Visiting Kashmir

People like us, who moved out voluntarily for greener pastures had always a desire to return and settle in Kashmir ,maybe after retirement. The situation in Kashmir ,about 8 years after we moved out , laid to rest this desire. While we may not have suffered the pains of displacement, the pain of not being able to return to our native place for over 25 years is in itself traumatic .Our memories are inseparably linked to the environs of our birthplace -forests , fields, streams in and along which we and our  ancestors have lived as long as we can remember. You may have achieved a level of material prosperity by working outside your native place, but you cannot  buy  the sky , warmth and smells of the land where you belonged . This perhaps is the most powerful driver to seek a return to a place which by any account is a paradise.. Having reached a stage in life ,where questions about final resting place are to be confronted with, we had almost given up the plans to return considering the situation in Kashmir. With children settled in their own world, we had almost stopped thinking about returning to Kashmir. From afar, the situation on the ground compared to a few years earlier was apparently better .A good number of people visiting Kashmir  were reporting normalcy from a standpoint of a tourist. So we planned a trip more as a tourist group than a local who had voluntarily left the land hoping to retire in the valley. The other motivation arose from the fact that ,in my family, many had not been there .Some  where born outside & could not visit as their parents did not get to visit the valley because of the turmoil. Some had laterally entered  in the family fold through matrimony. My grandchildren, my niece & my daughters-in-law fell into this category. As head of the family I felt obliged to plan a trip & urge others to join.So a trip was arranged from July 12th to 20 th,2014. This trip proved to be great in terms of complete satisfaction of the diverse expectations from each one of the family members.

Ruhaan, the youngest of the family,could be seen prancing with joy in the open & green gardens in Kashmir. My grand daughters Ayana & Evika were most of the time following him & sharing the fun he led them to. My niece who is a Fine Arts Graduate in the making was trying to absorb the beautiful nature of our motherland. She will , I am sure bring it out in many of her works in future.

My daughters-in-law affirmed that whatever had been communicated to them by their spouses  and parents-in-law was not only true but perhaps inadequate description of the beauty of nature they found in Kashmir .They are bowled over by the abundance of beauty and variety of the nature they found in the valley.

My sister -in-law, fell into innumerable trances followed by copious tears when she came face to face with  familiar  and perhaps forgotten territories  we visited. Starting with her Alma Mater- the Presentation Convent, where she later joined as a teacher followed by  Chashmashahi spring,Harwan Stream,her old house in Karannagar, Residency road,Bund,Mughal Gardens,Lidder,Kokarnag,Verinag,Gulmarg etc. She defied the medical advice by climbing to Apharwat on a Gondola in Gulmarg.

My brother like me and my wife were silently observing the surroundings and relishing the memories of good times the sights and scenes  brought forth .

Overall ,each one of us seemingly met our objectives of the visit. We left the valley with a strong desire to return .One wonders , will it be again as a tourist or as a visitor to a new family home in Srinagar. For this  each one of us has to wait and watch. I have some more observations to make before concluding this travelogue .This piece is not written to discuss the problem of Kashmir and its inhabitants – both residing in it and also outside it. These are my personal observations to see what has changed since & what has remained the same. Drug Addiction: I was immensely disturbed by the anti-drug ads popping out on the boulevard. I asked the driver of our vehicle -a local ,who indicated it as a major fall out of the crisis and  turmoil of the last few decades. It further pained me when I saw a de-addiction centre right in the hostel of the Anantnag Degree College ., I had read about this menace on the net too. In conflict areas throughout the world like Sri Lanka ,Kashmir and the Northeast India, the addiction to medicinal opiods has become a major problem. In addition to conflict and free availability of addictive drugs there are other reasons too.

Youth of Kashmir, faced with the larger issues like, unemployment and corrupt practices in the areas related to recruitment are taking refuge in drugs. The highest number of addicts belongs to the category of youth that were born after 1990s and have seen maximum violence. They are either adult youth or young adults, who needed opportunities and means to realize their dreams. One of the worst fall-outs of the turmoil .

Sale of Beef from shops openly:

 

I saw vending of Beef openly in Srinagar  for the first time in my life. It was well known that inspite of the Law against it ,the availability was never a problem for locals who consumed it . Not selling openly perhaps was on account of the shared sentiments of a sensitive community of Hindus & Sufi Islamists  then. Muslims would never share Beef as a “Tobruk” with their Hindu neighours and friends as a matter of sensitivity. Mutton was shared by many. This aspect is totally lost to complete Islamization in Kashmir with the exit of Hindus. It is not that territorial disputes were non-existant then or feeling for any Islamic nation was absent then. The sensitivity was intact in spite of all the problems in Kashmir.  

Army Presence-AFSPA From a distance and  from the high media  exposure about situation in Kashmir, one would assume and favor the presence of Army. As a tourist ,one may pass it off  as a security measure and no more. I evaluated it from the  resident’s  point of view. I can surly say that the presence is an ugly sight and not pleasing in the mind at all, no matter the cause and effect theories we put forward. You can't have a peace of mind with gun trotting army personnel everywhere you turn your head to. On way to Pahalgam , it became uglier, because of the  high security issues of Yatra.In the past we would perhaps encounter a few local policemen to restore order in the crowds thronging the Yatra. It reminds you of the precarious situation prevailing in the valley. While it may be a deterrent ,if at all ,to terror groups, what about the ordinary citizens who are not part of the  fringe elements. When one sees it not from a black and  white perspective, it hits you hard. One indicator of a complete normalcy is absence of this deployment. When will it happen? Who is working sincerely for this ? The sensitivity  of the ordinary local citizens can be gauged by very strong and disproportionate reactions to ordinary accidents between Army vehicles and private carriers. During our stay we heard of such an accident killing about 9 people and the resulting disturbance. Army leadership is very important in such a protracted operations.  Generational Shift If we were to look for recognition of  our group of Kashmiri Pandits on the streets and Gardens of Kashmir , none was found except with some people from older generation. One of the hawkers visiting us on our House Boat did not know where Tulamula or Kheerbhavani is. Information disseminated about our exodus is also erroneous .. Everyone it seems is fed with the theory that it was engineered and not  forced by militants. By using this theory they also perhaps get absolved of explaining the ugly truth -  why they ignored history of shared culture- Kashmiriyat as well as basic tenets of Islam about saving the weak. New generation has very little knowledge of the big issue of Kashmiri Pandits about whose plight they know little if at all.

The youngsters we saw must be those who were born after 1989. They have only seen  the presence of Army as the indicator of the crisis at large .Politicians and elders who matter are not sure what is best for the masses. Govts are doing what is called a technical response. So the wounds fester. Unemployment seems to be on the rise. What with educated Muslims not able to take advantage of jobs outside Kashmir, I found low end jobs in tourist industry taken up by people from outside the state- Muslims and non-Muslims both. The  hoteliers told me that locals are not willing to work,as they are after govt. jobs as always.

The Menus also list only Tourist Menus and  can you believe – all vegetarian. We had to depend on the grand old Ahdoo’s for an authentic Kashmiri cuisine-Veg. as well Non Veg.

The demography in  Kashmir is visibly akin to that of whole of India.. A large proportion of youth. It is acknowledged as critical for India and efforts are on  provide employment @50 million per year to avoid the disaster that can follow if we don’t. I believe it is as critical for J&K ,if we sincerely want to restore  normalcy. Shrines & Temples

It was good to see that both Kheerbhavani and  Hari Parbat are maintained well. Apparently the armed forces have a great hand in it apart from some well meaning KP's who continued to stay in Kashmir inspite of the turmoil. We found Tulamul in much better shape than we had left it. Although it is hemmed by locals all around as is expected with population increase and perhaps because of encroachments.

The same can be said about Hari Parbat. Residences and establishments  have come up close to the steps .It was disappointing to see that no pujari was available for any pujas. This perhaps is a sign, that the turmoil has accelerated the change that was long expected as traditional Gaurs became extinct well before the exodus . Whatever was left of this class has vanished as none of their children perhaps wanted to continue in that profession when they got the opportunity to        persue other professions. The historical sins of societal  division,denigration and also of abandoning the rituals for modernity are now revisiting us .

Pahalgam Mamleshwar Temple is manned by a Muslim pujari, perhaps an employee of the Archeology deptt under whose care the temple remains.. Well, one might say it is part of Kashmiriyat but the fact is that we are now far from our traditions ,good or bad. Hazratbal  dome was under repairs and as such we could not enjoy the magnificent view of this Muslim shrine.

Even Baba Reshi near Tangamarg,has now worn a modern look ,more Islamic than the secular and earthly identity it bore many years ago. The “Dhaan” is, there but relegated in the background.

Pahalgam temple was buzzing with activity on account of Yatra &  it was not possible to see if it retains any of the old charm.

Gulmarg Temple wore a clean but deserted look.

We hope to visit more temples and shrines in future if possible as this trip was purely a “touch tourism” project on account of new comers to the family. Locals

I had a great reunion with my friend - school mate & later as a colleague in the department where I worked for all of 9 years in Kashmir. We had tearful remanences of the past. He gave me a copy of our school group photo where I did not find myself. It must have been just before I returned to Srinagar from Rajouri where my father was posted.

The affection from people who came in contact with us during our stay was intact. It moved us when we got a call from one of our drivers ,when we returned to Delhi. He was asking us if we had reached safely - the old world charm of Kashmiriyat. Every time we entered or departed from Hotels we stayed in  we could feel a genuine warmth.

 Conclusion

I have always maintained that a Kashmiri Pandit has a unique position for a worldview. We have experienced life as a minority .We have also experienced life living with Muslims. The Islam which was  peculiar to Kashmir is what people from upto our generation have seen. Today,  it may be  pure Islam but KP's cannot come to terms with it. People today are fighting for Loudspeakers in mosques and temples, while  we have grown in an environment where Aazan was as musical as the bells in a temple. We were taught and believed that Religion was a matter of faith and not identity. While I was about to do Aarti in Kheerbhavani, I heard a loud Aazan. It did not disturb me to start my own prayer with "GOD IS GREAT" .It is very sad to see that youngsters on both side of the divide are today vying with each other to project supremacy of one religion over the other. The trip has brought various emotions to each one of us. I felt rejuvenated to revisit my birthplace. I wish the problems which are holding the prosperity of this land and ALL its people back are resolved soon enough. We wish to return to a place and rest in peace in our motherland.

ASHOK DULLU

VADODARA

2014