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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

A Personal Memoir... by Suhail Shah

It was close to 5AM on a misty dull grey morning in March 1990...

The dullness was befitting, one of my best friends was leaving me. His survival was at stake. My heart was leaden, my skin was crawling with fear. I was in Batmaloo, Srinagar with a friend to help him negotiate with a Sikh trucker who would help him and his family flee as soon as possible with whatever belongings they could fit on to the truck. The trucker turned out to be empathetic and understanding, perhaps sensing our desperation and sorrow. The deal was quick and furtive, we kept looking around uneasily. He promised to show up at my friends house at 4 AM the next day with his truck. We left...I hadn't told my family, and I sneaked back into my house.  The next day dawned equally dull and despairing, my friend had left forever...

Those were the 'worst of times'. The 'best of times' were unequivocally over. Frankly, I was surprised that my friend held out so long. The nightly chants from every mosque loudspeaker struck terror into MY heart, I shuddered to think how he and every other person in his same situation would feel, walking around in broad daylight among familiar faces, hearing some of these same exact faces spout their frightening litany of hate at midnight, anonymously via loudspeakers. It was like living in a nightmare....

There was attrition all around us medical school batchmates. I guess we all naively believed that this wasn't really happening, but each day I found another batchmate, another senior, another junior missing in this desperate exodus. There was puerile posturing amongst some of us...'its all a conspiracy' said some, probably knowing deep down in their hearts that it wasn't. 'It's Jagmohan who told them to flee, so he can order the army to kill the rest of Kashmiris'. It was inchoate or perhaps defensive, self-delusional thinking....and I felt personally ashamed of such utterances.

My other best friend was someone I grew up with from age five, a Pandit boy and was my mother's other son; just like I was his mother's other son. His family held out longer, perhaps because their house was surrounded by Kashmiri Muslims that would give their lives for them. When they too felt impelled to leave, my last bastion of hope that things would improve and get better crumbled around me like a house of cards. I felt intense resentment at being deprived of my 'brother from another mother'. Never kindly disposed towards the violence unleashed in my peaceful Kashmir of yore to begin with, now I actually started feeling suffocated and strangled in my place of birth.

O what peace was forever lost! In this same Kashmir, before 1989, people used to talk for months about the rare and ocassional murder that happened. Fast forward to 1990 when one of the 'heroes' of the movement was 'famous' for his gruesome habit of tying grenades to the bodies of 'informers' and watching them being blown to smithereens. I will never be able to  forgive the perpetrators of this change in my Kashir. It is laughable and ridiculous to blame the KP community for their mass exodus....within the year I personally left Kashmir for good as well.

Hence my utmost admiration, esteem and high regard for sheer guts and bravery of the Kashmiri Pandits who stayed behind against all odds. They make me feel ashamed of my own pusillanimity and every time I visit Kashmir I go see them, if I can. In fact the Kashmiri Pandit principal of my elementary school still runs the same school in the same 'high risk' locality as he did 25 years ago, providing superlative education with limited resources to 100 percent Muslim classrooms.

My fervent hope and desire is to re-create the 'mile-tchar' of old. We need the giant brains and intellect of the community that left; Kashmir is bereft of their guidance. No matter how biased each community may be towards the other, the collective organism as a whole, KP + KM is much better equipped to handle the challenges posed by our neighbors across the border, and by the giant enemy within, namely the divisive forces of hatred and religious extremism unleashed by the mullahs and the saffron brigade for furthering their own nefarious agendae.

To end on a positive note, my friends and I are reunited and meet regularly.  We meet and we reminisce about the good ol' days, and we hope....

(© Suhail Shah; March 22, 2012)

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