Kashmiriat is dead ! Long live Kashmiriat.
Sound of gun fire was less fearful than the silence. Their eyes were blood shot. Tears had simply dried. They simply waited for the inevitable to happen. A baby was cozying in the lap of her young mother oblivious of her fate and totally immune to happenings outside. A young boy was just looking towards his mother like a bird in the nest waiting for its turn to be fed. A girl, in her teens, was tightly holding her mother’s hand with perplexed expressions as if she was expecting the worst. Each person in the attic was eying each other waiting for the cue not knowing what to do next. The escape, from the onslaught of rouges who were identifying every house of Pandit family in the locality for the militant elements and torching their houses, could have been short lived but for the presence of mind of Gul Nisaar who had brought them to his house and had hidden them in the attic. Smoke was bellowing out not far from their hide out. They heard the steps approaching them. Arzan Nath’s intuitions became skeptical. Watching his distraught daughter-in-law with the baby on her shoulders and the girl trembling, he hugged them tightly trying to insulate them from fear as he had no other option. What if ? He did not want to even imagine as the nightmarish experience of the previous night was enough to rattle his confidence. His son was shot dead yesterday as he had been sympathizing with moderate element of the society and speaking against terrorism which was seeking to establish its foothold in the village. Arzan Nath held himself together with sheer will power and did not allow the breakdown to overpower his senses.
There was constant knocking and then he heard familiar voice of Gul Nisaar.
“Arzan Nathaaaa. Open . Quick. We have to move.” He saw the fear on Gul Nisaar’s face underlining the urgency. Gul brought them down to the backyard ally where a jeep was waiting for them. Rahmaan, Gul’s son was at the driver’s seat. He gestured them to move in quickly. Without hesitation, Arzan Nath ushered everyone into the vehicle. Water welled out of Gul’s eyes as he saw the jeep getting enveloped into darkness. South side of the locality was still burning and so was his heart.
Rahmaan drove the jeep through service lanes avoiding main roads. At every bend, he stopped his vehicle and made sure that the lane was clear. Gun shots shattered the peace intermittently giving creeps to Arzan Nath and his remaining family. After half an hour of absorbing violent jerks they reached main crossing where they found an army truck. Rahmaan stopped near the truck. Truck had already few pundits who seemed to be shocked beyond their imagination. Army Captain enquired routinely from Arzan Nath and asked them to sit in the truck. Fear gave way to some alleviation that could also have been short-lived. Patting Rahmaan, Captain ordered the truck to move. Rahmaan returned now taking the main road. Three days later Arzan Nath with his daughter-in-law and grand children found themselves in the refugee camp in Jammu. Conspirators had struck the first blow to kashmiriat ?
Similarities and differences though always define the relationships between two individuals, two families, two communities, two states, two countries yet a strong bond of friendship always conquers the complexities of situations. To Arzan Nath and Gul Nisaar Kashmir had always been an awakening to nature’s beauty in all its pristine appearance in all seasons. For them simple name ‘Kashmir’ galvanized both to be patriotic towards their land of birth. Kashmir, where tourists thronging house boats at Jheele Dal , at Chaar-chinaar, Nishant-Shalimar, Ganpatyaar, Hazratbal, Kheer-bhawani ,the golf gounds of Gulmarg, Sonamarg among pine, fruit laden trees, saffron fields ,snow laden mountain peaks, valleys and a spirit of once pervading peace among the innocent populace , seemed a never ending dream . Gul Nissar and his family was not a neighbourer to Arzan Nath’s , they were a family within the family as described by the tenets of humanity. They were hopeful that their land, torn asunder by the ravages of time and politics, embroiled in ethnic, political disputes will one day wake up to its reality and their pain and longing of separation will cease to exist.
Camp life soon took its toll. Arzan Nath’s daughter-in-law and the baby could not adjust with the camp life and vagaries of weather. They both succumbed to the alien conditions. Arzan Nath somehow survived to look after his grand daughter and opened a tea stall selling tea at the highway. Time flew like an eagle’s flight. Tea stall owner shifted to one room flat built for all the refuges by the Govt.
Time, if cruel, is kind too. It always tests the limitations of humans but does reward those who pass the test. Refugees were going through those testing times. Slowly but steadily their fighting spirit came to fore which started eliminating their docility, timidity, fearfulness from their traits. They started calling themselves displaced Kashmiri refugees within India i.e. Bharat i.e Hindustan. They took up jobs which they would have never thought of venturing into, had they been in Kashmir. Arzan Nath’s entrepreneurial acumen took everyone by surprise and he soon opened a small restaurant near the highway bus stand.
Arzan Nath was overseeing the arrangements of the restaurant when he saw a familiar face alighting from the bus. He could not believe his eyes. He ran shouting ‘Gula, Gula.’ Gul Nisaar saw him too and ran towards him with open arms. Both held each other tightly. On lookers were first amused to see both in tight embrace and then starting clapping. Eyes were moist. Gul Nisaar could utter only his name repeating, “Arzannatha, Arzannatha” Gul Nisaar had alighted alone from the bus with no belongings. This surprised Arzan Nath. He asked him about Rahmaan and his family. Something snapped inside Gul Nisaar and there was no dam to stop the flow of tears. Pulling himself together, Gul Nisaar informed him that soon after they left Kashmir, his son Rahmaan was tortured and killed for helping Arzan Nath and his family escape. His grand-daughters were forcibly married to militants which made others in his village to tow the line dictated by the militants. Once all ‘Battas’(Hindus/Pundits) were driven out, moderate muslims with moderate and nationalistic thinking were targeted by both the separatists and the militants. They started facing the wrath of hardliners and militants. The narration shocked Arzan Nath. He could not digest that the people of same faith and community could kill one another just to terrorise others shutting them up from raising their voices. Every religion in the world is liberal yet some fanatics and fundamentalists make it look like fundamentalistic.
With the help of Arzan Nath, Gul Nisaar established his own small business. Some of the distant relatives of Gul Nisaar, who were also driven out of the valley for showing their solidarity with their pundit brethren and for their moderate and nationalistic views, also joined soon. The true character of kashmiriat could be found within these refugees, displaced and driven out from their own land and within their own country. What a paradoxical situation! People like Arzan Nath and Gul Nisaar were determined to bring back the same sense of security, same sense of brotherhood and same sense of solidarity no matter whether they were in Kashmir or outside Kashmir as ethos of Kashmir and kashmiriat had found echoes everywhere in the world since centuries. Future was not to be held to ransom by some belligerent elements.
All rights reserved/Tribhawan Kaul
Images curtsy Google.com/Internet
This short-story was first published in :
on 26th July 2017.