the staple of Kashmiri thievery.

No one, for instance, has conducted a study of adrenaline levels in Kashmir’s ministers and bureaucrats when they pass contractors’ bills fully knowing that the works have no sign on the ground. Similarly, there is no evidence of a rush of blood in the head when money changes hands in government offices for fraudulent documents enabling incentives, perks and extensions of service. Of course, this happens everywhere, but the distinction of the public paying for projects that exist only in the imagination is entirely Kashmir’s own. As is the fact that the public avenges itself by plunging into a mass orgy of bribery, cheating, profiteering and what have you.

One can, therefore, only laud the ingenuity, or rather the indigenous ingenuity, of the audacious souls who made a statement of sorts not long ago by carting away entire Automatic Teller Machines from Kashmir’s streets. The use of heavy machinery to lug  metallic chests weighing two tons and more is certainly inspired by Hollywood, but the Kashmiri adaptation has an unmistakable touch of native poetic justice. On the offhand chance that the now-forgotten, and mercifully non-recurring, innovative ATM jobs in Srinagar and the massive fruit heists reported in north Kashmir last season have no covert political and official blessings, the message for Kashmir’s rulers is clear – you cannot hunt with the hounds and run with the hares; or is it the other way round?   

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