Curious Inkpot- Beyond a Blog

Stories from an Indian Millennial

My encounters with the idea of Kashmir!

This is not another political commentary on Kashmir (god knows we have been over-flooded with them, some half, some overcooked). It’s a montage of my encounters with people and their experiences of and associated with Kashmir. These encounters in some or the other way might have contributed to my perception of Kashmir as an average Indian citizen.

Indian Postal Stamp, issued as on 15-Mar-1967.
Kashmir is a word that always brings out strong emotions or at least that's what our political ancestors have ensured, even till today. In all honesty, my exposure to issues of Kashmir is very limited or accidental per say. 

As a 90s kid, my first exposure to the idea of Kashmir was via the movie ‘Mission Kashmir’ : The landscape, portrayal of the conflict and Kashmiri lyrics of some of the popular songs like ‘bumbro’ and ‘rind poshmaal’ which by the way were a hit for independence day performances in schools.

In 2008, during the summer break of my first year of college, we were visiting my father who was posted in Jammu at that time. I come from Dehradun so in my imagination Jammu was something similar. Surrounded by hills, cool climate and natural beauty but instead, we were welcomed by a scorching heat. So in the evening, we went to a big garden in front of our house to cool down and enjoy some breeze. While my brother was mostly busy playing with other kids, my mother and I decided to take a stroll. As we completed a round, we came across an old lady probably in her late 60s or early 70s who was sitting on a bench all by herself. Introductions followed, we asked her if she was from Jammu. She mentioned she was from Kashmir and had to move with her family to Jammu during the exodus. What ensued was an evening full of stories. She talked about her beautiful house in Kashmir which they were forced to sell for cheap prices. She spoke about the apple orchards they owned. Basically telling stories about her life there. I would see a spark appear in her eyes but it would quickly extinguish and her eyes would swell with tears instead. Even though she had home now in Jammu, it was clear she missed her life in Kashmir, deeply. I would have spent at least 3-4 evening with her, sometimes all by myself. 

One day I remember sitting with her till the dark as the garden lit up with street lights. No matter what we spoke about, it used to eventually converge on the same topic. She would tell me so many stories about her time in Kashmir as a child and then as an adult. I cannot even begin to explain the emptiness of her eyes and the sadness and longingness of her voice. The trauma of being forced out of her motherland and god knows what horrors she saw, consumed her. There were no words that could fill the void she felt. I tried but failed miserably every time. 

Many years later, I happened to read two books on Kashmir, ‘Our moon has blood clots’ by Rahul Pandita and the second, ‘Curfewed Night’ by Basharat Peer. While Rahul Pandita’s book takes you closer into the persecution of Kashmiri Pandits, Bashrat Peer’s starts as a neutral one (in my opinion) until the point he starts justifying militancy. 

It’s amazing how much art and culture can teach you about a place. A couple of years back, I had heard this amazing Kashmiri song by Amit Trivedi whose opening lyrics were ‘Gar Firdaus, Bar-eu-e-Zaminast, Hamin-asto, hamin-asto (If there is a paradise on earth, it’s here! It’s here!)’. The feel of these lyrics was kind of magical, instantly transporting you amidst the mystic mountains. But I didn’t understand the meaning of it at first. So next day I asked a mentor of mine who is a Kashmiri Pandit, what do these lines mean. He translated it for me but then said that a different version of this phrase is used nowadays. It translated to, ‘if there is hell (दोज़ख़) on earth, it’s here! It’s here!’ 

It was winter of 2016, I had gone to meet someone whose team had been working on various initiatives and issues related to J&K. I remember sitting in the conference room waiting for him when a big map of J&K and now Ladakh drew my attention. The map had boundaries around Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh area with an estimate of the area, population etc marked. Trust me for the first time in my life I realised how small Kashmir was in area and population. I mean you do map state boundaries, right, during your geography class. I remember drawing and redrawing it so many times in school to capture that bulge on the left, that dent on the top, perfecting that neck below. But never did I pay attention to the details inside it. 

When I saw this map hanging on the wall, the first question that popped into my head was: so why does any issue related to J&K is consumed by the portrayal of Kashmir, negating the rest of the regions? When we speak or read about J&K, we rarely subconsciously think about Jammu. Ladakh didn’t even add to common Indian dictionary until the pictures of those bullet rides to Leh became in vogue on Facebook. So when Ladakh’s sole MP, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, spoke about this neglect during his speech in the parliament, it touched a chord. 

Anyways, the person I was there to meet, arrived in the conference room. We said hello and as anyone would as an icebreaker, I mentioned that it was an interesting map and then I went on to mention the two books I had read. I had expected a strong opinion in return, maybe a criticism of one but he smilingly replied, 'Well everyone has their own story to tell about Kashmir’. That moment I knew that I should say no further. He obviously knew a lot in depth to be able to give that kind of response. 

My next experience was during a poetry gig I went to attend in Mumbai. It was all good until a self-proclaimed Jammu boy narrated a poem. The story in his poem was about a Kashmiri friend of his who had gone missing and whose mother would keep asking the narrator if he had seen the boy as he walked passed her house. I am not sure if it was a story fictionalised to put his point across or he drew it from his personal experience. But the underline of his whole narration criticised the army, the political establishment and painted an innocent, oppressed image of the youth in Kashmir. I felt very enraged. Shouldn’t he have also talked about stone pelters? Shouldn’t he have talked about the anguish of mothers from the rest of India whose sons were martyred? Couldn’t he even put a single line for the jawans who protect Kashmir be it floods or terrorism? Even acknowledge? 

Well, that would have disturbed his portrayal of himself as a rebel artist, I guess. Because where is the fun otherwise! These days there seems to be a Sufism, a zing in being anti-establishment, right? An easy way of getting noticed may be or call it his artistic freedom? 

I was very tempted to go to him and ask these questions but I didn’t because wisdom has told me that, it’s a waste of time to try and show people the other side of light unless they really want to. Human opinions are probably inherently biased. We believe only what we want to or what we experienced. 

So when an influencer whose photography I very much admired, proclaimed people supporting the scrapping of Article 370 as and I quote ‘unquestioning robot’, my first response was to reply him in harsh words but I decided to quietly unfollow him instead. Later, I peeped into his Instagram stories again, there he was trying to do the damage control, sharing stories that would make him look neutral. Too late bro! 

Though, I still tend to wander sometimes from this self attained wisdom :) 

When another popular travel blogger posted a biased view on Kashmir during this Independence day, I could not stop myself from pointing out her biased opinion. All I got was her silence as she seemed to reply only to people who supported her view or didn’t confront her. But a lot of people replied to me on the post and personally, endorsing the comment on calling out her bias in open! 

Sometimes I don’t understand why some of these ‘influencers kind’ undermine the people or consider them intellectually inferior if they support a popular or pro-govt opinion? 

You already know what prompted this blog. The Big flash news of this August was that Article 370 is scrapped from our constitution! A historic move that would change the course of this country and at least Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh but especially the turbulent Kashmir. For good or bad, history will tell. The reactions have been tremendous across the country. For some of us, it's about patriotism, for some, it’s about rallying behind the ideology we support or just endorsing what is right for the sovereignty of our nation. It also brought the comic side of many as a form of celebration. But I feel for Kashmiris, and I am not talking just about the ones who reside there, yes they are going through inconveniences currently but I am talking about the Pandits, I feel, for them, it's very very personal. It hit me when I saw this emotional video of a Kashmiri lady in her 60s wearing those long gold chain earrings looped around the ear, peculiar to Kashmiri women. Of all the things she sobbingly said about the scrapping of 370, one thing remained with me: ‘अब हम अपने घर जा पाएँगे'। 

So much tragedy, longing, pain and joy in those simple words! It took me back to that encounter in 2008. I really hope she saw the day of 5 August 2019.

Whether so many Kashmir Pandits like her would finally be able to go home, for those who want to, is a question only time will tell. But to know that there is a window, a possibility, is a good start, I guess.

So what can we do as fellow citizens to support this? 

I believe the law is but a guideline for how a society should function but ultimately, it's the society that really implements it in the spirit. Otherwise, we would not have the need for courts. Abrogation of article 370 and consequently article 35a is only a beginning. Real transformation will take consistent and persistent efforts. Therefore, It is imperative that we use social media responsibly and not make any loose comments. Anything that can derail the process or can be used as propaganda by separatists should be avoided. This is the least we can do as responsible citizens. This is also true for the so-called leaders of the ruling party. We all know of the verbal diarrhoea that follows such controversial decisions especially from some or the other wannabe leaders. One of the MLA was already in news for talking nonsense. It anyways is uncalled for and we can all live without it for a change. If not advice then a request from an average Indian like me! 

And I hope none of us has to go through the trauma of losing their homeland, their identity in this free, beloved country of ours! 

And for the crown jewel of our country, may ‘Gar Firdaus, Bar-eu-e-Zaminast, Hamin-asato, hamin-asato’ spring from the pages of Amir Khusro’s poetry and become a true reality one day! 

No comments:

Post a Comment