While traveling from Jammu to Srinagar via road, I must say, every atom changes after Banihal town. Years ago, on a same trip, when I stopped for tea at Banihal, I saw gloomy faces. On all my road trips to Srinagar, I would always think – Iss shahar mei har shakhis pareshaan sa kyu hai? (Why is every person worried in this city?)
You will find this gloom spread all over after crossing mighty Pir Panjal mountain range. Air changes and gloominess keeps on deepening as you proceed in any direction – towards Srinagar, Uri-Kupwara, Pahalgam, Kangan, or Budgam. Eyes seem doubtful and minds apprehensive. Any sensitive person can feel the pain, the Valley is suffering from. Why?
I will share two eyewitness accounts here that changed my perspective, I had carried from Delhi.
Take this girl and try
It was in early 2002 and the beginning of spring. I was in Srinagar and three of us were traveling to Sonamarg – a hill station, 60 kms from Srinagar. We started late in the morning and reached Kangan town around 1.00 pm. It was a cloudy day and when we proceeded, leaving Kangan behind, light snow flakes started falling. After traveling 15-20 kms, we were feeling hungry and stopped at one of the roadside cluster of shops. The bad weather had forced shopkeepers to shut.
A passerby told us to walk down to a small valley village Gund, just down the road to find food. (As he said, atleast you will get boiled eggs). One of us was very apprehensive, reluctant to walk down to a village without any local acquaintance. He preferred to stay behind to chat with couple of on duty army men. They were standing under a nearby shade. We walked down to village and got some eggs and tea. Every one there seemed anxious of us as we were non-Kashmiris. By now the snow flakes had turned heavier.
We returned to find our friend still talking to the army men. Lets talk to these army men, we thought. They were very happy to see us. One of them was from Haryana and another from Uttar Pradesh. We talked about militants, Kashmiris, Kashmir problem, terrain and their duty. They were very clear about their convictions. The army man from Haryana started asking us about families, home towns and more.
And then, the question of whether we were married?
Or have children?
How old are they?
Where do the family live?
And more questions.
One of us, unmarried from western Uttar Pradesh, started speaking in Haryanvi dialect. Amryman from Haryana asked him if he wants to marry right now?
We were puzzled. We could not understand what was his message in that. Meanwhile, a little girl (perhaps, around 12-13 years old), balancing firewood on her head, was walking towards us. Her younger brother (I guessed so. Around 9-10 years) was with her. The Haryanvi Jawan asked our bachelor friend, take this girl and try. If you like, get her. The little girl was passing from in front of the shade, very frightened, walking very fast as to pass from here as soon as possible, seeing towards mountains. No one was there except five of us and the girl and the kid. Jawan stepped ahead and stopped the girl. He held her hand and said to our single friend – Ise le jao sahab. The girl was shivering and tightly holding her woods on her head with one hand. The kid was staring at us. We asked them to let her go. This is not good and not expected at all from them as they were there for her security. We scolded them. They freed the kids but said: arey sahab, kyu darte ho? (why are you afraid?)
The kids started walking faster, away from us, towards their home.
A boy’s journey to find his roots
Another story is also about a boy from a displaced Kashmiri family. He was living with his parents at a camp in Jammu. His parents were forced to leave from his native village in South Kashmir during 1990-91. His father often used to narrate about their big ancestral house, fields and the village, they come from. And about his childhood days, about the weather, the water streams and more he recalled.
The session always ended up with teary eyes. The boy was growing up listening to these narrations. In his memory, he developed a close bond with South Kashmir, his deserted house, fields, and the village. After turning 10, he started asking his parents to take him to native place. He wanted to touch the soil, to see his house, to play with the streams, to color his palms by rubbing green walnuts.
His desperation to see his ancestral house was growing with every passing day. One day he left home for school like any other day in the morning. He had put all his savings (250 rupees) in his pocket before leaving home with a determination. He went to Jammu Bus Stand and sat there for couple of hours. After rethinking his plan, he boarded a bus to Anantnag (South Kashmir). He was carrying his school bag and a lunch box with him.
The boy was on his way to his ancestral village and in Jammu his parents were afraid as he didn’t return from school. They asked the school administration about him but the school admin said that he didn’t attend the classes. They went to police station and filed a missing report. After that, at evening, they came to our newspaper office to publish a Laapata Soonchna (missing information). That is when I got to know this story.
Back in South Kashmir, the boy had boarded the last bus to his village. There were only a few passengers in the bus, so he was attracting attention of co-passengers. A passenger was probing him and asked, “Where are you going?” He told him the name of his village. The passenger found his looks similar to one of his neighbors who had left the village 10-12 years ago. So, he asked the boy about his father, his name. He had got the answer that the boy is his old neighbor’s son.
After asking him why did he come alone to Kashmir, the boy explained the reasons. The passenger took him home. Next morning, he informed his parents that they shouldn’t worry, over phone. “Your son is safe and is at my home.”
Next day his father traveled to South Kashmir and took his son back to Jammu. At our office, his father showed me the articles, his son had brought along with him from the village – burned pieces of timber from his house, a pot full of soil and some walnuts.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org