Kashmir on My Nerve

13 Nov


It may not hold much interest for anyone else, but I find it endlessly fascinating to study what pushes my buttons. You know the drill: you’re going about your day, minding your own business, neither ecstatically happy or suicidally depressed, turn a corner and wham! You run smack into something that makes you completely flip out. And you’re not entirely sure why.

Take for instance this little snippet from an interview Barack Obama gave to Time a few days before the election:

Kashmir in particular is an interesting situation where that is obviously a potential tar pit diplomatically. But, for us to devote serious diplomatic resources to get a special envoy in there, to figure out a plausible approach, and essentially make the argument to the Indians, you guys are on the brink of being an economic superpower, why do you want to keep on messing with this? To make the argument to the Pakistanis, look at India and what they are doing, why do you want to keep n being bogged down with this particularly at a time where the biggest threat now is coming from the Afghan boarder? I think there is a moment where potentially we could get their attention. It won’t be easy, but it’s important.

The moment I read it, I knew it was a pretty loaded thing for him to say (and Karl Inderfurth was immediately on damage control mode). With the best will in the world, there is no way a Palestine-Israel sort of third-party mediation is ever going to work in Kashmir, mainly because India is never going to countenance it. We’ve held that position for 60-odd years and, while you might argue that it’s clearly not working to any great effect, if you can find an Indian politician who feels the Americans might be the answer we’ve all been waiting for… well, I have a Nigerian friend, a fabulously wealthy royal prince, that I would like to introduce to said politician.

That said, I actually appreciated the fact that an incoming President of the United States was actually thinking about the clusterfuck that is South Asia. I might not agree with his take on it, but at least he’s engaging with it rather than stuffing his fingers in his ears and singing “LA LA LA LA LA LA” at the top of his voice.

And then I read Joe Klein’s take on it. Followed by Daniel Larison’s take (one, two) on both the Obama interview and Klein’s post. And this was all fine.

Until I read the comments.

I try my best not to subscribe to knee-jerk nationalism and I actually share a number of ideas in common with these people – and yet, the moment I hear random bits of advice re: “Things India (and Pakistan) Ought to Do So They Can Live Like Civilized Peoples”, I immediately see red.

Maybe they don’t mean it like that. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and hope they don’t mean it like that – because otherwise it would mean they’re bloviating assholes – but however pure their motives, listening to some random guy who once read an interesting article about the subject talk about something that informs everyday life in my country just makes me want to cap a bitch.

The trick is to control my overwhelming annoyance to the extent that I can actually hear the arguments that are being made because living in echo chambers never helped anybody. On the other hand, I take this as unscientific confirmation that very few Indians will be willing to toe a third party line, even if said third party was going to hand us everything we ever asked for on a silver platter. Maybe Pakistanis feel differently (and maybe that makes them better people) but last I checked you still needed two to tango and India is going to sit this one out so the question is once again rendered moot.

Becoming aware of my prejudice in this matter does have one side benefit however: I will now think twice before handing out advice to random nations. Oh, I’ll probably still have opinions galore about things that are none of my business, but I won’t take offence if they get thrown back in my face.

I too can evolve.


Posted by on November 13, 2008 in Politics


10 responses to “Kashmir on My Nerve

  1. M

    November 13, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Wow…Amrita, you’ve managed to capture exactly why I feel the way I do when Kashmir is discussed by random non-Indian people.

    And I actually realised, when reading the articles you linked, that if I, as far from being Kashmiri as is geographically possible, and having no real connection to Kashmir, can feel this way, it isn’t hard to understand the frustrations of the Kashmiri people themselves, whether Hindu or Muslim.

    If the powers-that-be are wise, they will leave this one well alone…in public or private. Let’s hope…


  2. Prasanth

    November 14, 2008 at 1:22 am

    Nice one!
    I read the same pieces yesterday and just like you was more fascinated by the comments that followed. To be honest, I was waiting(rather voyeuristic-ally) for the first Indian voice who would come on the scene and lambast all “firangs”(and that happened soon) but it’s generally annoying to see people commenting randomly on subjects such as Kashmir(which I believe, is actually an enigma for most Indians as well)

    And on a related plane, while it’s true that reading stuff about countries does not make one competent to comment on them, it’s also true that the middle-class Indian is generally much better informed than most of his peers(especially of the American kind). Now I know this is a blatant generalization but experience tells me it works for a significant enough majority. Of course it’s a different issue what the Indian chooses to do with this information and whether it evolves into any political consciousness but it makes it all the more ironic when one reads threads like the ones you cited.

    And mind you I am not of the “Bharath Matha Ki Jai” brigade.


  3. DG

    November 14, 2008 at 6:45 am

    Very interesting piece, and I can definitely relate to what you’ve described. I totally agree that taking one ‘solution’ from one situation and trying to apply it wholesale to another without fully appreciating the finer distinctions between the situations is a recipe for disaster. The tendency to try and squash hugely diverse territories into generic, one-size-fits-all boxes (‘Asia’, ‘Middle East’, ‘Africa’, ‘developing world’)… well, it really annoys me… not saying there are no commonalities, but it’s just. not. that. simple.
    Reading this post brings back memories of sitting in my postgrad class in London and glowering at all the oh-so-smart foreigners who all had perfect, tidy solutions to all the age-old problems of my country (the subject of your wealthy-Nigerian-scammer joke – which really stings by the way! I’m so irritated at how these 419 morons have succeeded in tarring us all with the same brush, but… a story for another day) and all the other developing countries of the world.
    And then I would inevitably end up saying to them, ‘it’s all very well to be the benevolent western god who has all the answers, but all your answers are given in a vacuum and completely denuded of context’. And sometimes I thought I had a point; while at others I knew I was just being defensive. Maybe there was always a little bit of both.

  4. memsaab

    November 14, 2008 at 11:56 am

    I never leave comments about anything but Hindi movies for the very reason that there are enough blowhards in the world who just love to tell everyone what they think regardless of whether they actually are informed or not. I *hope* that it’s not just Americans who do this, although by and large we are probably the ones without anything more compelling to do.

    Well, I do comment here too, but that’s only because I learn stuff from you.

  5. sachita

    November 14, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    “… well, I have a Nigerian friend, a fabulously wealthy royal prince, that I would like to introduce to said politician.”
    In this case, you can as well introduce them to Obama and his group. I am not saying that in any Jingoistic sense but if some one cannot see Kashmir has three parties, India, Pakistan and the group that wants an Independent Kashmir, then he might as well believe in Nigerian Prince.

    Regarding the rest, this disease afflicts people across the whole world. (why do your posts always sound as if you feel ashamed for the whole Indian behavior? People across the world exhibit same behavior, we are lucky enough to have lived in two countries to view things little more clearly)

    Nations cannot be coated with a single brush. There are more than six billion people under the sun with their diversities and we cannot have six billion brushes either. But I do on my part try to see all the voices, before trying to conclude on any issue. Like for example, few months ago you had a post on capital punishment and I went ahead read views of people who felt that the guy doesn’t even deserve another trial and must be hanged immediately, just to understand why they feel so.

    This attempt to understand where each party is coming from, should be a must for a Journalist or a Politician. Now that I think about it, Obama lost a few points on that day, placing himself just a few points above Sarah Palin, I mean seriously to consider one billion and more people, lightly?

    But I am hoping that just the way he could see through things in Iraq war, he will be able to show a similar wisdom in all the other matters when the time comes.

  6. complicateur

    November 14, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    Bloviating huh! Thanks for the education. Seeing that it preceded asshole I thought it meant something completely different. Thankfully I looked it up and now I wont be “the guy who used a complicated word out of context just because he read it in an article once”.

    Here is a universal truth I abide by ; advice offered unapologetically serves the singular purpose of inflating the ego of the one doing the offering. Smiling, nodding and going about our merry way is the best recourse, at least according to me. Whether that is a viable solution or not is an entirely separate discussion altogether. 🙂

  7. Gagan

    November 15, 2008 at 12:34 am

    an authentic identity is something of chimera to me lately. I find myself taking on places and ideas that i like and not really caring if it all jives. Clubs, tribes, loyalties based on because ” that’s the way we are” criteria ( fucking hate that ad) make me want to go all UFC on whoever utters it…but still I get u Amrita. I had an instant reaction to Obama’s words, like OK man you’re cool n’all but you should ease up cos now you’re going where you shouldn’t …..dunno where it exactly comes from….or maybe i do.. remember a moment recently hanging with a friend who emigrated from China not more than 4 years ago..she’s brilliant.. picked up English and French in no time…she looks like she’s 15 to the caucasian world but she is a mother of two kids..some well meaning but completely gauche English Canadian woman always comes up to her and tells her how well she speaks English…all third person references made to me..”isn’t she just so smart” I nod and feel my friends smouldering rage…and her infinite self control..i hate to say it but i experienced far more of this sense of the other in the English Canadian world than I ever have now…it’s a hangover from some huge British imperial condecension that refuses to go away .. and that all of us outside the inner sanctum carry the scars of in some way… stab at why anyway 🙂

  8. Gagan

    November 15, 2008 at 12:39 am

    and just to be very clear …it’s not a color thing cos along with the French the Eastern Europeans get it too….guess all of us on the losing end of 20th century history don’t make so many assumptions on what’s good for other places

  9. Gagan

    November 15, 2008 at 1:46 am

    20th century stretching back to 18th century just to be accurate 🙂

  10. Amrita

    November 15, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    M – if I, as far from being Kashmiri as is geographically possible, and having no real connection to Kashmir, can feel this way, it isn’t hard to understand the frustrations of the Kashmiri people themselves, whether Hindu or Muslim
    Precisely the thought that occurred to me as well.

    Prasanth – you too? HAHAHAH!!! I love it when the flag wavers show up. And in the best of flag waving tradition, they targetted entirely the wrong person!

    DG – You should write more about your classroom. My own postcolonial lit classes were relatively more mild in retrospect. Plus they were all hippies and more inclined to cut me slack than I was myself.

    Memsaab – hey, you know you can comment on anything you want! This post is SO not about you. 🙂

    Sachita – I’m inclined to believe that he was talking off the cuff and it just took everybody aback because we’re not used to POTUSes address these kinds of things and so everyone just jumped on it. I bet he’ll be much more circumspect in the future. And if he does decide to wade in, given his nerdy aspect, I’m sure he’ll do his homework. At least, that’s the hope.
    As far as concentrating on Indian behavior goes – well, I’m Indian and that’s always been my primary identity so I’m considerably more bothered about what Indians do and think than what anyone else does. Sometimes Americans shoulder in because I’ve lived in America long enough to care about that country but India is never far beneath the surface.

    Complicateur – I’m surrounded by even tempered peaceniks! First Bollyviewer, now you – where are all the angry people? And I hope they stay away. 😀

    Gagan – lolz, clear as crystal! Yeah I hear you re: fractured identities. I keep thinking about stuff like that all the time and what it means in my life which is all over the place. Everytime I hear about the Russians, I think along the lines you mentioned above re: losers of the 20th century. In a way, all those who chose the “wrong” side migrated en masse to the “right” side and now the “right” side has no idea what it’s supposed to do with so many supporters. This is gonna be one hell of a century. If we don’t all die from a nuke explosion, then we’re gonna see some crazy stuff happen and I can’t wait.

%d bloggers like this: