After so many years,23 years to be precise, I touched the land of my Birth- Kashmir with a bit of excitement and some trepidation .My Brother’s Facebook Friend Shahid was waiting for me at the Airport to receive me. He had made it unequivocally clear that I have to stay with him at his house in Nagin area .He and his family greeted me with open arms, though It was the first time they had ever met me. They made me feel so comfortable, I felt I was at home.
Next Day, My Father’s Friend Mr Sheikh greeted me with open arms at his residence at Khanyar. Mr. Khan’s son was killed in a Gun-battle with the Indian forces and is revered by all in his locality for his Son’s “Sacrifice”. I was in touch with him through phone for many months now and he had promised to accompany me to my former residence at Rainawari as well as Ganderbal.
Yesterday, As I visited Rainawari,I could not believe it is the same place that I and my family left 23 years ago .Though the lanes and sub-lanes are the same, yet something is amiss. The lanes and sub-lanes have been encroached by some people living there. My Father’s friend told me that many low-income people had purchased houses of Kashmiri Pandits in the Nineties and many affluent Muslim families migrated to the plush localities of Srinagar
As I was approaching my house in Kralyar, Rainawari,I got lost in the thoughts of my childhood and the memories flashed in front of my eyes. It was as if yesterday, I left this place amidst violence, But the depilated erstwhile Kashmiri Pandits houses quickly pulled me into the present reality. I recalled my neighbors who lived there. How could I forget Jallas, Bhandaris, Duranis, vakils and jallalis!!!
I stood for a while , looking at those houses and the members of those houses, for a while, seemed to come alive. My childhood came to life again ,After all ,it was in these lanes and by-lanes ,I had played games like chupan-chupayee(i-spy) and cricket .
I was shocked when I saw my ancestral home, It was in shambles but so was I.
Somehow, I reposed myself and entered my home. There was another surprise waiting for me. As I opened the door, a voice interrupted me ”who are you”? I looked around and saw an elderly man, I said, ”This is my home and I had come for a visit, who are you?” I could see his face had turned pale, but he feigned a bold reply, ”No! This is my Home. I can even show the papers of this house.”I maintained my calm , gave him a smile and said ”I have come to sell this property”. Before he could say anything, my fathers friend intervened and said to him,” He has not come to disturb you, he will have a look at this house and leave”. The occupant of my home agreed half-heartedly.
I knew this is a very common problem, which Kashmiri Pandits are facing in Kashmir. I recalled when I had met a senior politician of Kashmir, I was told that the people who oppose most, the return of Kashmiri Pandits into the valley ,are those who have illegally occupied their properties. Even my friend Sunil is also fighting a case in Kashmir as his property has also been occupied illegally.
I have made my mind to sell the house in Kashmir. I have changed in the last 23 years ,but so has my house in Kashmir. It is not the same place which I had left 23 years back. If my neighbors had been living there, like in the past, I would not have thought even for a second to come back and live there. The neighborhood temple Whom we called Bod-Mandir has also changed, no longer the temple bells remind the people in Rainawari, of the existence of Bhairava .Had I heard even one ringing of the temple bell, I would have stayed without a second thought, but that is not the case.
Will I be interested in coming back to Kashmir? My answers is “yes” I will, when my neighbors will be filled with that much love, which they showered me pre 1990.I will come that day when I will have freedom of choosing and practicing my religion without getting hounded again. Until then, I will choose to live separated from by beloved Homeland.
Yesterday, I had also visited Hari-Parbat and Vizarnaag. Though Hari-Parbhat is maintained to some extent, Vizaarnag is in a very bad state. It has turned into a archeological monument surrounded by marshy land. A virtual quagmire both physically and literally.
Overall, I am enjoying my stay in Kashmir, I will stay in Kashmir for some more days and hopefully untangle many knots both physically and emotionally…..