Whoever’s Kashmir

By A Bhakto

She continued to trust different brokers of peace. And was betrayed over and over again. Her happy and carefree children, used to country air and sunshine, used to space, privacy, and good surrounding, were suddenly shut up amid chaos and aversion. Her motherhood was half-killed and half-exiled. While thousands died for telling tales the world would not listen, thousand others had to race away for refusing to worship the "recommended" God. And in this pain, in this suffering, in this dark autumn night that settled on her forever, she lost her soul. Her towns and her valleys, which seemed to unite God’s blessings on earth, suffered from blight and decadence. People said she still was ethereal, but they dared not to visit her anymore. Rich adjectives that once adorned her, were replaced by dull and gory ones. But there was something that she was able to retain. There was something that her scalding marauders could not take away. There was something that grew from her decay.

Love.

And perhaps that is why Kashmiris have this instinctive kindness in dealing with people. Perhaps that is how they can so cheerfully hold you by both hands and welcome you. Host you. And profess their love for you.  Unperturbed that you belong to a nation, they suppose has usurped their land.  Unperturbed that you live in a country, they are told is a tyrant. Unperturbed that while you are comfortably placed in society and happy and secure, they have but remembrances of riot and bloodshed. If I have to write one line on my observations on Kashmir, I’d say – loudly and proudly – that her people have been able to resist the most basic law of nature. Namely, to be jealous.

But my perception was different when I arrived at Srinagar. So much so, that my friend, with whose family I put up at Budgam, had to speak to my chauffeur over the phone and note down the cab number. He knew my fears were unfounded. But he chose not to confront. The first sign of love. It accommodates.

His family had a marvelous touch about them too. Especially, the father. Who, I thought, could make emotions speak. And as he wrapped me in the blanket from all sides, and placed the kangri carefully inside it, before replacing it with a hot bag, thinking I wouldn’t be okay enough, I thought Kashmir’s story was a story of love, that has been wittingly refused.

It was also the story of a voice desperate to be heard. Like in the airport, in the company of this bio-tech scholar. Who wanted me to tell "others" that they were not terrorists. Who wanted me to tell "others" that they didn’t merit to be hated upon, or suspected upon. Who wanted me to explain to the world that they too were responsive to love, to trust, and to every human emotion that is known. And in much the same fashion, as rest of the people did. That they too valued long and powerful attachment.

As keenly. As ingenuously. He asked me to tell others not to panic at the very mention of Kashmir. Since that hurts. Since that fills with dismay. Since that creates a kind of cloud of delusion, from which everything looks without hope.

So, when my friend’s dad once more came to check I was good, I was filled with remorse. Why did I tell Nazir I wouldn’t move one step from the airport without him in company? Why did I make him take down the cab number? Why did I, in the few moments he kept me waiting at the mosque in Budgam, feel scared at the sight of onlooking men? Why did I, when the truck driver asked my friend’s friend if I were a Hindu, feel uncomfortable? He was only wanting to invite me for a meal and was ensuring if I would eat of a Muslim. Why did I allow myself to participate, even momentarily, in this concocted distrust of Kashmiris?

It is said love expresses itself in little gestures, and conquers everything else. Gulmarg had few such moments. Like those Muslim friends inquiring with the restaurant manager if any of the food contained beef. And despite assurances, asking me to avoid few dishes that they thought might contain beef. Kashmir University, on the other hand, was good time hobnobbing. Particularly, this professor, who told me at length about the trials and tribulations of being "everyday Indian". Sorry, much of that, he insisted, is off-the-record.

Did I tell you we met Geelani (Syed Ali Shah Geelani, hardliner separatist leader) too? Nope. But what exactly do I tell you? Will you care to listen? Will you care to give it a thought before feeling an impulse to dismiss it? Will you be able to rise up above conventional belief and dis-belief you have grown up with, and consider also which doesn’t amuse you? Okay. For a man so regally known as a hardliner, I thought Geelani was polite and composed. But then, he was also a crafty orator who could give information and dis-information in successive breath. Perhaps by design. So as to first provoke you with the truth, and then, just as your power of comprehension was impaired by writhing emotion, pull in lies as truth.

So, between the stated talk on Dr Fai, we also had a talk on America. On Muslim world. On oil. On avarice. And just as people were heated up under the collar, he added India was all-out to alter Muslim demography (in particular, in Kashmir). What he said was surprising (since independence, Muslim population in the sub-continent has continually risen. In the valley, on the other hand, it is the Hindu population which has shrinked). But more surprising was that in a room full of journalists, nobody contended!

He talked about "tyrant" India and its atrocities. As a soft person, I feel deeply for whatever has happened. And there have also been nights, Gods are witness, when the cluttering sounds of Kashmir’s half widows have reappeared in my dreams, from across the Youtube screen, and I have felt guilt, and grief, and remorse and everything that had, for that moment, made me uneasy of my comfort.

But just as Indira was not India, and India was not Indira (despite Congress’s best attempts to have everybody believe that), you cannot gauge a 5,000 year-old-civilisation by the act of "certain people" with "draconian power." Is it not true that "tyrant India" has allowed herself to be an amalgam of different faith and ideology? Is it not true that "tyrant India" has, despite seceding vast mass of land in the name of religion, ignored voices that billed for Hindu exclusivism? Is it not true that "tyrant India" has allowed its non-Hindu population to grow and swell in number rather than imitate Geelani’s like-minded men who, recently, made a heavy weather of just five Kashmiris converting to Christianity?

Anyway, there was something else too that was tyrant. The cold. And also Nazir. Who would thrash me up like a anything-but-indulgent father, should my blanket slip. But I loved him for that. And I loved him for so many other things. Like in adversity, his power to retain laughter. In suspicion, his power to retain trust. In hatred, his power to retain kindness. Isn’t that true of so many other Kashmiris?

… At the airport, Nazir handed over the luggage which he had so far not let me carry. In another 90 minutes, I would be back to the world that continues to spin without Kashmir. Realising that I have nothing else to do but regret it, and express sadness at it, I hugged him. Tightly. For long. And with the same animated intensity with which a child hugs his loved one. I didn’t care there were people watching. I didn’t care there was a flight to catch. I didn’t care there was an Indian flag standing between us, and telling the grievous difference in the understanding of "truth" between us. In those fleeting moments, I was living a thought…

People of different races and of different rationale speak different languages. But love, is mutual to all.

– A Bhakto is an Indian journalist reporting on human rights and deprivation issues. He has pursued Political Science Honours from University of Delhi and holds a PG Diploma in journalism from the Asian College of Journalism. He has worked with acclaimed newspapers like The Hindu among others. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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