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Stirring peace

FOOD TO SAVOUR: Verghese Koithara at The Metropolitan Nikko Hotel's coffee shop in New Delhi. — Photo: R.V. Moorthy.

DISCUSSING KASHMIR over food, believe me, is not a delectably good idea. Simply because, you would cease to be hungry at some point and yet, the deliberation won't find an anchor.

But meeting retired Vice Admiral Verghese Koithara this past week to talk on his book, "Crafting Peace in Kashmir Through A Realist Lens" over lunch at The Metropolitan Nikko, one has an advantage straightaway. It is to catch his perspective on Kashmir and how he transports to the pages of this Sage publication, the idea of peace long being throttled by the hovering clouds of strife over the valley. In simple words, what is fresh about the issue that he feels readers should be apprised of. What is it that led him to become a writer for the second time?

"Perceptions and emotions are the prime drivers behind the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir," Koithara begins.

As he walks back to his table with a plate filled with cold pasta salad with shrimps, chicken in Thai style and some paneer to go with plain rice from the buffet layout in the hotel's coffee shop, Koithara seems to be in the mood for the K-word: "Fifteen years of Pakistan-supported militancy in Kashmir has created highly negative emotions and perceptions within the Indian elite. Its mindset in relation to Pakistan today is not very different from what Pakistan's was in relation to India after 1971." Carefully picking his morsels with chopsticks, it seems like, if the hot and spicy Thai chicken could be compared with Kashmir imbroglio, the bland and pale paneer on his plate could very well be synonmous with pure and pallid peace.

In both the countries, Koithara continues, negative emotions, have created zero-sum perspectives that have made positions appear less reconcilable and terms less negotiable than they actually are. Soon, getting up for a second helping, this writer of "Society, State and Security - The Indian Experience" breaks away a little from seriousness though. "Back home, there is not much to do if you cut out on the usual clubbing. If not seen, first they tag you as a snob, a little later, as an anti-social, and then perhaps as a misanthrop. But before they could proceed further, I show up at one club for a drink and at another, for a game of tennis," grins this Wellingdon resident.

Home food

Though he eats "all kinds of food", you soon discover that the food cooked by his wife at home best suits his taste.

Now back on the table, the former naval officer is back on Kashmir: "Yet, there are chances of peace. India-Pakistan scenario is not like Israel-Palestine case. We have lot of similarities with each other. I've argued in my book that the Northern Ireland peace solution has lot to teach us." He even gives the example of Sri Lanka where there is a willingness to talk peace "in real sense."

"On both sides, there is a Curzonian vision no doubt. If someone wants entire Pakistan back, there are many who want the whole of Kashmir attached to Pakistan. We have to be realistic," he underlines. Settling for a cup of black coffee over an inviting array of desserts to sum up his meal, he seems to remind one and all: "settlement is reached not by people but by stakes."

Being from the Nilgiris, the tea country, he does not blame choosing coffee over tea to his Kerala origin though: "The discussion I honestly loath in Wellingdon is, which tea is better and how should you have it. So, to put a lid on it, I always settle for coffee." As if having the last laugh, he adds, "Another thing I find almost funny in Wellingdon is, the residents' long-drawn conclusions on its bakeries. Being a former British colony, we have lots of them there. Invariably, you would find people picking up bread from one bakery, rust biscuits from another and cakes from yet another. For me, all seem to be the same."

But readers, his latest tome is not the same as legions of roll-outs on Kashmir. Worth tasting it!


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