“Aur sab khairiyat (All well)?” Wasif asked. “How’s baaji, bhai, uncle…?” Wasif asked all his acquaintances the well-being of their loved ones in detail.
Few of his friends light-heartedly made fun of this habit. They didn’t realise that if you’ve lived in Kashmir at the peak of unrest, often unsure whether you or your relatives would return back home at the end of the day, then the ‘khairiyat’ (well-being) of people-who-matter is of primary concern, much more than any other dream that a teenager usually nurtures.
Wasif’s father was a scientist who worked at Kashmir University. He was from Uttar Pradesh while Wasif’s mom was from Kashmir. Rizvi sahab didn’t find acceptance from the local Kashmiri’s while Shaukat bi’ had been ostracized since she married an ‘outsider’. Rizvi sahab had several research scholars working under him. They were Muslims as well as Kashmiri Pandits. Rizvi sahab’s mind was as open and logic bound as his profession. He didn’t discriminate, and dealt with his students on the basis of merit.
Strange things happened that sent shock waves through the family. Veiled threats were issued to Rizvi sahab for ‘patronising’ his Kashmiri Pandit students. He would get followed by unkempt looking young men. The daily route from home to University was under surveillance. Those were the days during early nineties, perhaps the worst phase in the history of Kashmir post insurgency and military crackdown. The Rizvi family decided to shift base to a small town in Uttar Pradesh. They wanted good education for children and a laid back boring life that was immensely welcome after the catastrophic times the family had witnessed.
Soon Wasif made some friends. The best time of his life had just begun. Badminton, cricket, terrace birthday parties, loitering around with friends and then falling in love. It was one-sided. Wasif eventually realised that he had been unceremoniously dumped. The landlord’s daughter was full of merry smiles; it was easy for a teenager to settle for such pleasant attention.
Yet, nothing kept him down. He was always happy. The only vestiges of his past that he still seemed to carry was the Kashmiri language he spoke with his mom. He rarely discussed with friends, anything about his life in Kashmir. No one pestered either. It was an era of limited information; not everyone knew what the exact situation in Kashmir was.
No one still knows the real issue that is afflicting Kashmir even today. It is such a complicated situation that you just can’t reach a conclusion as to who’s wrong and who’s right. There’s no plausible solution. Stalemate continues.
A soldier from Manipur was willing to give up his life in Kashmir because he was doing his job. The money he earned from killing people or getting killed, fed his family. He was equally hurt at the hatred that the Kashmiri’s had towards him. Having chanced upon him in a long distance train, Wasif heard him out with some kind of disdain. The soldier’s words evoked within him neither sadness, nor hope. “Local Kashmiris have way too many grievances. In fact many are so distraught that they’ve lost their mental balance. The rate of mental illness in Kashmir is very high, especially amongst women, who’ve lost their husbands, sons or brothers.” He heard someone saying in response to the Manipuri boy’s laments.
Few years later Wasif shifted to Delhi with family. Years passed by. He got higher education, a good job, then marriage and kids. He lost touch with his old friends. Gradually he became less conscious of being a half Kashmiri. The place of pride with which he once held the great heritage and phenomenal beauty of Kashmir was slowly becoming inert.
But somewhere perhaps, the fear of losing his dear ones still breathed in his subconscious.
Fifteen years after leaving school, Wasif had an opportunity to meet some of his old friends from the small town. He enquired about their family members with zest. In detail. Multiple courses of delicious food were interspersed with wonderful conversation ranging from naughty jokes to politics. They had animated discussions on how Hitler was a good administrator but was also a self-obsessed maniac! Plans were being drawn to make a joint trip to some exotic location to rediscover the golden times that only good friends could bring back. Several locations, even countries were debated. Kashmir came up as a part of the discussion too; especially the interiors of Kashmir… places like Pahalgam, Sonmarg and others. Almost everyone loved the idea.
Only Wasif sat resigned. He was visibly not interested. He opposed vehemently.
“I have too many memories that wouldn’t allow me to go back.” He said.
“Kashmir is paradise bro, even Switzerland can’t remotely come close to the beauty.” A friend reasoned.
“I’ve seen the heaven rot in hell. The people are confused, they don’t know what they really want. Everyone wants to have a piece of Kashmir but no one wants to genuinely do anything for Kashmir. I’m done with it. I can never go back. Even for pleasure,” Wasif said conclusively.
Tears flowed. A vibrant reunion was soaked in despondency.
Not all stories have a happy ending. Some stories are just incomplete. Like Wasif’s was. He couldn’t let go of Kashmir; neither could he hold it back.
Perhaps that’s the story of many others who left the valley or have still managed to cling on!