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How a meeting with Junaid Mattu changed the course of my life

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By: Khalid Shah

Junaid Mattu is an outsider in politics. The conventional politics cannot own him, for many reasons. One, he is a non-conformist — a dissident on every table, in every conversation. But that is not what makes him an outsider in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir. Mattu is an intellectual — that is his best strength and worst weakness — and what makes him an outsider.

Somewhere around the year 2010, I saw an erudite young man on an NDTV debate, dishing novel and often moderate ideas on Kashmir conflict. I was shocked to hear his views, totally contrary to the dominant narrative of the time. I belonged to a family which followed the hardcore separatist politics for generations and his moderate view agitated me, for the ideas of separatism were inherited to me.

He started writing a widely regarded weekly column called ‘HOPE’ for the local daily Greater Kashmir. The first column titled ‘Hopelessness is a Sin’ was published on November 6th, 2011. One sentence from the column struck me: “Sacrificing our children at the altar of our misplaced emotionalism is, like hopelessness, a collective sin.” And the article concluded with a promise of churning out hope. I decided to read the column every Saturday with an open mind despite the fact that the writer was an important office-bearer of Peoples’ Conference which had field Sajad Lone as a candidate in the Lok Sabha election of 2009.

Four months later, in the March of 2012, I wrote an email to Mattu seeking an appointment and we met on a bright, sunny April afternoon at the Rawalpora residence cum office of Sajad Lone. After exchanging greetings in the waiting room of the designated office space, Mattu to my utter surprise told me “let’s meet Sajad Sahab.” The 20-year-old in me was excited and nervous at the thought of meeting a person who was not only a celebrated television commentator but also an established politician. Till then I thought all politicians were manipulators who were only interested in votes.

We stepped into the study of Sajad Lone. It was a room adorned by a large collection of books and on the table lay a copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The entire conversation was counter-intuitive. Instead of trying to woo me into the party politics both gentlemen were interested to know me, what I read and whether I was interested in writing. Till then I was not much acquainted with the world of books, I came from a family of businessmen only interested in giving a decent education to their kids and get them absorbed in family business. I had read a few novels and told them Khaled Hosseini was my favourite author.

Lone, with a big smile on his face, was perhaps astonished to meet a 20-year-old hailing from the downtown ( the home of stone pelting and separatist agitations) Srinagar, who in his own words was “articulate and well dressed” and loved Khaled Hosseini’s writing. He told me “you should read more and write more” and directed Mattu to help in the craft of writing.

Junaid, in his part, gave me the address of his residence and asked me to meet him every Sunday. On my second meeting with Junaid at his residence, he handed a copy of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and thus began our ritual of Sunday morning meetings. Every Saturday I would read Mattu’s column which exposed me to new political narrative and on Sunday’s we would discuss books at his home. His column and the books seduced me into the world of ideas and at some point during the course of these interactions, I found my calling. More importantly, I realised the person I was meeting was a politician only by designation. His disposition was not that of a traditional politico but a free thinking and a curious intellectual.

That fateful meeting with him changed the course of my life and helped me in finding a purpose. I was introduced to the world of ideas by him, inspired to read, write more and think freely. And my political baptism was sparked by his writings.

I lost touch with him after a disagreement on Twitter and got more involved with my struggle.

Over the years, I graduated from India’s best journalism school, worked in some of the finest newsrooms of the country and now more embedded in the world of ideas. Mattu, on the other hand, indulged in the craft of realpolitik and with his undaunting struggle of years, he has won an important election.

Today, the world may see him as the Mayor-elect of Srinagar city whose time has come to implement the ideas on governance espoused in that weekly column. My only HOPE is that he refuses to become an insider of the politics and emerge as a leader who changes the course of many more lives.

  • The author is Associate Fellow, Observer Research Foundation.
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