Later in the night, amid the helter-skelter of blame games by the police and the politicians, our lack of emotional involvement bothered me. Living in the same city and being unperturbed by something as intense as this is a very uncomfortable feeling. This got me thinking about Kashmir, a land that has been throbbing inside me ever since our visit last year. A perpetually conflict-torn valley that has magically escaped the attention it deserves not only by its own country but also by the whole world. There's Iraq, there's Afghanistan but quite intriguingly, there's no Kashmir (or the Indian-controlled Kashmir, if you must). The gullible Indians, continuously force-fed by the grandeur of Hindi films and the sensationalized media, have never bothered to look beyond the veil of its enchanting beauty. And by Indians, I don't mean I am any different.
This was Kashmir for me before we found ourselves there one fine November afternoon last year. Golden valleys resplendent with almond blossoms in the spring, midnight-blue lakes carpeted with lotuses in the summer, Mughal water gardens bathed in a russet glory in the autumn, the snow-peaked Himalayas glistening in the winter sun, beautiful people beaming with the obvious pride of one's land ... This is how the Kashmir of my mind looked and this is how it had been painted for me since my childhood - through celluloid where the hero would woo his heroine in the backdrop of a sylvan landscape; through my father's tales of his visit to the valley in the late 1970s; and much later, as a constant noise blaring from the telly regarding the Kashmir conflict.But all this changed after that vacation, and it was about time as well, after I bought a copy of Curfewed Night in my desperate quest to unearth the real Kashmir and most importantly, read something that was written by a Kashmiri. Basharat Peer, a Kashmiri journalist-cum-writer, in his simple yet compelling narration, tells many crushing tales of the terrible beauty that this once legendary paradise has morphed into. In this haunting memoir, we come across the unfortunate people who have been treated as mere pawns by both the army and the militants. Peer, through a poignant portrait of this terrible situation, takes us to these people and the devastating truth they live with everyday.
I am never too comfortable discussing politics or its related aspects. I find it too vapid and meaningless. But today I've tried to dance on its promiscuous frills. I have tried to understand the fathomless pit of misery that Kashmiris have been pushed into since the last two decades. I have tried to feel the endless threat of living under terror and uncertainty, and of being trapped in never-ending curfews. For the scores of unfortunate Pandits who flew the valley in flocks, abandoning their paradise overnight, I have tried to understand that numb feeling that settles in when you don't know where you belong to, when the word 'home' is just a large, gaping wound that will perhaps never heal.
After receiving this much needed education, I went back to our vacation in Kashmir. I tried not to look at the photographs and my ramblings as a tourist, and all I could gather was this nugget of emotion from our daily conversations with our very amicable cottage owner in Srinagar - "How do I get the last fifteen years of my life back?"