From Kashmir to Manhattan

From Kashmir to Manhattan

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It felt good to be back, and I thought, “Wow, I have reached home, allegedly.”

Our teacher was very angry that day. “Mye ha basaan, yemis chhu zehryah garyi gaes cylinder moklyomut (I think her household has run out of cooking gas)”, a friend said.  “Naa, mye ha basaan, yemm chhe panni derqaaqni syeeth aaker kermich (No, I think she has had a fight with her sister-in-law)”, said another.  As we were busy with our Sherlockian deductions, the teacher announced that there was going to be a quiz, so as to prepare us better for the geography exam. As I was still giggling over our ingenious explanations for her skewed temperament, the teacher signalled me to stand up and asked what the capital of Lithuania was. I did not have a clue. The class fell silent, and there I was, standing in front of sixty students, with their eyes stuck on me. I first made sure if the zipper of my pants was closed, and then started looking for answers. Jameel rose from behind to whisper a word into my ear, and in my anxiousness I thought it to be the answer. “Batamaloo”, I replied with a confident look. The class burst into laughter, but seeing the look on the teacher’s face, we soon became silent again. Suddenly, a friend sitting at the end of the row stood up from his chair, raised his finger and started imitating Sunny Deol. “Utaar do yeh vardi, Balwant Rai ke kutton! (Take off your uniforms, you slaves of Balwant Rai!)”, he shouted. This time even the teacher couldn’t control herself. She giggled, and just like that, her anger had vanished.

Jameel and I used to go to Bhagaat (Srinagar) for our tuition classes. From there, we had to catch a local bus to Sonwar, where our school was. While waiting for the right bus (‘Apour-Lalchowk’) to arrive, our bony arms allowed us to take out letters from the post-box at Bhagaat chowk, which would provide some entertainment, but we made sure that we returned them to the box immediately. On the other side of the chowk was a snack shop called ‘Shiv Shakti’, famous for its samosas, chutney and chai. A few years ago, Zahoor Qadiri, a pretentious bragger also famous by the name of Qaedir Keetanu (Keetanu is germs, in Hindi) invited us over to Shiv Shakti. I had once complemented Jameel’s new wrist watch, to which he had said, “Ye geya gaer? Gaer chhi behtareen Rasheedas (You call this a watch? My friend Rasheed has the classiest watch ever)”. At another occasion, Jameel complemented my spectacles on which he commented, “Yi geya gaagal? Gaagal gey behtareen Rasheedas (You call these spectacles? My friend Rasheed has the most stylish pair of spectacles ever)”. And a year later, while enjoying our snacks at Shiv Shakti, Keetanu mentioned how he liked their chai. “It all depends on the milk, you know. Their milkman’s cow must be producing good milk”, Jameel added. At that moment, I just couldn’t control myself, and years of frustration came out in a single sentence. “Yi gowwa duad dyun? Duad chhu nyeeran behtareen Rasheedas (You call this milk? His friend Rasheed produces the best milk ever)”, I commented. Jameel spurted out the chai onto my tie, and we all laughed till our stomachs ached.

Time spent aboard the ‘Apour-Lalchowk’ bus used to be our favourite part of the day. Among its passengers was usually a wild chicken, sitting gracefully beneath the seat. The chicken nicknamed ‘Gul Kokur’ (Kokur is chicken, in Kashmiri) belonged to the aged Kareem sahab, who used to carry it to different offices, hoping that some officer would accept the chicken and release his pension money. “When I was younger, pandits used to have these high ranked positions. Hard working and honest people they were. Would never take a bribe”, he once added nostalgically. The maulana sitting next to him nodded, combing his beard with his fingers. “Secularism always stabilises communities. When you lose secularism, you have intra-religion conflicts”, a friend spoke softly into Jameel’s ears. To this, Jameel commented, “Yo, my dad’s so secular; he says he couldn’t wake up because his ALLA-RAM clock broke down”.

Another noticeable personality on board was that of Maqbool a.k.a Mackky. Mackky believed in dressing vibrantly, wearing a bright yellow shirt and parrot green pants, with his dark shiny hair standing like a cock’s crown and his eyes covered with huge black sunglasses. Due to striking facial similarities, it was rumoured that Mackky and Gul Kokur – the chicken, were distant relatives, however Kareem sahab disagreed, not because Mackky and Gul Kokur belonged to different species, but because he considered Gul Kokur’s eyes to be far more beautiful. The bus was a place where one could imagine himself to be superman. Since the bus was mostly full, passengers would often get an inch of a handle to hold and two inches of floor to rest their foot on, while their bodies dangled outside. And it was during these moments that we would close our eyes, feel the air on our face and think of ourselves as superman, flying high over the clouds. However, the driver’s brake and the conductor’s high pitched shout for passengers would eventually remind us of our reality. Discussions would soon start on the bus, covering a wide range of topics, from serious politics to cricket to whether Aishwariya Rai has had a nose job. Kareem sahab once mentioned how a national hindi news channel aired its special report on ‘Kya alien gaye ka doodh peetay hain? (Do aliens drink cow’s milk?)’. We all giggled, and our school stop arrived. I gave my bus fare to the conductor who looked at the coins with a serious look. “Ya chaakleta, ropai di byey (You chocolate face, give a rupee more),” he said angrily. “Chocolate face? Was he referring to my skin tone?” I started thinking. Thoughts of using Shahrukh Khan’s ‘Fair and Handsome face cream’ crossed my mind. However I didn’t give it much heed.

Jameel’s fate had been sealed by his father when the doctor had sighted Jameel’s male genitals inside his mother’s womb. “My son will do IAS,” Jameel’s dad could be heard saying all social gatherings. But Jameel was afraid of not qualifying, and thus facing humiliation. “Well, all the blame lies with your genitals”, we would tease him occasionally. “Leave IAS, I am going for medicine instead”, he once said. “You do realise that you almost failed your Biology exam, right?” I giggled. “Oh, do not question my intelligence. My knowledge of human anatomy is far better than that of the military’s,” he replied strongly. I got curious and asked how he came to this absurd conclusion. “Well, I at least know that if you shoot above waist height, the protestor is going to die”, Jameel was doing his usual again.

I spent the next two years of my life at “Mahindra United World College of India” in the beautiful Western Ghats. I got to meet people from over 60 countries, and picked up a few conversational sentences from their languages. I would hear a lot of “We should talk about Kashmir someday”, from both Indian as well as foreign students, and was happy to notice how open and understanding the people were. In my eleventh standards’ physics class, my teacher was having a casual conversation with my Chinese classmate about Tibet. “What do you have to say about Kashmir then,” my classmate asked. To this, my teacher, who is Indian and an IIT alum replied, “People should be given the right to decide, and whatever they choose, India should have no issues with that.” I found positive attitude in people all around campus, which benefited me greatly. I also came to realise that, contrary to popular belief, talking to a girl was much easier that walking amidst gunfire.

A year later, I was in the United States for college. The opening convocation had flags of all the countries represented at the college, and students would pose with their respective countries’ flag for pictures. Hamid, a Pakistani student who helped me a great deal in settling in, once asked with which flag I would pose. He continued to say, “I should stand with a Pakistani flag, and pull you from one side; and Shubam should stand with an Indian flag and pull you from the other, while you are in the middle with a frown. This should totally be your cover picture on Facebook. We can even have Rabab, holding a Bangla flag in one corner.” Two weeks later, I visited New York. I was all excited, and hungry. The moment I stepped out of Penn station, I saw a halal food cart at one corner. I walked over the guy and asked for some kebabs. “How is Pakistan brother?” he asked with a smile. “Pakistan is good sir, but I am not from there”, I smiled back at him. “Oh, then India? Where in India? Lucknow? Hyderabad?” he took names of some Muslim populated cities. “Kashmir sir”, I replied. Hearing this, he let out a huge laugh and said, “Then not really India, huh”. Upon asking how he knew about the Indian cities, he said that he was from Egypt and had visited India once. I took my kebabs, gave my salaam and left.

Next, I stopped a cab to go to the Empire State building, and suddenly I was sitting with Fawad, a Pakistani immigrant who drives cabs around Manhattan. He seemed welcoming, and enquired about my studies.  At that moment, I thought it be monetarily wise to disclose that I was from Kashmir. And in the end it worked, he charged me a dollar less. In the U.S., I was a member of the ‘desi’ community. ‘Desi’ is a word which crosses borders and landscapes, to include people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Nepal. In other words, ‘desi’ refers to people who show interest in ‘butter chicken with naan’ and know about ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’.  At one desi gathering, we had brought food from a Pakistani restaurant in Jackson Heights. I called in Shubam, saying that we had some Indian food. “You mean Pakistani food”, an American friend of mine pointed out. “Oh, India – Pakistan same thing”, I tried to be brief as I was having desi food after a month and didn’t want to be disturbed. But she didn’t let go and asked, “How’s India and Pakistan the same thing”. I was too seduced by the smell of chicken korma to talk sensible politics. “Because we use the same swear words”, I said, and the gathering let out a small laugh.

During my second semester, I enrolled for a course called ‘The Arab Spring’, where we were taught books by political analysts on the issue, with a combination of Arab literature translated into English. Seeing a guy with an Arabic name in his class, professor Abdullah, a Jordanian, asked me where I was from. “India”, I replied. “Kashmir, to be specific. Have you heard of Kashmir?” I added. “Of course I have. I was born in Jordan, but my ancestry is from Palestine. We know about all such places of the world”, he said. I spent the next couple of minutes evaluating his use of the phrase ‘such places’.

After two difficult semesters of college, it was time to go home. I was greeted with a huge ‘Welcome to India’ sign at the Delhi airport, from where I had to transfer to a domestic flight. Seeing a ‘Javed’ with ‘Srinagar’ written as his destination, the security guard at the gate asked “It must be very cold there, right?” I could see child like curiosity and excitement in his eyes. “Sir, so cold that your fingertips come off”, I joked. He looked at my still-intact fingertips and laughed. A few days after reaching home, I got a call from Jameel asking me to come over to Parimahal. Jameel was accompanied by another friend – Khurram. “You fled to the States, you son of a gun,” Khurram could be heard repeating occasionally. “I was stuck here for a year, but luckily I got into Delhi University for Computer Science. I want to work for some IT firm at Bangalore. What’s left in Kashmir anyway? Killings, strikes and curfew”, he said with an exasperated look. “And harissa? (A Kashmiri mutton preparation)”, Jameel was being sarcastic. “Ain’t no one getting Harissa in Bangalore”, he added.

As much as I hate waiting for marriage lunches, which are scheduled for 2 pm but served at 4, I don’t have much choice. Failing to show up could suggest anything, from sickness to inter-family jealousy. At one such delayed lunch, a point had reached where I could no longer take any mutton. “Man, serve some vegetables,” I was talking to myself, and to my rescue came mushrooms. But I had not fully savoured the mushroom flavour, when huge mutton pieces in the form of ‘Roganjosh’ attacked our plate, as if security forces had been unleashed on a group of protestors. The mushrooms got dispersed and ‘peace’ had been forced again. And after the Roganjosh curry had sunk in, I tried to look for my mushrooms beneath the huge mutton pieces, but they had been buried deep into the pile of rice, never to be found again. Their graves, unmarked, unnamed.

Next day was Friday, and I was at a mosque in Safakadal for the day prayer. The 99 names of God carved in walnut wood adorned the mosque’s front wall, while carefully cut wooden tiles decorated its sides. I got a place in the last row and sat down. The imam talked about ‘Amreeki’ foreign interventions, and went on the highlight the weakening faith of current Muslims. As the sermon ended, and we stood up for prayer, a group of children wearing bright colourful khan-dresses and aged between 5 and 7 appeared behind us. Amidst soft chit-chat and laughter, they explained to each other the rules of the game. It seemed fairly simple. The tallest man in the mosque was the target, and each child would get 7 tries to put the mosque’s prayer cap on his head. Whosoever’s cap lands on his head first, wins. At the sound of ‘Bismillah’, the tall man was attacked with prayer caps, with some hitting his long pointy nose, and some going completely astray. Finally, after intense hard work, a prayer cap finally landed on the man’s head, and a loud cheer from the boys followed. The winner had been declared, and had earned himself an ice-lolly.

I couldn’t help but smile at the whole incident. It felt good to be back, and I thought, “Wow, I have reached home, allegedly.”

Photograph by Hakim Ali Reza


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  • Salma Rehman

    So beautifully woven.. was waiting for such a good read .. !!..:)

  • Sanjeev

    I agree in principle with the author on the point of India, Pak and J&K being the same.

    I think it is time for merger of Pak with India. That will also resolve the J&K problem permanently.

  • Jonah Ryder

    You you go making assumptions on behalf of Kashmiris yet again…tsk tsk

    some things never change.. Ass out of U.u make by making assumptions.

    care to listen to the Kashmiri voice..not the agents of pak or India.


    It was never yours it can truly never be yours. Yours is the futility ours is the struggle. Say what you will, we know what we are and who we are. We know damn well what you are.

    This is what the world needs to know. This is what you suppress. This is occupation. This is #OccupiedKashmir.

    Sanjeev this below paragraph is a thanks to you ol buddy for pointing out this slight. :)

    Thank you for pointing out that poignant independent research of, unbiased, & unfiltered quality is needed. Without holding affiliations to one side or another. This must first be done by the reader. Clearly Sanjeev & the kind are adherent to one side of the story. Therefore we cannot take their points into account. Which brings me to yours truly, yes I and others like me are on the contrary, but I am not telling you, the reader what to believe, simply to do your research. Never mind, the research the charlatans try to pass off as such. If the the reader is blessed with intellect & can deduce upon the answer with following logic, then truly victory will be for the good.

    Here are the common problems in arguments that occur or are caused. These are often used as tools and devices by certain un-named parties to coerce and deceive. Therefore it of utmost importance to be aware of the following Fallacies:

    Here are some examples of fallacies you may encounter when making an argument:
    Appeal to Ignorance – An appeal to ignorance occurs when one person uses another person’s lack of knowledge on a particular subject as evidence that their own argument is correct.
    For example: “You can’t prove that there aren’t Martians living in caves under the surface of Mars, so it is reasonable for me to believe there are.”
    Appeal to Authority – This type of fallacy is also referred to as Argumentum ad Verecundia (argument from modesty). In this case, rather than focusing on the merits of an argument, the arguer will try to attach their argument to a person of authority in an attempt to give credence to their argument.
    For example: “Well, Isaac Newton believed in Alchemy, do you think you know more than Isaac Newton?”
    Appeal to Popular Opinion – This type of appeal is when someone claims that an idea or belief is true simply because it is what most people believe.
    For example: “Lots of people bought this album, so it must be good.”
    Association Fallacy – Sometimes called “guilt by association,” this occurs when someone links a specific idea or practice with something or someone negative in order to infer guilt on another person.
    For example: “Hitler was a vegetarian, therefore, I don’t trust vegetarians.”
    Attacking the Person – Also known as Argumentum ad Hominem (argument against the man), this is quite a common occurrence in debates and refers to a person who substitutes a rebuttal with a personal insult.
    For example: “Don’t listen to Eddie’s arguments on education, he’s an idiot.”
    Begging the Question – This type of fallacy is when the conclusion of an argument is assumed in the phrasing of the question itself.
    For example: “If aliens didn’t steal my newspaper, who did?” (assume that the newspaper was actually stolen).
    Circular Argument – Also referred to as Circulus in Probando, this fallacy is when an argument takes its proof from a factor within the argument itself, rather than from an external one.
    For example: “I believe that Frosted Flakes are great because it says so on the Frosted Flakes packaging.”
    Correlation Implies Causation Fallacy – Otherwise known as Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc, this is a fallacy in which the person making the argument connects two events which happen sequentially and assumes that one caused the other.
    For example: “I saw a magpie and ten minutes later, I crashed my car, therefore, magpies are bad luck.”
    False Dilemma/Dichotomy – Sometimes referred to as Bifurcation, this type of fallacy occurs when someone presents their argument in such a way that there are only two possible options.
    For example: “If you don’t vote for this candidate, you must be a Communist.”
    Non Sequitur – A fallacy wherein someone asserts a conclusion that does not follow from the propositions.
    For example: “All Dubliners are from Ireland. Ronan is not a Dubliner, therefore, he is not Irish.”

    Sanjeev..or whatever you have spawned into as profile names are not controlled on here. This is not directed at you but to those that read your comments.

    You need not reply, having said that you surely may. Be it denouncing these retorts as spam or any other jest you try. It will just get repeated over & over & over & over…catch my drift.. :)

    If you are a regular on this site. You know these people like Sanjeev (& the like) as a craven sods that perpetuates the propaganda and agenda of India.

    Their purpose is to coerce and deceive the outsider who doesn’t follow the Kashmir conflict with vigor.

    Thus far they have abused, fueled hatful attacks both virtually and on ground.

    Please take their responses with a grain of salt & ask yourself why the voice of the Kashmir walla is repeatedly attacked by these hate mongers.

    I ask the reader to also consider the beauty of Kashmirwalla to allow them their voice as erroneous it may be. Regardless take this as your warning & please do your research on the Occupied region of Kashmir before coming to any conclusions.

    The voice of the voiceless must carry on, wether being attacked by the likes of mentioned or gaged by agencies on the ground.

    Truth must prevail, no matter how often and powerful the spin masters try to sabotage our attempts to putting it forth.

    Best Regards,

    A Humble supporter of the Kashmiri Cause.


    Thanks for helping us spread the word with every comment you post, this gets posted.

    #occupiedKashmir #occupiedKashmir #occupiedKashmir #occupiedKashmir #occupiedKashmir #occupiedKashmir

    • Sanjeev

      @ jonah Ryder

      I make no assumptions. I merely responded to a point that is contained in the subject post.


      The rest of the comment has been copy-pasted by Jonah Ryder under multiple posts. I have replied to it elsewhere.

      Jai Hind. Jai Kashmir. Jai Hindustani Sainik..! :)

      • Sanjeev

        Smugness has no limits, as my ego.


        The self proclaimed spam-alot and concubine to the the authorities that pay me.

        Not to mention the egregious waste of smileys :)

      • Jonah Ryder

        Jai Kashmir Indeed! :)

        End the #Occupation of #Kashmir till then you cannot truly say Jai Hind! Until then do not stand on the grounds of hypocrisy it suits you ill.

        Jai Kashmir! Jai Kashmiri!

        • Sanjeev

          @ Jinah Ryder,

          I have said Jai Kashmir and Jai Hind both, whereas, you are ready to say only Jai Kashmir. What does it say about us? Who is biased, parochial, prejudiced, communal, and narrow-minded here?

          I do not intend using these terms for you without seeking your view first. Please elaborate. I will be happy to hear your take.

          Comments by other contributors also welcome.

          Jai Hind. Jai Kashmir.

          • Sanjeev

            @ Jonah Ryder,

            Sorry I typed your name wrong. It was merely an unintended typo.

          • Jonah Ryder

            As for your ‘typo’ pretty clever..

            No your innuendo & coercion as typified is clearly noted.

          • Jonah Ryder

            I am clearly speaking out against the occupation of Kashmir, therefore pardon me for not supporting the forces that are occupying & causing strife to Kashmiris.

            End the #occupation. Its simple.

          • Sanjeev

            @ Jonah Ryder,

            J&K belongs to India and India belongs to J&K. The hate-based Jihadi ideology ought to be the common enemy here. Pardon me for not supporting the forces that are causing all the strife.

            May Allah continue to bless India in her noble struggle against the devilish menace of fake Jihad.

            May we see the last of article 370 soon.

            May peace and love reign supreme in J&K.

            Jai Hind. Jai Jammu-Kashmir.

      • Sanjeev ka baap

        hahahaha…jaiiii hindustaan

  • Amrita

    Thank you Momin, I really enjoyed reading this.

  • adil

    Lovely piece.Enjoyed reading it.