On April 6, 2014, I landed at the Srinagar airport in my first visit to the fabled ‘paradise on earth’ called Kashmir. The weather seemed hostile. On my first step on Kashmir soil, I was like: “Wow! Seriously, it is indeed paradise.”
As I marveled over the beauty of this place, my thoughts flowed in the same way as water in Jhelum did.
“Kashmir weather is very unpredictable and you must always carry a jacket,” a voice cried from behind. “Thank you, but this is my first time in Kashmir and I hadn’t made my mind about the fickle weather,” I replied. “Great! Welcome to our Kashmir.”
The image that I had of Kashmir slowly began to change when I saw smiling faces of people who received me warmly.
As I was moving along the river Jhelum, I brooded over the stereotype that “Kashmir was unsafe place” which had been rooted like pistia (an aquatic plant) in my mind.
I was taken aback at one instance when I saw people with black gown-like dress. At first, I thought they were hiding guns. However, later I came to know the apparel is calledPhern that Kashmiris put on in winter carrying Kangdi inside.
Half-truth is always dangerous. Media depicts Kashmir not more than a place of guns, deaths and mayhem. But Kashmiris – a terrorized lot – a fact that media has reported very little about.
It took me almost 15 days to convince my parents to seek permission for visiting Kashmir – all because of “half-truth”. As African writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has phrased it very well: ‘The danger of single story’.
I had my virtual experience of the region through Bollywoodmovies like LoC, Mission Kashmir etc. I used to connect to the situation in accordance with the media depiction but slowly I realized how Kashmir is totally different from projection that media and Bollywood give to it.
Kashmir has the power to amaze people by its beauty but not many outsiders realise a bitter truth that this place has been scarred by tragedy. I have discarded the pistia which was deeply rooted in my mind and came to the conclusion that Kashmir is not the place of guns and mayhem: it is the place of humanity and hospitality.
Kashmir and Nepal have a shared feature in terms of conflict. Though it is history for Nepal but consequences are still prevailing.
Two incidents happened during the last one and a half year which are entirely different in nature but too close to me. The 2014 Floods of Kashmir and 2015 Earthquake of Nepal. In September last year, Kashmir was under water. It was my fourth month in Kashmir and everything got stuck; exams were postponed, communication was cut, hostels were full with sorrowful people who couldn’t go home. Same was the situation with us (SAF Scholars).
To stay for 15 days without any contact with my family wasn’t a joke for me. One day suddenly, my Kashmiri friend’s cell phone caught network. In a compassionate gesture, she handed over her phone to me without even contacting her family. That day I realised that gods are not virtual, they are real. By her graciousness, I could convey about my wellbeing to my family.
The catastrophic earthquake in Nepal this year left my nation crying. As I was not present at that time in Nepal, I couldn’t help but wail helplessly.
SAARC students posing in their national dresses. (Indu Dhungana standing third from left.)
But, I realized, crying and screaming was not the solution. So we (SAF Scholars including Kashmiri friends) decided raising funds for Nepal earthquake victims. We started our campaign and got amazing support from Kashmiris. Without posing a single question they gave us whatever little they had. Everyone asked me, “Aapkeghar mein sab theek to hein ne beta?” (Is everything alright at your home?)
By the end, we successfully raised Indian Rs 54,960 and sent the money to Nepal through Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund.
Every coin has two sides. If I say Kashmir is always good, it won’t be justice to the other side. I encountered many people here who stamped a different concept of Kashmir in my mind. One day when I was heading to Dargah, an old man who passed by said, “Kaha se hoaap”? (Where are you from?) Nepal, I replied, “Muslim heinaap? (Are you Muslim?) I kept silent. “Bolo aap Muslim heinkay nahi”? (Tell me if you are a Muslim or not), he pressed again. “Nahi, mein Hindu hun,” (No, I am Hindu), I answered.
“Muslim nahona to gunahheinauraapdopattasarperakhkechalo.” (It’s sinful to not be a Muslim and you must cover your head).
He then left murmuring something in Arabic. I could not comprehend the meaning of those words but wondered why he had problem with my uncovered head and half sleeved T-shirt.
I believe religion is something made to rule over the people, it doesn’t ‘make any sense’ in the life of human being; movies like PK depict it very nicely. Every Holy book mentions that humanity is the best religion. Yes, I am Hindu by religion but secular in nature.
If there is pond, there will are weeds as well. Likewise, we can’t isolate society from bad things. If there is good, presence of bad is inevitable as well. In Kashmir, good things are in majority while bad things in minority.
I have spent more than a year here and I still have one more year to spend. Scary image of Kashmir got changed into the effable one. I am hopeful that one day pistia will leave the Jhelum and lotus will bloom.