Author: Saadut
•9:42 PM

Long before Facebook existed, the local social networks of Kashmir ran an extensive web of updates, discussions and social inclusiveness. In Kashmir when most of the basic services and occupations were still ‘Kosher’ you had the local native barber whose joint would be the hub of all political and news discussions. The local ‘navied’ would be a political expert who would rhyme his fingers over haircuts with political discussions, opinions and economic discourse. His expertise would encompass both local and the world beyond the state from whatever latency prone news that seeped in those days of a ‘non public internet’ world.

My earliest childhood recollection was Aziz Joo who was a regular at our house for attending the barber services of my father. Aziz Joo wore a white ‘dastaar’ (turban) which was more roundish than ovalish and perfectly matched with his fair face. His long ‘pheran’ had a loose fit with an almost left of corner opening at the top with no buttons, his ‘pheran’ often meticulously clean and ironed. His ‘arsenal’ would be arranged in a wooden box that had black leather straps, which he carried along always. He would not only carry with him his barber services but also news and happenings from across the dwellings. I later heard he would also be sought in other parts to care blemishes or boils, the local dermatologist kind of, his primary prescription would be the ‘malhaam’ a strong variant of the belladonna patch. A man of medium height with dark eyebrows and wide eyes, his pace would be fast for his feet size, often brisk for those calculated timings of his work and attendance. He carried with him a great sense of wit that rarely came to fore in the presence of Dad, he would be of restricted speak in front of him, but would have quick replies to Dad’s inquests. Dad respected Aziz Joo for the wisdom he carried and the knowledge he exhibited, he understood more of the Kashmir political scene that some of the current dynasty political heirs could ever know. Dad narrated an incident that Aziz Joo had been witness to very early. When Sheikh had been dethroned and Bakshi took over in Kashmir, J&K Armed Police had been deployed in parts of internal Srinagar, who were restricting movements of civilians in the city. Kabir’e an old bachelor used to live with his brothers family (his brother’s wife was named Bakhti). On this particular day Kabir’e had ventured out and was stopped near Khanyar by the Armed Police, the lathis were up and the blows were next to fall in place ‘Kouan hai’ (Who are you) shouted the Armed Police, ‘Main Bakhti ka droui houn’ (I am the brother In-law of Bakhti). The policemen who were from Jammu would not comprehend much of Kashmiri understood ‘Bakhti’ to be ‘Bakshi’ and gave him easy passage.

When I grew up the ‘not so far away’ barber Manzoor was the style haunt for local boys; that is before I had been sent to the boarding school. His own hair style was a peculiar mix of two Hindi film heroes; you could not be sure which two although.  But that mix and match was not what he did with the hair styles of boys, his finger created almost that perfect cut you demanded, but not before he had given you an overdose of his recommendations. A slim man of medium height, he would always dress business like, from old bell bottoms to the then in rage parallels, you could not help but marvel his sense of style. Manzoor was well versed with the happenings and ‘puppet mechanizations’’ of the state’s political scene, all the deceit and repertoire and more of it were familiar with him. His shop was the Facebook wall for the local boys, where status updates were posted more frequently, where the RSS feeds would run nonstop for the ‘who and where’ of this small closely knit local society. The newspapers on his shop would change more hands, would get more hits then than a small web page would get in present times. The colour of these newspaper edges would go brownish dark by the evening, by the shuffling of multiple readers who devoured on them. But more than the news that was written on these newspapers were the narratives held on and by this barber shop. It knew the local social trends, was aware of the social pursuits and kept the secrets of many households in these dwellings. It was the virtual local google then. His shop had wide mirrors, stacked with shelves on either side that had genuine ‘Old Spice’ unlike ‘Old Skice’ the fake cousin of this after shave that adorns the UP bhaiyaa run barber shops now in Srinagar. The present barber shops know nothing of our societies, so disconnected from this land they are that they don’t even know how to pronounce the names of local places, the ‘e in Noet’e (Nowhatta) or the Habb’e Kadal often missed by them. The modern barber shops have been reduced to automated scissors that treat all human specimens as to be sheared sheep, subject to the same geometric compass cut.  

During my once in a year holidays from boarding, I would never miss an opportunity to get Manzoor do the hair honors, back there we had be forced to do a ‘no hair must grasp in hand’ student haircut in school.  It was in one of these visits that I found out that Manzoor had also become the local database for the torments of conflict in this area. He had infact even kept a copy of an old ‘India Today’ magazine which had announced the arrival of armed rebellion in Kashmir. He kept the virtual ‘pain, migration, survival and death’ count during the conflict. In good old days, I heard, he would also act as the part time match maker, more often as a social service with some economic benefits. But now the match making scene was dismal, with most of the boys either already been lost to conflict or the living boys lost to joblessness and economic deprivation. With conflict migration taking precedence, families migrated from villages to cities and from central city to suburbs, the brokerage business for new and rental property came into vogue, an opportunity he grasped soon. He soon converted into the local ‘Yellow Pages’ indexing most of the migrations and ‘to let’ positions in nearby vicinities.  But soon this conflict left deep scars on him too. Mid conflict renegade culture came to fore in Kashmir, where a shielded and cloaked armed to teeth force was unleashed upon the local habitations. Manzoor had been identified as a potential prey and from demands of ransom to frequent threats, he soon withdrew into reclusiveness. Ransoms had been paid, but the nocturnal knocks had not ceased. The local social network had soon shut shop.

Now the city has imported workforce, bollywood poster beaming salons filled with the smell of cheap cologne, but you will see no connections to this land, to this society coming from these shops. They have now tagged the local customers by wallet count, names are not remembered, and the old human social networks exist no more.  

18th Dec 2011