As the continuously jerking bus we are sitting in scuttles ahead on faintly-lit metallic road running and winding along the roaring Lidder River, Kalyani Prasher blurts out her mind– “I could have never imagined myself travelling in Kashmir in this much dark of a night. This is different.” I hear this and feel 
somewhat startled. How can she read my mind? Is she some kind of a clairvoyant or what! Because I am sure if Kalyani wouldn’t have uttered those words, those would have been my words a couple of moments later.
It is almost 9 o’clock in the evening, or rather night. I look ahead of me and then behind me. Nirupama Dutt seems busy looking out of window, and so are Rafat Quadri, Ghulam Pathan and Rajesh Sharma sitting in back rows. May be, some of them are already lost in similar thought with their gaze directed nowhere, and some are trying to lose themselves in the almost musical babbling of the crystal clear Lidder waters.
But I am sure of one thing- no one is afraid, no one is apprehensive. A sense of relaxation is sprayed all over each face in the bus. This is in stark contrast to the image I have of Kashmir in my mind- the unsafe heaven. And the image largely owes to the superficial media, for whom negative news that has a capacity to create sensation is the only news. And interestingly, this is the very milieu we are going to dwell in for the next two days. We are presently going to the town of Pahalgam where a media summit is going to be held, highlighting media’s role in perceiving and projecting Kashmir the way they do, and their effect on Kashmir’s economy and thus the native populace.  
A little while ago, we were at a farmhouse in Ganishpora, owned by Dr. Javed Ahmad Mir. That was our first brush with Kashmiri hospitality. We had been greeted there by Dr. Mir himself, his two sons – the renowned astronomer Dr. Mir Faisal and Mir Qaiser, and their friend Ishaaq. It had meant to be a brief halt, but nonetheless stretched longer than expected over cups of salted butter tea and Kashmiri bread served to us by our hosts.
There, we had inadvertently got into a discussion about the recent Srinagar NIIT row and the way national media pounced on it and projected it. Dr. Faisal had put across a valid point- the row was given wide coverage by media and they projected it as a national issue, but nobody cared to mention the calm and camaraderie that existed among the students before and after the incident. And then, Dr. Javed had quipped in, saying, “The media love to make a mountain out of a molehill.”
With that discussion in mind and this personal experience of travelling through the valley during night time, a basic premise for the media summit tomorrow has been outlined in my mind- ‘the media have to play a more constructive and sensitized role with a balanced approach in selecting and delivering information, and should not act as mere business establishments to sell sensations with a view to increase their TRPs or sales.’

Today is the second day of our Kashmir visit, and we are already a part of the initial proceedings of media summit inside the convention centre of Pahalgam Club, where it is being organized by Lehar the NGO. This is the second version of annual media summit in Kashmir by Lehar, the first one having taken place at Srinagar a year ago.
Out of us six visiting journalists to the summit, Nirupama has delivered her views as a keynote speaker. She emphasizes on the beauty and grandeur of Kashmir and Kashmiri culture, and calls upon media to observe a meaningful approach to preserve and highlight the positive aspects of this paradise on earth. She delivers her views in the most poetic way I have ever come across, and deep inside I know she has hit home.
Now, it rests with us remaining five journalists who are going to be on a panel to discuss the issue. It is going to be a live interaction with audience too. Tough job, I say to myself. But, who better than media persons themselves to discuss loopholes in the very industry they are associated with! Among the other panelists are a hotelier and a local educationist.
The impact of ‘negative news’ is quite evident; it has undoubtedly hampered tourism in the valley. Who on this earth will like to go to a place by risking his life from where there are always news of unrest, disruption, violence and insurgency? We all seven panelists agree to this fact. In an area where major source of revenue is tourism, there are going to be voices raised against any information that negatively impacts this industry.
The local panelists stress upon an urgent need to sensitize the mainstream media about Kashmir and bring forward its positive aspects also. True enough. But the question remains, how? Surely, media cannot just stop reporting the ‘bad’ incidents, and the helplessness of the 24x7 format of news is that they have to keep blabbering about such incidents in the want of positive stories.
We journalists on the panel are aware of this harsh reality, but more or less agree as well that this situation can be countered or overcome only by dispatching out positive stories from Kashmir and making them reach to a wider audience through social media.
As Kalyani rightly puts it- the positive news and touching human stories have to come from Kashmir only. While Rafat stresses upon a wider use of social media to let such stories reach prospective tourists, Rajesh proposes to turn to vernacular media for disseminating such information, which commands wider reach and impact as compared to English media or TV news channels. At the same time, I choose to highlight a need to lay bare the realities of Kashmir to a larger segment of representatives from mainstream media by inviting them to the valley and making them a part of some meaningful intellectual discourse, like we are at this moment, and also letting them feel first-hand the beauty of the land and the warmth of its people.
As panel discussion progresses and interaction with the young audience ensues, a fact comes to fore that an average Kashmiri youth wants to be heard and his views to be regarded. There is a certain hint of anger simmering beneath those warm smiles, which, I comprehend, stems from a long haul of unemployment and a feeling of having been denied what they deserved. This is the generation that was borne after 1990 and has grown under shadow of guns and smelled the gunpowder; they have not witnessed the Kashmir that was once flocked by tourists and flourished with the money those tourists brought with them to the valley.
At tea break, I contemplate how life of an ordinary Kashmiri will change and that hint of anger will be replaced with happiness, once the tourism touches its previous peaks. And the onus lies much on the mainstream media. There have to be enough positive human-interest stories to outweigh the reports of ‘bad’ incidents in the valley, and there have to be enough amounts of effort to spread such stories through social media.
While I am writing this reportage seven days later in Mumbai, I come across a story from Kashmir on Facebook, shared by Raavi Sandhu, the smiling M.Phil student from Patiala, who was also there at the summit as a moderator. This heart-touching story is about a Kashmiri Muslim offering his house to a Kashmiri Pandit family that had migrated long ago to Hyderabad. This story presents the human face of Kashmir which otherwise remains obliterated in media. But this story is published on a Kashmiri website, which I fear is largely unknown outside Kashmir. Here, the role of mainstream media becomes important. And we don’t have to forget that ‘Good begets good’. More you spread such stories, more such incidents will start happening. Not to forget the positive image it will create of Kashmir on the minds of other Indians.

It was just another day, until I came to know about the announcements of Filmfare Awards for this year. Two awards had gone to two friends of mine... and more importantly, to such persons who are talented, have worked hard to make a position in tough-tough Bollywood, and who did deserve it. And it was a coincidence that both of them had been alumni of Panjab University, and I have known them since I was myself a student there in Chandigarh.
Well, these two are-- Mahie Gill who bagged critics award for best female actor in a lead role, for her performance in 'Dev D'; and Irshad Kamil for his heart-touching lyrics of 'Ajj Din Chadeya..' in film 'Love Aaj Kal'. And both of them belong to that rare category of people who become more and more down-to-earth as they climb up the ladder of success. Talk to Mahie, and she will sound as a girl next door... talk to Irshad, and he will surely be fun to talk to. What's more, I can talk to both of them in Punjabi.
And, I did talk to both of them after I got the news. Irshad was tired but excited. He had told me about a fortnight ago that he was not sure if he would get the award or not, as the competition was tough. There were likes of Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi in the fray. But he deserved it, so nobody could deny it to him. Every song, in fact every word of songs of 'Love Aaj Kal' is a class in itself.. possibly the best album so far by Irshad. He got the award for 'Ajj Din Chadeya..', though my personal favourite is 'Chorbazaari...'. After getting the award, Irshad told me that he was still in dreams, and he had not slept for more than 40 hours. 'Neend hi nahin aa rahi, Ajay,' he told candidly. The truth of having won a prestigious award was still to sink in.
For Irshad, it was hard work of eight long years that bore fruit one fine evening this year. After doing his MA in Hindi, he started his career as a cultural correspondent with a reputed Hindi daily in Chandigarh. But his dreams and destination lay somewhere else, and he made it there too. Everyone who knows Irshad must be happy for this easy-going guy.

What made Irshad more elated was the fact that his ammi was with them in Mumbai that night. He called up his home from the function itself, and his ammi was all in tears. Her son had made her proud. The son, who she never wanted to pursue a career in poetry, for the fear that he might not succeed. But the son had proved her apprehensions wrong. And who would be happier than a mother to be proved wrong by her son in a righteous way.
And as far as Mahie is concerned, my first impression of her had been of a sweet-natured girl who used to rehearse her part in the dramas in the lawns of Department of Indian Theatre in Panjab University, from where she was doing her MA. She has been the same even after these long 14 years, rather more humble as she has matured as an artist and a human being.
Filmfare Awards night was a big moment in her life, and she told me that this came a bit unannounced. She was in Goa the day before, when she got a call from Filmfare persons asking her to reach Mumbai immediately. It was an unexpected call, but it had to be, as Critics’ Award did not have any nominations. Had she known that she had been chosen for Best Female Performance in a Leading Role, she could have prepared her speech. But that was not so... and so it was a sweet surprise for her.
She had earlier bagged Screen Award this year for her role in 'Dev D'. So, her friends more or less knew the Filfmare Award was also coming. Last year, she was in Chandigarh for the premier of the same film. After the movie, I had joined the film crew for a dinner. Such was the impact of her powerful performance as Paro in the film, that I could not stop myself from forecasting that she was going to win Filmfare next year. Little I knew it would come true. But after seeing her performance 'Gulaal' also, I was convinced that she had finally arrived… after a struggle of about ten years in film industry.

Mahie has not only struggled in Bollywood, but she had fought battles at personal front also. She is a warrior. And this warrior said that she was overjoyed to receive the honour, and her joy was doubled when she got a call from her brother who lived in US. Her mother was also in US that day. She also could not sleep well after the awards ceremony as calls for interviews kept pouring in.
But she is not a girl who would refuse to talk. The result was evident when I called her up late in the evening. But in that fatigued voice, there was clearly a hint of triumph, that... yesss, I have arrived!!!

One more air crash and over 150 lives have been lost. A second major air disaster in one month. Who is to be blamed for the latest one?? Should Yemeni Civil Aviation be held responsible for this?
The burning question is- how could they keep flying an aircraft which was 19 years old, had accumulated 51,900 flight hours, and was black-listed by French authorities two years ago after they found a large number of faults in it. France had categorically denied this fateful aircraft A-310 an entry into her skies. That was why the Yemeni airline Yemenia had employed a relatively newer Airbus A330 for the first two legs of their Paris-Marseille-Sana’a-Moroni flight number IY-626. And for the final leg of this flight, from Sana’a to Moroni, the passengers were asked to shift to A310 carrier.

This whole episode is enough to throw light on how irresponsibly civil aviation of Yemen had acted in this matter. They are saying they never knew the aircraft was faulty. Then why had they not employed the same aircraft on the first two legs of this flight, and why did they have to shift the passengers to other aircraft?? It is a white lie if Yemeni civil authorities say that they were not aware. They are accountable for the loss of so many lives, and now they are trying to save their skin.
Well, there are other airlines also which have been acting irresponsibly and risking the lives of passengers, just for their monetary gains. Had the pilot of Riyadh-Mumbai flight number AI-822 of Air India Captain NK Beri not refused to fly the aircraft with its landing gear down, the passengers could have met the same fate around one month back as those of IY-626.
To fly a carrier without retracting its landing gears accounts for high fuel consumption. And flying in this situation in night time is more dangerous as pilots cannot see earth properly to find a place for emergency landing. Had Captain Beri not refused to fly, that flight could well have been in the pages of aviation disasters of world, as is the flight no. HF-3378 of 12th July 2000.

The flight in question had taken off from Chania in Greece for Hannover in Germany with its landing gear down. The carrier faced fuel exhaustion on the way and crash-landed short of runway at Vienna in Austria. Luckily, the passengers escaped with minor injuries, but carrier had to be written off.
Apart from unforgivable negligence on part of Yemenia officials, there seems to be another angle to this tragic episode. This flight had taken off from French land, and was due to land in Comoros which has been a French Overseas Colony until 1975. And on board were 66 French nationals.
Just one month before this plane crash, the Air France Airbus A330 on flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed mid-air over Atlantic Ocean. Most of the passengers on that flight were French nationals. At that time, a theory had been put forwarded that opening of a French military base in Dubai might have angered Islamic extremists or religious zealots.
Air France officials also had got a bomb threat call three days before that incident, and an airplane had to be grounded after that call. Although, no extremist outfit has claimed responsibility, the theory of terrorism has not been discarded completely. And now this crash of a plane carrying a large number of French nationals does indicate towards a possible link between the two incidents.
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