I don’t quite understand the Kashmir debate that raises passion and aggression throughout our country, but I do feel its extent of impact. The struggle people face here makes no legit sense to us, because we can’t even imagine what must their lives be like. We are outsiders, no matter how hard we try to ignore that and we don’t have the right to sympathize with the denizens of Kashmir. That being said, we MUST empathize.
I don’t feel embarrassed about the culture and the notions I have been raised with, and hence I will honestly admit my inability to make sense of the purple agitation that bruises the clear skies of Kashmir; I sense the citizens of this magnificent paradise not feeling very paradisical and I don’t understand it; I experience their earnest hospitality being tarnished by bouts of aggressive xenophobia, like we are unwelcome trespassers, and it doesn’t make any sense to me because the economy of this state thrives on tourism; that being said, I respect their position and their contradiction. It’s impossible though, to take sides or even to imbibe the entire social conscious of Kashmir in my poorly developed vocabulary.
In the last two and a half days, I’ve talked to carpet weavers, apple farmers, yoga teachers, tour drivers, retired government employees, priests, army men… and today, we even had tea with Dr. Karan Singh (I hope you know him, Google him up if not). Everyone has their own version of Srinagar to share. There was a lady at the Hazratbal today who was openly hostile about our non-Kashmiri, non-Islamic status. We left the place with her disturbing declarations echoing in our heads. “Kashmir is ours. Get out of here. We are the kings of Kashmir. We don’t want you!” With caustic retorts on the tip of our tongues, we left the place in silence. Because on the other hand was a carpet weaver who talked with genuine depth about how hospitality is integrally inherent in the Islamic culture, how a true musalman would never indulge into any form of terrorism, how the government and media had charred the image of Kashmir more than the riots of this place. I also met an extremely generous retired army man; to him I asked why do the locals hate the army so much, who went rogue first. The officer took a long time to begin, but once he began he was very elaborate and effective in his descriptions. He told me of the years when the army had no option but to risk unfair collateral damage to life and property in order to save Kashmir from the clutches of ill minded terrorists. That was one era though, he said, now the army makes sure to send its best cadets and most disciplined dedicated officers to Kashmir but sadly, not much has changed in the views Kashmiris harbour about the army. His eyes shined in sadness when he whispered the possibility of the damage being irreparable, perhaps it was the first time he had allowed himself to even word this fear out. Each story was more heart wrenching than the previous luv, I felt like I had dived into a pool of concentrated acid, with only you, your wait and your memory as my healers.
Srinagar has the most gorgeous gardens you know. Roses with a bloom bigger than my fist, coloured from palates airdropped straight from the skies of the setting sun, but – but luv, they have no fragrance. None at all. Who robbed Srinagar of its fragrance jaan? This isn’t my question, this isn’t my quest.
But, is it not?
I have grown up with one map of India before my eyes, and I continue to believe in the very same. What happens in Srinagar is not a concern limited to the locals, it happens in my country and that makes it my responsibility, my concern, no section no amount twisted politics no article can change that.
So whenever Kashmir is ready, I hope it takes heart in the fact that it has people, countrymen, brothers and sisters, waiting to offer whatever it needs to regain its magnificence, its fragrance and more