Every other day, Kashmir is making headlines, and that too, mostly for all the wrong reasons. The dreadful has taken over the paradisiacal facet of this heavenly beauty. Whenever any unpleasant news is heard, my heart feels like sinking…sweeping me away through the time machine…to an epoch, of which, I still have some salubrious reminiscence to share…My Kashmir Visits…Not once, but twice…
The Mughal emperor Jahangir, while living in a houseboat on Dal Lake, once said that if paradise is anywhere on the earth, it is here. “Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast.” If there is ever a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.
I was probably 7-8 years old then, and had heard many fascinating stories about the ‘heavenly Beauty’ of Kashmir a number of times from my parents. They used to describe their own experiences during their visit to the place. Whenever, they recounted and narrated their story, I used to envy my sibling as to why God chose him first to be with our parents and enjoy the ‘paradise on earth’ before me!! Had I been the first one, I would have got the opportunity to visit this nature’s paradise with them, and that too, before him!! So, the more I saw our ‘family picture album’, the more I grudged about my absence in their lives at the time of their Kashmir visit. Children’s imaginations and fantasies are beyond control. They have their own dream worlds. I too had built a dream territory of my own choice and, of my own terms and conditions. I used to imagine myself in place of my sibling in those pictures, and prayed to God for giving me at least one chance to visit the place. So, when my father got transferred to Kashmir even for a very short term, it was like a dream come true for me.
So, around mid 80s, we got an opportunity to actually shift to and ‘live’ in Kashmir. I never knew that ‘that delightful experience’ was going to leave an unfading and an undying remarkable signature in my heart. It was not only about the serenity, the spectacular paradisiacal beauty of the region, but also the warmth, care and affection of those innocent and simple local residents, to whom I am still grateful for letting me absorb, feel and taste ‘actual’ Kashmir. I remember, there lived a very old couple in my neighbourhood. They used to call me to their place, serve me with an unmatched till date, local’Kahwa’ along with a typical bread, and then used to ask me fondly in their native language, “Sena Vena Paako’ which roughly means “what your mother has cooked at home today?” It was a daily routine for me to visit their place, till we shifted to some other locality in Srinagar. I was a quick learner, and copied others. Hence, very soon, I started learning Urdu from them, even imitated them while they offered their ‘Namaaz’. I still remember how I used to repeat ‘Alif’, ‘Be’, ‘Pe’, ‘Te’…’Jim’ at home and used to start offering my prayers as soon as there was a ‘Call’, ‘Allahu Akbar’ from a nearby mosque!! There used to be a ‘Hanuman Temple’ at ‘Lal Chowk’ where my father used to take me almost every Tuesday. There was a big metal bell in the entrance of the temple, which, while entering, I always used to ring with my father’s help. I remember how I copied ‘Panditji’ too, with the best of my abilities, while chanting ‘Hanuman Chalisa’, and, after the prayers, how fondly he used to bless me and fill my hands with some extra ’Boondi Ka Prasad’ in return.
Oh! how can I forget that elderly fruit vendor, who used to ‘gift’ me the best apple of his shop whenever I visited fruits and vegetables market with my mother, and, every time when offered to be paid for that apple, how he would complain and felt offended. I have never ever eaten such delicious apples after that. And yes, there used to be a huge Banyan tree standing there with a vastly divided trunk, spread across both sides of the road, under which all the vehicles used to pass through. It was an amazing and a mesmerizing sight to see vehicles passing under a hugely curved tree-trunk. The list is endless!! I remember, whenever we used to ply on a bus to visit “Shalimar Bagh” or “Chashmeshahi” or any other place, I used to get attracted to a few typical words and the style of using those words as a direction from the bus-conductor to the bus-driver, ‘Baatsaaye”, “Lotsaaye”, “Niharsaaye”. I don’t remember the meanings of these words, but, perhaps due to the innocence and sincerity with which those words were pronounced, I still remember those too. I will never forget these instances which have left me with the everlasting impression and an image of those loving ‘Kashmiris’ for whom I still feel myself indebted and, therefore, wish to go back to them repeatedly and offer my thanksgivings to them for letting me soak in the natural and actual Kashmir.
That was an unforgettable experience. I always wanted to relive those moments, meet those people all over again, who had influenced me in some or the other way, and moreover, I wanted my family to see, feel and experience everything the way, I had experienced in my childhood. So, to live through those cheerful moments, I took my family to Kashmir last year. We visited all those places where I went to in my childhood, be it the panoramic aura of the snow laden hills or the lush green grasslands and landscapes, I revisited all. But, despite visiting each and every place, almost everywhere, there kept something missing, like a void, a vacuum!! There was a constant sense of a doubt, distrust and a suspicion in the environment. It was difficult to even get close to the inhabitants. My longing to relive my childhood remained unfulfilled. I could not understand the reason then!!
But now, as I look back and analyse both of my visits to the most beautiful and an amazing place on earth, I understand what I missed on my second visit!! The ‘missings’ are actually a matter of worry. Among the two major worries, first, I found a lack of an environmental care. There were patches of dirt and garbage scattered, including plastic and polythene, which can prove to be disastrous not only for the beauty and serenity, but also for the ecological order of the place. The other issue is a major concern because it has affected the base, the root, the ‘in’side part of Kashmir badly. And, that is, the ongoing ‘Line of Control’ and ‘Terrorism’ issues!! These issues have put an immensely bad effect on the mindset of the local people. Even a small child is careful with the choice of words. There is a constant sense of doubt and fear which prohibits a visitor to even try to get close to the local residents.
Oh how I wish all these problems get solved in no time!! How I wish to get back to that paradise once again, relive all those instances, meet all those who, in some or the other way, have affected me!! I want my family to experience all those moments!! Because Kashmir still remains the best, the most beautiful place in the world, at least for me, till my last breath!!
It really is a matter of great worry that a place which used to be no less than a heaven on earth, has actually become a warzone. But, there is a hope that the ‘falling metaphors’ will be regulated soon and, ‘My Kashmir’ will rise to its best Metaphor all over again….
“In India, we read about death, sickness, terrorism and crime…for great men, religion is a way of making friends; small people make religion a fighting tool…… War is never a lasting solution to any problem. We will be remembered only if we give to our younger generation a prosperous and safe India, resulting out of economic prosperity coupled with civilizational heritage.”- APJ Abdul Kalam