[This is an article which I had written in Sept 2014 during Kashmir floods]
Kashmir – The first thing that enters your mind is the scenic beauty. My romance with Kashmir started in the year 2007 when I happened to join my husband for a short duration.
I landed at the Srinagar airport but was stuck for a week of paid holiday due to a strike commemorating the Independence day celebration.
We started for our destination after a week of forced relaxation. And what a journey it was, in the dead of the night with my baby girl asleep in my arms. All the suspense and the fear of the unknown!
The early morning rays brought some sunshine into our journey and at last we reached our location. I enjoyed the beauty of the countryside, the peace, the greenery and the blooming flowers, the chirping of birds, long walks and simply absorbing the silence of the place which was very soothing and comforting and also spending quality time with my husband and child.
My romance with Kashmir had begun. I had just had the glimpse of the serenity of the paradise.
We moved to a new place in due course of time which was yet another beautiful place surrounded by snow capped mountains and metallic winged birds – a silent reminder of the hardships and the mishaps in the pristine valley.
The was another chance for me to romance the valley. Carpets, embroidered clothes, chinar jewellery, carved furniture, dry fruits etc were all there. I too had my weak moments of splurging but there was something more which fascinated me more. The life of the people there was more intriguing.
Due to security reasons, my movements outside the garrison were always restricted to the monthly grocery shopping at the Badami Bagh Cantonment, having biryani at ‘Hat Trick’ and other delicacies at ‘Shalimar’, while enjoying the view of the shikaras on the Dal Lake. The blast from the car heater also contributed to restricting my visits as it gave me a terrible headache at the end of the day.
By virtue of being married to the Olive Green, I had heard about the turbulence in the Valley. You could say even I was apprehensive about what to expect and I too had my trust issues.
The only thing I had promised myself was to go with an open and patient mind and for my own opinion of things. We had a help named, Altaf, who used to work at our home. He was a man of his own whims and fancies which really got you on the edge sometimes. However, as per my promise to myself, I kept my cool and slowly managed to chalk out a working relationship which suited us.
There was a time during my stay when due to heavy rains and faulty sewerage, my ad hoc accommodation got flooded with dirty water. I was at the end of my patience when on ringing up my husband to inform him of the situation, he coolly informed me (he was busy at his desk and couldn’t manage to come to see what was happening back at home) that he would pass on the information to the required department to handle it. The concerned people did come and very calmly told me that there was nothing that they could do then. They would have to wait for the rain to stop. Nobody even offered to help me remove the heavy floor matting or other objects so that the sewage water wouldn’t touch them.
I was at my wits end when Altaf arrived for work. And lo! He was the one who helped salvage things. Things started moving faster after I had a good talk with my better half about his duty towards me (which comes number 3 in his list of priorities now. ref to The Chetwode motto).
All in all, I received help from that quarter where I had least expected it. Maybe I had done something right after all, for everyone had warned me about Altaf being good for nothing.
‘’Altaf, I do not know where you are and how you are surviving the disaster that has consumed Jammu and Kashmir now but I do pray that you and your family are safe.’’
During my stay, I also got an opportunity to teach at an army run school where I got to interact with children, other local teachers, aayahs. They say knowledge is golden but at the same time, being a frog in the well does not help everyone to know about the world outside or how to build yourself to dream and then fight to get out of that situation and emerge victorious. I was teaching students from standard 2 to standard 10. And Oh, what a lovely experience it was! The only thing I felt they all needed, was a little bit of magic in their lives – the belief that they too could make it big in this beautiful world, and that there is a life beyond what they were experiencing right then.
In what little I could contribute, I used to read them short stories (based on real life) during their free periods so that they could understand the journey between their thoughts for their future and their present situation and how they could try to work towards it. It was my way of encouraging them and giving them hope. The signs of acceptance and endearment, which I received there, were my rewards which I will cherish lifelong. They are one of my best memories from J&K.
‘’Its been seven years since then….you all must have grown up. I still remember you all and sincerely pray that you are safe and sound. More that what I could give you with all my sincerity, I think I was lucky to have gained a little more insight into life and its wonders. Stay blessed always!!’’
Teachers – Rabia, Mudassar, Azmat and others and aayahs – shaheen and Nazia , prayers for all of you. Stay safe.
Not all my experiences were good though. I had the experience of being at the other end of stone throwers, driving through tyres burnt on the road and things trashed, being stuck in a guest room for 5 days in a row just 1 km away from home and then leaving for our home in the dead of the night to avoid turbulence.
One of my good friends had told me that driving down the main road in Srinagar and near the Dal lake in the night under the starry sky was very beautiful. But the only beauty I experienced was driving down the road in in the dead of the night in our own car, as a part of an Army convoy for protection, with soldiers patrolling the road to reach my home. It was an eerie feeling after having experienced it a second time and having seen violence. The memory of my side of the door of our civil transport vehicle being yanked open, with my 2 yr old daughter in my arm and my husband in front, by a crowd of people for no apparent reason and inspecting things is still fresh in my mind.
Maybe I will never be able to remove the fear, now settled unknowingly in my heart, when I see a crowd gathered on the road or of young children bending on the road in an attempt to pick up a stone to hit your car needlessly. However, the optimist that I am, I still dream of the day when I will be able to take a ride down the Srinagar’s countryside with stars smiling down on me with the snow capped mountains adding an ethereal glow to the night.
– Deedhiti Mudliar