An Exercise to Exorcise – Diary of a Kashmiri Pandit, Part 4
6th of August 2016
When the last post of this series got published towards the end of a busy Monday, I was reeling from the remnants of a weekend fever (literal not figurative). Physically tired and emotionally drained from the tragic loss of young Tarisi Jain to Islamic extremists in the Dhaka carnage,I had woken up in the middle of the night to express myself thus. And here I am again! Laid down in bed with fever, thanks to being drenched in the heavy downpour earlier today. Some people write themselves into a feverish frenzy! For me, it seems to be the other way round!
Truth be told, from the last post till date, a lot has happened to have brought back the terrible memories of Kashmiri Pandit Exodus. There has not been a single day without an incident or two to remind or hound me of a past that I would not wish on anyone. Kairana and its associated politics of denial made my disappointment come forth in these lines. This was followed by the act of desecration in the ancient Aap Shambhu temple in Jammu by a youth from the majority community of J&K. As always, our Mainstream media gave this news a silent burial; the few news outlets that send out a tweet or two, did so grudgingly and incorrectly. This ostrich like behaviour led me to the bemused conversation with Shiva as captured here. And then, the supposedly innocent son of a schoolmaster met his maker and all hell broke loose! The news weavers lost no time in painting a narrative to portray the separatists as misguided, innocent, unemployed youth, frustrated into throwing acid bombs and pelting stones at the security forces. The trailblazing journalist who went to interview the young boy’sfather never found the need to question this Government teacher about principles, ethics, secularism and extremism. Looks like (what one fellow Kashmiri aptly calls) Goshtaba marketing sure works wonders for the Indian MSM who choose to blame our forces instead of showing the truth of what is actually happening in the valley.
The truth that a handful of separatists propped up by an enemy state are holding the valley to ransom. The truth that the sensible people in the valley are sick and tired of suffering at the hands of these miscreants. The truth that it is certain entitled families and their progeny with their multiple Facebook posts who benefit the most from the continued insurgency. While going through open letters on Kashmir from the social elites of the valley, I was shocked to see the utter depravity of a comment that referred to the persecuted Kashmiri Pandits having ‘at least a relief camp after Kashmiri Pandit Exodus’. I felt like asking that fellow Kashmiri if she actually knew what it is to live in a tent lined up in a camp in the hot, scorching sun with scorpions for company? I so wanted to bring to her notice that it certainly is not similar to the camping trips that she might have the liberty to go to (on a whim) in Pehalgam or Gulmarg. The camp that my community members lived in, and many of them still do, has been a hellish nightmare and not some picnic, for sure!
Since these supposed social media crusaders and their ilk are being called out every day by the ones who know them for who they are, their tone keeps changing like the waxing and waning of the moon. So in Shukla paksha, one finds them strangely rope in Tilak and Beef and RSS and Allah knows what into their narrative for seeking Azaadi! And in Krishna paksha, what with the Scooty Fatwa out, they suddenly turn into poor, victimised Kashmiri women! It is amusing and I sometimes feel like saying,“make up your mind, love”, or as our common ancestors would say,”know yourself first”! Thankfully, this is not the 90s and things are certainly not the same. Internet and Social Media make sure that awareness about these people and their ulterior agenda, which has nothing to do with Azaadi, comes to the fore in all its fundamentalist brazenness and greed. The rest of India is realising this and there will not be, cannot be, a repeat of what we have been witnessing over so many centuries in this great country of harmonious diversity. Try as they might, they won’t be able to falsify things because everyone knows the truth about these pelters of stones now.
However this post is not about them, remember? So Memoryvale, here I come traipsing…
Theory Of Constraints
My fever continues unabated, for, the rain drenched me to the bone. But it is nothing serious! As a matter of fact, it can hardly compare with the frequent illness episodes that I used to have in the scorching summer of Jammu. I would be ill almost every other day. Heat and lack of hygiene, were the two primary reasons ,for, there was hardly enough water available then. I would sweat profusely under the three-limbed, limping fan. To get my mind off the discomfort, I would , in my imagination, look at it as an antique piece, soon to find a pride of place in some museum!
Once the schools in Jammu re-opened for the new session, one of my cousins and I got into a good private school named Model Institute of Education and Research (MIER), also referred to as Model Academy. My eldest cousin went to a college where classes for students, who were in Jammu due to Kashmiri Pandit Exodus, were conducted in the second shift. While another one joined a school that was known for producing ‘Toppers’! My younger brother was put in a somewhat less grand Shastri Academy that was almost next door. Now whether this decision was based on lack of funds or the intention of keeping an eye on my notoriously pampered and extremely naughty brother, I really cannot say! Anyone who’s known him, since his childhood till date, will certainly believe the Ratnakar turned Valmiki story! That he was the only sona goburr (adorable child) in the world for my grandparents despite his khaergi (naughtiness bordering on scoundrelism) would be an understatement! Being the first grandson in the family, he was raised by Maaja (who you know by now) and Daddyji as a Prince to rival the Little Emperors of modern day China (if you know what I mean). And Kashmiri Pandit Exodus or not, he retained the top slot in the ‘grandchildren list’.
It was a pain going to school in the then-cramped-now-nostalgic matador and coming back in the scorching heat to a house that hardly had any cooling arrangements. Lunch is something that I would hate because by the time we were back, all that I would invariably be served, were the leftover stalks of Collard greens (Haakh) or Knol khol (Mounje) floating in the watery soup. The worst part was the absence of Zama doud (curd)which I (often teased as Dahi Devi for my absolute love for curd) could not do without. To add to the woes, an afternoon shower to beat the heat would generally be out of question!
In fact, morning shower was my first lesson in working with constraints and deadlines, for, the 17 member household had just one bathroom! Daddyji being the only earning member of the family needed to be ready for office at a specific time and his time slot was sacrosanct! This left five school going kids vying among each other to get ready for school by 6:30 AM. With each child taking around 15 minutes to get ready, all of us had to defer to the alarm clock! There were times, when mom would rouse me around 3 AM so that I could enjoy a nice, quiet bath with nobody banging on the door asking me to hurry up!
Another poignantly funny bit that comes to my mind is the supposed act of self-sacrifice of sleeping on the rooftop (called Kotha in Dogri – the local language of Jammu) put up by one member or the other, every night. We all knew that the only reason one wanted to sleep there was the breezy reprieve that the cool nights of Jammu provided in those summers. Maaja would often talk about people from Pakistan coming to Jammu by train to enjoy the wonderful, cool nights, in the days of yore. But then I would always take her wonderful anecdotes for mere stories. Among her famous ones wasmae aes palvan asan Mirpurich silai (my clothes used to be stitched in Mirpur) which, I later came to know, was a fact! I hardly ever got to sleep on the Kotha, for, I gave (secret) preference to earning the right of first use to the bathroom by sleeping downstairs in the room-with-the-limping-fan which was closest to the same! Strategy and optimising resources, I tell you, was always child’s play for me!
Stand In Your Power And Presence
The journey to school notwithstanding, school was a great place for me as it represented a level playing field.Nobody there was privy to what happened ‘backstage’! For example, there was a time when I had just one pair of uniform which, due to my obsession with cleanliness, I would wash and iron every evening. Daddyji would playfully mock me on my fetish for ironing saying that I could even slice bread with the crease of my clothes! I was a reasonably good student and took part in literary activities – debates, extempores, poetry recitation,among others! It was an engaging period and I would like to believe that I was well appreciated.
I had started writing poetry in Srinagar (in standard 5th) and by the time I joined MIER (i.e., in standard 7th), it had turned into a full blown interest. I would write on anything that took my fancy – a flower, a human or even an inanimate thing such as a Matador! I did it, for, it made me happy. Writing thus became a purely selfish pursuit of happiness. Perhaps the only one that I could easily afford! Papa encouraged me wholeheartedly by getting my poems published in the local Dailies . He would make me write the contents neatly on a piece of paper, get it typed (the newspapers accepted only typewritten copies) and then personally go and submit the same for publication. To save money, he would walk all the way to the newspaper office (s) (I got to know of it quite late in the day). Getting the poems typed cost money as well. And money was certainly not in flow during that period. So after the initial few pieces, I got my first lesson in independence and confidence when he instructed me to meet the Director of the institute to seek assistance viz., the use of his office for typing my poems for submission. The next day, I nonchalantly went up to the admin section and asked the gatekeeper to let me through.There I was, a student asking to be allowed to meet the Director when even the teachers would hardly ever meet him on their own! No wonder, the gatekeeper looked shocked and instead of blocking the passage, as was his wont, just stood there agape and let me through! I went up to the secretary who indulgently led me in, little expecting something to come out of the meeting between a 7th standard student and the Director. Being too young and confident to bother about that, I explained my requirement, emphasising the one significant part that Papa had made clear, namely that I would sign each poem with my name followed by the name of my school. So you see, Marketing 101 helped me get unlimited access to Dr Gupta’s office! I am grateful to him and his wonderful spouse. What they did for me, perhaps, insignificant to them, meant a lot to me on multiple levels. And it does guide me in my interaction with people even to this day – strangers or not! A lot of my poems got published in both the major dailies of Jammu during the time I was in that school and MIER kept appearing in the weekend edition without fail for a long time.
Shoes And Clothes
It is in MIER that I met Sachin – my soul brother whose parents always treated me as their own daughter. Am certain that even today they must be showering their blessings on me from heaven, for, I still cannot come to terms with the void that their untimely and sudden departure has created in our lives. I vividly remember uncle speaking to me the first time I visited their place in 1990, for, he spoke to me as one individual to another and not as an elder to a child. Perhaps that is why despite his image of being a strict dad, I could always speak my mind in his presence. Every Bhai Dooj, Sachin would come ferry me from whichever place we were living in (at that point of time) and we would spend the first half of the day at his place. Sooraj Lhasa Chchadiya, Yamuna Chchadiya Neer, Behan (Dimple) ne teeka laaya, Veera (Sachin) Jug Jug Jee – that mandatory line in Uncle’s voice as I would apply Tilak, still pops up in my head every Bhai Dooj. I recently visited Sachin in his Amritsar home, met everyone and missed the gentle loving presence of Uncle and Auntie. We got talking about the good old days and he mocked me by reminding me that I would always wear one particular green skirt and top on Bhai Dooj. While I joined the laughter, for, I love self-deprecating humour, I had tears in my heart , for, I had never told my brother that it was the only piece of decent clothing I had for a long, long time and thus, I would wear it to the occasion that I considered special. I did not want to turn the mood from joyful to sombre. Yet I could not but remember those days when clothes were a concern. Mum had got me two pairs, which thankfully could be mixed and matched to give an impression of four. No wonder, I have never felt attached to clothes or shoes.
There is one incident about shoes that comes to my mind. In our cramped household, storage space was non-existent. With not enough cupboards to keep even our limited set of clothes, a shoe closet was obviously non-existent! That is how the sturdy staircase, which erupted from the ground floor to the Kotha, doubled up as one. Every member of the family quietly claimed a step each for their shoes. With everyone owning at least a pair, you can imagine that it resembled the steps of any temple on a festival! I had a pair of shoes for school and another one that I had worn while traveling to Jammu. The latter, a pair of Reebok sneakers, was funnily referred to as Golas! Come to think of it, every such pair of trainers or sport shoes used to be called Gola shoes (irrespective of the actual brand) in those days. Since I was to enter teens soon, my mum had purchased a pink pair of Action shoes (one size too large) for me in Srinagar and I had carried the same with me ,for, I so wanted to put those on as soon as I could! Which essentially means that my step of the Staircase shoe-rack was adorned with three pairs and I would feel delighted looking at my pink shoes waiting for the day they would adorn my feet!
But alas! it was not to be. My elder (cousin) sister once asked me if she could wear those to school (as hers were almost worn down). I grudgingly agreed, little realising that my tall and pretty sister with her feet definitely bigger than mine, would end up expanding the pair and rendering it useless for me! By the time I found this out, it was too late. I was literally in tears and I can bet that my sister does not know of this, till date. Only mum did. And she asked me to simply gift it to her, for, she seemed to need those more than I did. I protested saying that these were brand new and I could hardly bring myself to gift them to anyone. It is then that she taught me an invaluable lesson in love and affection. Mom said that gifting with love meant finding empathy within oneself to give up or give away something to someone who we know needed it more. So you see, the pink Golas moved places, from my step to hers, with a lot of internal turmoil yet external poise from my end. Perhaps that is how I started appreciating the value of gifts. Respecting and valuing the gesture of gifting more than the monetary value of a gift.Today I have multiple pairs of shoes and a closet full of clothes, but when I really look deeper, these things don’t hold much value for me.
What holds importance is who I am now and whether I am true to myself. The other day, I saw online pictures of Sharada Peetham in ruins. Tears welled up in my eyes thinking about what the current inhabitants of Kashmir have reduced it to! Around the same time, a well meaning friend asked me as to why I did not know how to read and write Kashmiri (despite being able to speak it) and how was it possible for me to have no knowledge of the Sharada script. All I could tell my friend is that my childhood was perhaps not the same as that of other children. It came with a twist! Growing up, there were other things that I was learning from my parents. My amazingly resilient parents who had to start everything from scratch at a point when, in ‘normal’ circumstances, they might have been teaching me about my rich heritage and traditions! I am thankful to my friend, for, the thought finally led me to my first lesson today. Yes, I have now started Learning Sharada!
Having spent a fair amount of time on my persecuted relocation from Kashmir, the next post will be about my journey within Jammu and the bittersweet memories and lessons growing up in Sadda Jammu with its Khand Mithe Log Dogre, as we kept shifting from one rented house to another and learnt to co-exist with a new language, culture, food, traditions, weather, worldview and more.
Before I Sign Off
I am no writer. I never trained to be one. My language is that of one person conversing with another and not that of an author writing for an audience. Those of you who have been with me in this journey, would know that I started this series in January as a personal contribution towards creating awareness about the Kashmiri Pandit Exodus. The annual hashtag solidarity from fellow Indians and the fabricated news from mainstream journalists, who are no longer venerable in my eyes, made me promise myself that I would write, bare myself in public, open myself to criticism, scrutiny, mockery, empathy and any other emotions that I know fellow humans can exhibit. So these posts are where I talk to myself without a pause. If I am able to create even an iota of awareness, I would be happy, especially in these times when Kashmir is again turning into a seething cauldron! The current inhabitants would have everyone believe that Kashmiri Pandit community is not a significant stakeholder in the land of Rishi Kashyap. I wonder what they would say to explain this Kashmiri Bhajan composed by a Kashmiri Pandit and sung by a Kashmiri Muslim! On that note, I leave you with your own thoughts. Mine are centred around the hope, ‘Next Year in Kashmir’ – Ichchaya Ganesha!
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: topyaps.