Basharat Peer, now of Curfewed Nights fame, but then a young reporter at Rediff, covered the gruesome Nadimarg massacre of Kashmiri Pandits in South Kashmir. He titled his piece This did not happen in my Kashmir – the date was Mar 24, 2003, and I was in S.Korea, working for a semiconductor lab as a researcher. The previous decade and more had been very hard. The journey – from Srinagar in 1990 as a Kashmir Hindu migrant at penury to Suwon, S.Korea in 2003 as a researcher in one of world’s leading research labs – had been psychologically traumatic and physically draining. But it was a trauma hidden and not shared. How could you walk with your wounds on the sleeve around your friends and acquaintances. They saw you working hard to solve a technical problem and debug code. Working so hard to somehow buy a place which you can call home. Opening my wounds was too demanding. I was gauche.
But Basharat’s piece triggered the pain in my festered wound. I was angry. Really angry. I wondered why there was no voice of the Kashmiri Hindus – there should have been screams. Gujarat riots had happened recently, and I was seeing a sea of narratives in the public domain. It hurt that Rediff sent a Kashmiri Muslim to cover the massacre. But what hurt most was that the piece sounded false. It was unlike anything I experienced in my life in Kashmir. I did not necessarily doubt Basharat’s intentions and loyalties – I just understood, that he like many others around me, had started giving life to his fantasies in the face of an ugly, all-imposing reality.
So I wept and I wept and I wrote my response to Basharat’s piece while my office mates were around me thinking whatever happened to their jovial hard at work colleague. Here is what I wrote on Mar 25, 2003:
This did happen in my Kashmir, many many times over
Nice sentimental article, befitting our emotions at times like this. I confess, I had tears in my eyes too, and wondered if your and my feelings are so isomorphic (I am a displaced Kashmiri Pandit), why is there so much voilence and misery for our ilk!!
But the sentimental hue washes away, when I reflect back on my own sense of truth and experience. As an example, was it not the same Anantnag, your home district, where there were massive riots against Pandits in 1986, many of their houses and temples burned and destroyed. Infact there was a mini-Pandit migration at that time too. In my living memory, there are too many anti-India-which-translated-into-anti-hindu incidents actuated by Kashmiri Muslim miscreants in the last 30 years. And almost all of those feelings stemmed from intense religious hate. It is just that while earlier those feelings resulted in a wrecked Matador (mini-bus) or a burned house, they are now amplified into killings.
The reason, my friend, is that those maniacs who you mention in your article, have (or had in early 1990’s) a lot of silent/overt support from the Kashmiri Muslim masses for one and one reason alone – they promised Nizam-i-Mustafa: the holy dream of pure Islam, defined only in negation of India and Hindu. And your being a muslim – is the only reason, that while you can work in the Hindu Delhi, and applaud Naipaul’s criticism of Islamic societies, you can still pack a few shirts and jeans and amble back to Kashmir. Whereas, I, a Kashmiri Pandit- although not very religious, and who has a healthy respect and knowledge of Islamic history, am not welcome and will be shot at.
Our history is ripe with many many such horrors, and even on a grander scale – from the maurauding Afghans to Sikandar But-Shikan, there have been countless Hindu Killings and Migrations from Kashmir – to ignore that wound is a generalization of sentimentality
Why am I writing this today, more than another decade later!! Last Sunday (Sep 25, 2014) I visited Bangalore Literature Festival just to hang out and meet some friends who were visiting. I did not know the program listing, and vaguely remembered that Girish Karnad was supposed to be speaking on his life. I’ve been a big fan of his early work – especially Tughlaq, which had an almost spiritual impact on me during my loneliness in Europe (let’s leave that for another time). Imagine my surprise when I heard Kashmiri poetry being recited as I was loitering around. I followed the voice and that is how I met Nisar Azam, and eventually through him Sameer Arshad, Sunayna Kachroo and a whole lot of other Kashmiris. They told me about a panel discussion on Kashmir in the evening and asked me to participate. So I stayed and chatted with this group.
What happened at the panel discussion on Kashmir made me very sad. There were a lot of well meaning (hopefully) folks who reminded me of the character Jane in Naipaul’s novel Guerrillas – with a deeply flawed sense of reality, and wanting to contribute, with a naive mixture of adventure and piety and moral correctness, and imposing their fantasies. The panel was full of traded cliches and how we can make everything work in future – as it has been in the past.
I was sad but not crushed this time – I’ve long lost the belief that real world conflicts can be solved by talk and discussion or even scholarship. However, in some crevice of my mind, I got reminded of Basharat’s post and my response. I’d forgotten the actual lines I wrote, but I was intensely reminded of my sense of hopelessness and despair then.
So I Googled. And as Linus Trovalds said somewhere “Only wimps use tape backup: real men just upload their important stuff on ftp, and let the rest of the world mirror it ” I found my written words of 2003 and there began a revisit to an old memory. Past leaking into present. But this time there were no tears.