McCain in Mughal Gardens

A little detail has fallen between the cracks ever since India started its latest march to a corruption-free state, led by Shri Anna Sahib Hazare, a piddly man, simple-mindedly honest. This revolution is cheered on by Lord Arnoub Goswami (confident that deliverance is well nigh), and the big media (how shamelessly they boo our revolution, hypocrites). Anyway, far from the maddening crowds of the Ram Lila Maidan, an unexpected visitor dropped by in Kashmir.

John McCain is a very important man. He came close to becoming the US president two years back before Obama spoke one night and DC was flooded with tears of hope, washing away both McCain’s aura and Fox News’ mental virginity. Another matter Barack proved to be all bark and no bite, notwithstanding the Nobel Peace Prize. Despite his failed attempt at the presidency, McCain is relevant and sits on the Senate committee on US Armed Forces, a hugely influential body.

So what brought him to Kashmir? On the grapevine in Srinagar, friends pick up that McCain discussed a basketful of issues with Omar, besides spending a few hours at GN Butt’s World famous (everything is world famous in Kashmir) Claremont houseboat. Previous guests have included US vice presidents (Nelson Rockfeller) and rock stars (George Harrison). The fact that McCain flew in straight from Islamabad (Pakistani capital, not Anantnag), his political secretaries in tow, has made it all the more titillating for the gossiprazzi.

Despite the government press release, the purpose of the meeting is somewhat unknowable. McCain is too high-profile to get on a plane to discuss environment and social issues with Omar. Hence the curio. We called up palace insiders, as we sometimes do, when info is hard to come by and gossip threatens to morph into a conspiracy theory. Geelani sahib, for instance, has already called the meeting an anti-Muslim ‘nexus’ between an evil America, Bharati Samraj and Jews. Why do Jews have to feature in the most unlikeliest of films, one wonders?

Be as it may — flanked by his secretaries Christain Brose, Vance Serchuk and Paul Narian — McCain, the iconic American hero, air-force commander, famously shot down in Vietnam in ’67, POW, maverick, GOP stalwart, met Omar, son of Farooq Abdullah. The CM was flanked by (who else) Devender and Nasir Sogami. Here is a figmental account.

McCain: Harwan is green. Like Hanoi, Vietnam.

Omar [pleased]: Did you see the Royal Springs, Sir? My dad and I play golf in half-pants there. Nice place.

McCain: I hate golf. Churchill used to say, it’s a good walk wasted.

Omar [little embarrassed]: This is a great time to visit Pahalgam. If you like, Sir, my choppers are waiting.

McCain: I am told you are already facing criticism for blowing up money on helicopter rides — to hill resorts. I don’t want an American angle to it.

Omar: The opposition here is petty. They gang up with the separatist leadership on me. I have friends. Can’t I take them to see my fief? Please tell me, Sir. Can’t I?

[Devender and Nasir nod in affirmative, suggesting Omar is right]

McCain: I heard the Mirwaiz on FM this afternoon. Retainers in the houseboat said he is a big hit.

Omar [somewhat cheesed off]: No way. He is only popular in areas where Azaan from Jamia Mosque loudspeakers can be heard. In any case radio was our idea.

McCain: Your idea. But why make your foes popular?

Omar: They tend to get very grumpy during house arrests. FM kept one faction of the Hurriyet busy, at least.

McCain: Splendid. What about the other faction? Someone said the old man is more well-versed in religion.

Omar: Well he is bit of a firebrand, Sir. By comparison Anna Hazare appears like a jester in front of him. One cannot trust him with a mike. It is like offering carrots to a rabbit.

McCain: You keep pulling these rabbits out the hat, don’t you? Did you switch off mobiles and internet in Kashmir on India’s Independence Day?

Omar: Communication is a distraction sometimes. People had other options. They watched Doordarshan. Flower petals falling on my head as I tugged on the flag halyard. We wanted everyone – adults and kids – to feel patriotic.

McCain [with a sardonic smile]: Don’t they call you the Twitter kid?

Omar: Dad says kids born in palaces should play with real helicopters.



(Sameer Bhat is a middle-east based Kashmiri blogger and a free-lance journalist. He has written political blogs and essays on Kashmir for several leading publications. His poems have appeared in CounterPunch USA and Poet’s Basement)