Jetlag, the local kite population, and the local Muslim population all made their presence felt quite early this morning, as I woke up to stay around 3:30 am, partially because of my off-kilter body clock, but aided and abetted by the large and noisy raptors that perch just outside my window and scream their lungs out from dawn onwards, hunting Himalayan roosters, they are, and the muezzin’s morning call to prayer, which occurs pre-dawn.
After some breakfast and a paper I head over to the KO offices only to find them shuttered, but as I’m leaving Sajjad arrives with his brother. “You too early for us,” he says, flashing that Mona Lisa smile.
We go back up and into the office, which is smaller than my bedroom in Brooklyn, yet divided into three teeny rooms and a larger computer room where most of the work gets done. Even so, for our purposes, it will keep us close and serve us well.
“So, you read today’s paper?” Sajjad asks me once we are seated, mountain view out the window to my right.
“Yes, I did.” I responded.
“Any thoughts, or comments?”
“Well, yes, there are a few things,” I responded, and went on to tell him that the stories needed more analysis and perspective, as well as the other side of the story – a few of them read almost like press releases for politicians and power players. He understood, but made a valid counterpoint,
“The problem is that most of our stories come into us in the late afternoon or evening, so we have very little time to do additional reporting. It’s difficult enough to get them written up and polished for publication by deadline.”
I suggested an early afternoon delivery time, which is a future possibility.
Sajjad then asked if I had any story ideas.
“Yes, I have a bunch,” and I dug a printout out of my bag.
“Firstly,” I continued, “there is a UN observer group here. What the heck are they doing? Nothing, it seems, but still they stay in Srinagar, and a new commander has just been put in charge, from Croatia, I believe. I’d like to interview him and see what his plans are, and also see what the locals think of the UN.”
“OK,” he nodded.
“Also, I’ve been in contact with a couple of analysts and I’d like to do a piece on the Kashmir conflict in the wake of Mumbai serial bomb blasts. How it might affect the situation, that sort of thing…”
“Right, sounds good,” he nodded again and smiled slightly, legs crossed on the faux leather bench opposite me.
“Oh, yeah, and I’ve been reading about how Indian army soldiers have been committing suicide and as a result they’ve been instituting all of these stress-reduction measures, like yoga and therapy.”
“Yes, yes, that’s a possibility, too,” and he looked me in the eye and I had a feeling about what was coming. “But David, these are all very sensitive issues. We have to be careful about offending people here in Kashmir, because there so many sides to every issue. And you, too, might find some difficulty reporting these issues....because...well for one reason because nobody will speak to you on the record.”
“Well, that shouldn’t stop us from trying.”
“No, it shouldn’t. And it won’t,” he responded, smiling slightly at my steadfastness, I’d guess. WIth his eyes he made clear I should stay away from conflict-related stories for the time being. “But for now let’s keep you working on other things.”
And he asked me what I was interested in and we discussed a few other matters of less consequence, but this conversation essentially set up the battle of wills that would occur daily between Sajjad and I -- he, in looking out for my safety, intending to keep me away from the conflict, and me doing my best to work on the very reason for my coming to Kashmir.