Diary of a Kashmiri Pandit Part 3: The Scarring Episode on KP Exodus
Bharat Mata Ki Jai. May 8th 2016
During one of the kathabatha (Kashmiri for gupshup) sessions that are a quintessential part of any Kashmiri (or for that matter any Indian) wedding celebration, my cousin (who’s getting married) recalled a funny episode from her kindergarten days. Seems that while narrating ‘The Thirsty Crow’ story (on stage) in her senior KG, she enjoyed the experience so much that once the original story was over, she simply replaced the crow with another bird to continue with her narration. And once that got over, she plugged in some other animal in the belief that the audience would hardly notice her subtle ploy! Even as I laughed at my precocious cousin’s anecdote, I had an eerie epiphany. It reminded me of this cartoon which is just a cunning ruse to replace or rather equate the religious persecution of Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Pandit Exodus with the state administration’s response to locally supported terrorism.
Lets me outrightly declare that I do not support the killing of innocents at all. But I do wonder why do some alleged innocents never get asked the reason for the beginning of ‘curfewed nights’. In an earlier piece, almost two years ago, I wondered how is it that one fine day, the Indian Army descended upon this paradise of peace, with its great tradition of Kashmiriyat, to unleash an inexplicable reign of tyranny and oppression? Why hasn’t anyone ever asked this question? I mean there never has been any tyranny of distance for our media with regard to Kashmir, isn’t it? They keep going there and beaming utopian stories of Kashmiri Pandits living in Kashmiri Muslim homes and all. Why do they never get to this question?
Perhaps precisely for the same reason that nobody asked the comrades in JNU about their quixotic Azadi event on the 9th of Feb 2016 where they chanted slogans that immediately brought back the horrifying memories of Kashmiri Pandit Exodus to me. Listening to the videos – the accent and the content, I could easily make out the voices from the Kashmiri majority community. Why, in this age of perpetual connectivity and 24X7 information flow, it took MSM quite some time to put forth these facts, is unfathomable? But then what else can we expect from those who kept projecting Rohith Vemula as a member of the OBC community (which he was not). Anyone in Andhra could have clarified this fact to the ‘investigative journalists’ from our elite English Language Media. But then, stepping out of their all knowingness hardly ever occurs to them. Yes, his suicide was unfortunate, but the blatant scavenging for TRPs and votes that we were subject to, thereafter, was even more tragic.
So you see, the post kept lingering throughout the wedding and did not leave me even once.
While preparing for my journey, I caught glimpses of a supposed PhD scholar being propped up as the modern day Bhagat Singh! Unstinted efforts were being put into covering up original videos and news reports about the modern day Revolutionary’s Constitutional Patriotism. A doctored video was being used to miraculously transform the step-mother into Cinderella! Know what I mean?
During a stopover at Doha airport, I was shocked to find the same character being beamed from Al Jazira News. The muted voice could not hide the gimmickry which prompted me to look up his speech online once I was back. Later, when I chanced upon this video, it seemed as if the earlier muted clip had found its real voice! Seriously, I was unable to gauge which one was more entertaining – a conundrum similar to the one presented by a venerable, hard-working State CM and his worthy (twitter) parody handle these days!
Well, there is a lot more that I am inclined to write about the Bharat Mata hating, Constitutional Patriots and their Alternative Reading of Ma Durga but for now, let’s continue from where we left the last post on Kashmiri Pandit Exodus.
The Rooftop Classroom
Once my parents reached home after that day’s episode, they got a call saying that the water supply had been poisoned and that things were not safe for them. The call was made by a Doctor who’d been our neighbour for years. To this date, my mom maintains that the message was a threat while my dad chooses to treat it as a warning. The net result was that they sent my brother to Jammu with another Kashmiri Pandit friend of theirs. In those days, telephones were a rarity. Every day seemed like punishment to me. The fear of losing my parents, or maybe plain insecurity on my part, would make me angry with them and envious of all other cousins whose parents were around. This feeling lasted for quite sometime, even after they came back to Jammu.
By that time, the spacious, one bedroom-one living room-one drawing-room house that my grandparents had all to themselves, suddenly got congested. It housed our immediate family consisting of 16 people, with other relatives dropping by from time to time. Of these, there were 10 members from the female gender ranging from 3 years to 60 years. You can very well guess that it was never a quiet household!
Jammu was notorious for water scarcity. My grandparents, of course, did not have any immediate provision for additional water storage for such a large number of people. It used to be a nightmare filling all available vessels with water, for, we hardly had enough utensils! However, we were in a lot better condition than a large number of other members of our community. But at that time, I did not know this, for, I was still coming to terms with the sudden shift from an entire-bedroom-to-myself to one-room-for-four-people which also served as a living room for the entire household, during the day. The cupboard door would also serve as a partition where I would stand guard while mom or my aunts changed clothes. I still reiterate that compared to many others, we were in ‘comfort’. Will delve into that in the next post; for now, let’s stay here.
This was my first non-winter period in Jammu. Till then, Jammu had always been more like a pleasant, winter holiday spot where one could escape the cold winter of Srinagar. It was all about enjoying peanuts, basking in the sun on the rooftop and getting spoiled by Maaja and her enormous home cooked meals.
I am suddenly reminded of an interesting bit here. My drawing skills are non-existent. ‘Drawing period’ in school used to be a nightmare and to simply bolster my confidence, mom taught me how to draw a house. It pretty much was a rectangle with a quadrilateral on top, to resemble a typical house in Srinagar with its sloping roof. It is only after the forcible stay in Jammu, did it sink in that houses could have flat roofs as well!
Wondering about this sudden nugget of information?
Well, in those initial days, when we still thought of the ‘shift’ as a brief one, the only earning member of the family was my grandfather. It is obvious that financial worries would’ve played on my elders’ minds. Yet, all credit goes to them for not exposing us to any such obvious predicament. Other than the regular meal of Knol Khol and watered down Lassi, there was no sign of the worrying, financial undercurrents.
At that point of time, there was a big uncertainty about our education. We had moved to the next class in Srinagar. However, since the next session in Jammu started from April, it essentially meant a gap of six months for all children. Thus, in addition to having no source of income, our parents were grappling with the scenario of their children’s education taking a beating. Perhaps, that is why, every day we were religiously bundled to the rooftop and made to complete specific assignments laid down for each one of us. It included the mandatory writing of one essay and a letter in both English and Hindi, a bit of mathematics and oral recitation from a book or a newspaper. That daily discipline used to fill me with grudge then. But now it makes me overwhelmingly grateful to my elders who, even in that turmoil, focused on our education. What I learnt in that Rooftop Classroom is definitely not just reading and writing!
No Permanent Home
The 16 members of the family included my dad’s sister (my Bua), her spouse and daughter. The day when she joined us, for good, in Jammu is vividly imprinted on my memory.
After years of living as a tenant in Srinagar, my Bua had built a wonderful house in a place called Wanabal. Being an adept homemaker, she would always make sure to turn every house she occupied into a home reflecting her pride and joy. So you can well imagine the efforts that she and my uncle would have taken in finally building one of their own. I guess that the emotional connect with her recently built house (after spending her lifelong savings) must have compelled her to take a chance and retrieve some belongings from Srinagar.
The day Bua came back from Srinagar was more like a day of mourning, for, I could see and hear her wailing at the top of her voice, choked with tears, about to collapse as she entered the lane of my Dadaji’s home. Her house had been broken into. The lovingly decorated place had been completely vandalised. The vandals had used spades and hoes to remove immovable fixtures. Her tears seemed to be a testimony to people not only breaking into her home but also shattering a long cherished dream of hers. Her seemingly inconsolable grief both saddened and perplexed me then. It is only later, when I started my journey as an adult, that I could truly appreciate and empathise with her feelings.
As regards our home in Srinagar, my parents had thought that the move to Jammu was a temporary one. They presumed that once kharab halat turned normal, we would be back! They had stocked up on the non-perishables and kept the entire place in order for our return, whenever that would be!
The fact is that we never did, as a family, at least. Our home was completely ransacked, with even the floor mats taken away. That it could happen inside a ‘Faculty Quarters Complex’ where we had only Doctors for neighbours says a lot about those times. And with that, Home for me ceased to be a permanent place.
Is there anything positive from that scarring episode? Perhaps, that I learnt the true meaning of Nothing lasts forever! And I learnt it for good, the hard way and yes, it has served me, till date.
But it is also true that the land of my ancestors became a tourist place. Old Hindi movies started making me maudlin and weepy. Haakh and Nadroo became rare delicacies. I, who had never ever used the number 3 button of our wall-mounted fan in our Srinagar home, yearned to have a cooler in the 3 room house that housed 17 of us (my youngest cousin was born by then).
A Brief Pause
Once I start writing a post in this Kashmiri Pandit Exodus series, I am unable to stop till I reach that final point of emotional exhaustion. A lot of well-meaning friends have advised me to keep these pieces short. I appreciate their feedback but the fact is that this series is not the same as anything else that I have written. With each excruciatingly long post, I lay bare a part of myself and share something that most of my community members went through. The part, that for a really long time, made me undergo feelings of helplessness, embarrassment and misery as a child. And the part that also shaped me into a confident, self-reliant, determined individual. My pain filled me with empathy which I am proud of. But back then, it was not so.
Why? Will share in the next post…
Till then, signing off with one of my favourite Lalla Vaakhs that resonates with me at all levels.
Aami pana sodras navi chas lamaan
Kati bozi Dayii myon maeti deeye taar
Aamyan taakyan poien zan shamaan
Zuv chum bramaan gara gach ha
With a loose-spun thread
Towing the boat of my life
I wish The Almighty heeds my prayers
Helping me cross safely through this strife
The way water seeps out
of unbaked clay vessels
I long to reach My Home (Abode)
And merge with His Divine grace.
To be continued….
This post on the diary of a Kashmiri Pandit was first published at dimplehere.com. It is republished here with the author’s permission. Visit the author’s personal blog to read more of her posts.
Featured image courtesy: Hindustan Times.