If you haven’t followed this series from the beginning, you might want to check this list for the earlier posts.
27th of November 2016
It has been more than two months and 20 posts since I wrote another piece in this series of healing! Six of those twenty posts being somehow or the other related to Kashmir are proof enough that this series has been lurking in an alcove of my mind - akin to the gift that one has on a special occasion! It is no wonder, therefore, that recently something happened that forced me to sit down and pen this piece.
The experience of participation in India Ideas Conclave 2016, absorbing the wonderful flow of thoughts on Democracy, Development and Dissent, in the company of brilliant, enthusiastic individuals, enriched me in ways that I cannot even begin to count! During one session, a politician from Jammu and Kashmir spoke on how Mother India has always been kind to Kashmir and that while there is no question about all that she has done for her children in Kashmir, he would like the ‘how it is done’ to be even more gentle and patient than it has been, all these years. This statement pushed me onto an emotional roller coaster!
As I was not yet in my teens, the unwanted, unsolicited, irksome behavior towards the female gender that gets incorrectly wrapped as ‘eve-teasing’, was a somewhat foreign concept in that first year of Exodus. Truth be told, Sunny and I have been raised as equals. In fact, Sunny, with his gross exaggeration, might actually have you believe that he’s been the one discriminated against! I can only hope that you remember the earlier posts enough to find his stories unconvincing and laughable! But yes, our parents would make us do all chores without any bias! My expertise in shining shoes, hammering nails into walls or perhaps fixing torn audio cassette tapes - all stem from that equality of gender practiced at home!
One evening, my (visibly upset) elder cousin came home from her afternoon college (set up specially for migrants - the insensitive term used for Kashmiri Pandits after the Exodus) and told Papa about some local guys were passing lewd remarks on her complexion, embarrassing her in front of people. Her plan to escape the predicament consisted of taking alternate route to college. After listening to her, Papa called me and my other cousin for a chat. What happened next actually blew my mind away (if only buzz feed folks knew how much they inspire me)!
Papa told us that we should never be scared of anything, for, we are no less than anyone. All we needed to do is to look for solutions from within! The fact finding, logical Libran in me could, but did not, keep quiet about those boys being taller and stronger than all three of us and the chances of any onlookers coming to our rescue, being next to nil! However, Papa asked us to accompany Didi the next day and take Sunny’s hockey stick along on the pretext of playing and ‘break their bones’ if they as much as whistled at us.
The fact that he trusted us to take care of ourselves and was happy to just help us find our bearing has had a major impact on all of us! Each one of us has turned out to be completely independent and self-empowered and I guess a lot of it has to do with how we were raised in those trying times.
Most of my classmates in M.I.E.R were Dogras. All I knew about their mother tongue Dogri was that the melody queen Lata Mangeshkar had sung a very popular track in the language and since I had never heard of any Kashmiri track sung by her, any mention of Dogri would fill me with envy. Seems silly now, but this is my earliest memory of Dogri - the lesser known cousin of Punjabi!
Before my first year in MIER was over, the Government announced that Kashmiri Pandit children would be eligible for admission into Kendriya Vidyalayas across the country. Unsure of their professional future, my parents thought of putting us into a KV. This, to me, sounded even worse than having to leave everything in Kashmir and living how we did then. To my mind, the mere mention of a ‘Government school’ conjured all sorts of programmed imagery of poor quality education! Compounded with the double whammy of ‘second shift’ for ‘migrant kids’, things seemed worse than the exodus itself!
Years later, my incessant refusal, to leave MIER and join KV, appeared petty and selfish, for, by then I had realized that my parents were simply trying their best to secure our education in the dire financial circumstances that hung precariously in that atmosphere of professional uncertainty.
The first few days of KV were sheer torture as I had to attend school at 1 PM in the scorching Jammu sun, traveling from Sarwal to Gandhi Nagar, in a Matador filled with equally harried kids. School would get over only by late evening. Reaching home before nightfall entailed crossing a narrow alley which was best avoided despite the deeply instilled confidence!
To address this concern, and certain others, which a household of 17 people holed up in three rooms might throw up, Papa decided to move to a rented accommodation closer to our school. Perhaps that is how it got imbibed - the innate ability to adapt and turn any house into a home! The first house that we shifted into was that of one Lt Col Name withheld (not on request but on my own discretion)! The one person worth mentioning in the Episode 1 of our soap opera of Kahani Kiraye Ke Ghar Ki is Karnailni auntie who ruled the roost in that household.
All decisions, right from the collection of rent to the diktat on electricity utilization, to the permission on the use of a huge pedestal fan, were made by her! Since Karnailni auntie had not bothered to put up any fans in the one and a half rooms meant for us Kiraidars, Daddyji had found us a huge tin contraption that resembled a Cooler, was mistaken for an AC by Karnailni auntie and blew lesser air than a Paper fan!
She would keep asking my mum to avoid switching on the AC lest our power supply should snap! Sunny and I would burst into giggles every time she admonished us on the use of the AC which was not even an apology for a fan! The bathroom of that royal accommodation was such that one would not even think of spreading one’s arms for fear of getting stuck! But then, that is the place we called home for almost 2 and a half years!
Today, as I look back, I marvel at that we have come through. I even manage a rueful, nostalgic smile. But the fact is that I would not want such a fate for anyone. Yes, I am not the only one who has been through difficult times in this vast country of ours. Mine is not the only community that has had to face hardships of the financial sort that it did. But the fact also remains that we have not had the succor of going through those difficult times in the comfortable familiarity of our own home, land, culture, customs, and language! The period when my parents could have acquainted me with our rich linguistic, literary legacy or taught me about Sanskrit and Sanskriti, was used in restarting our lives back from scratch. Slipping off Maslow’s pyramid down to the base, in the near blinking of an eyelid, did have repercussions - not knowing Kashmiri language well, being one of the many!
Let me pause here and collect my thoughts to pen down half a decade worth of angst in the next post. Writing about my personal experience of the Seventh Kashmiri Pandit Exodus is an emotional exhaustion I undergo willfully in the hope to heal! With Demonetization dousing the fire of Separatism in the Valley, I end this post with the hope, ‘Next Year in Kashmir’ - Insha Ganesha!