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Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Ruined Orchards of Kashmir - by Altaf Bashir


The towering cedars and drooping willows have always been telling me a tale about the values and traditions of this land. The land known to the outside world as Kashmir is called Kasheer by its inhabitants. When I was young, I sometimes used to ask my mother about her taste and likings. And my mother used to tell me stories of her youth and childhood. Once my mother narrated me her story of childhood, I envied her for her blissful days when she used to play with apples in the orachard. 

She told me her story, of playing with her friends and imbibing "Darsgah taleem" of Quran at the nearby mosque from a Moulvi sahib. Those were the days when children rarely went to school, and were spending their time at work or play. However, Islamic “taleem” was of the utmost significance, as people were more inclined towards religion. Though poverty was in villages, which lacked basic amenities, people used to work collectively for the welfare of society. Joint families were common those days, with each family having five or six kids and a large extended family living in the same house. My mother tells me that they used to spread dining sheets and have dinner in a long row, sometimes in ‘traamees’ (large copper plates), enjoying the food with all members of the family. She told me of how carefree life was and full of bliss. Those days, tradition was to get married at an early age, and with the consent of parents to select bride or bridegroom.

Those days people used to turn up late in the evening after watching the matinee show at a nearby cinema hall. There used to be free flow of movement of people, without any stop or check point anywhere. Even the concept of an army and other troops was not in mind. Those were the days when people used to visit Mughal Gardens holding tape recorder on their shoulders with the volume turned high so as to make others to listen to their favourite songs. Those were the days when people used to follow Dilip Kumar and the owner of a television set was considered a rich man. Those were the days of simple and modest Kashmir.

I was born in 1988, when the picturesque Kashmir took an ugly turn. Following the disputed 1987 election, a widespread armed insurgency started in Kashmir, which removed the whole charm of Kashmir and plundered its purity. Militancy was at its peak. But I was not aware of the Kashmir conflict, the militancy, the shooting and the bombing that took place at that time, as I was just born and was too young and naïve to understand the situation. 

Often, I asked my parents how their friends were picked up by security forces and how ruthlessly they were beaten. But I never took stock to these discussions nor paid heed towards them. I always remained in bewilderment as to what was behind this 90's discussion that caught the attention of my parents such that they couldn't even forget a single day of it. Perhaps the reason may be I was too engaged in playing with my friends and my toys. But my father often used to tell me, “You were born in the year when the entire Kashmir was burning. 

At that time I was not able to make out the context of his words. I often used to wonder:  
What was burning and why?  
Who set it on fire? 
And why wasn’t there any fire brigade coming for its rescue?

I got an impression in my mind that I was born in a
dangerous conflict zone, which, however, I could not explain in words. I got an impression that we were the children of sorrow and sorrow had gripped us too tightly for us find any escape. Those tears in the eyes of hapless mothers spoke the language of the bruised heart and we needed to understand the silent language behind it. Those watery eyes that invariably overflowed and expressed the sadness in the heart of the beleaguered mother who prepared food for her children with love and care everyday, while recalling her love for her lost child. Sorrowful mothers feel release in lamentation, lovers encounter comfort and condolence in dreams and the oppressed delight in receiving sympathy and justice. Like a starving poor child, instigated by bitterness of hunger, cries for food while  disregarding the plight of his poor and merciful mother and her defeat in life, similar is the hunger of a mother, craving a glimpse of her lost child, who thumps her chest in sorrow. 

I therefore got an impression that I was born in a conflict and shall die in the conflict. I got a deep understanding of those mothers who wail and cry, calling out for their loved ones. I understood why mothers and sisters showering almonds on the coffins of slain and ‘painting their little finger with heena’, wrapping it with hundred rupees note. I, therefore, got an understanding why armed forces are at every check point, watching and pointing their gun at a certain direction. 

Years later, I happened to meet my manager, a Pandit, who told me about his ancestral residence at Habba Kadal and took me there. He was among the majority of Pandits who had fled from Kashmir in 1990. I saw his moist eyes, him wiping his tears, keeping them hidden. He struck the bell of the temple near his home, and told me, “There is a drastic change in the streets of SrinagarIt is not the Kashmir which I knew from my childhood.

These words again put me in a state of confusion.  
What has happened to Kashmir? 
Why has it changed? 
And who were responsible for these changes?
  
And one day, out of curiosity, I asked these questions to him, who himself was a sufferer of those times and had witnessed mass rage.

The place I was born and raised, he said, was a charming place, where one could enjoy beauty at every step. I and my friends often used to spend our afternoon playing in the garden. The streets of Kashmir were flooded with people of different creed and caste. We used to celebrate each others festivals with the same zeal and passion.

In the autumn of 1991, we were very excited and happy --- especially me because it was my uncle's marriage ceremony. I was enjoying the most. But soon our excitement came to an end when some militants entered in one of our neighbour’s house. I still remember how we all rushed into the corridors, hiding. Unfortunately, a bullet entered through the window and hit my mother’s chest. 

I kept listening to him with tears rolling down my face and his cheeks were already wet with tears.  

I felt unconscious as soon as I caught the first glance on her blood spilling body. As soon as I came to my senses, my whole world was shattered...

After that incident they had left Kashmir forever. I could feel how those painful memories were still fresh in his mind and, whenever I think of him, my heart becomes heavy with sorrow and gloom.   

When I made the decision of visiting Kashmir,he added, to be very honest, I was a bit scared, because at every corner of it I could feel the sacrifices which my mother and my family have made.”

I wasn’t able to console his heart. I was in deep anguish. I went away, unable to look him the eye. And when I reached to my home, I wept. The emotions and feelings get trampled under the long military boots. I understood how our ‘political masters’ through their cajoling promises fool innocent people, who get easily carried away. I understood this is Kashmir and how it differs from my mother’s Kashmir. 

The author is a student and can be reached at:  isaismoon@gmail.com 

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