From the ruins of Sun Temple, Bajee drives us to Wani uncle’s place. He is an ex-colleague and a very close friend of Bajee. We stop over his place for a late lunch. Like Hamid uncle, Wani uncle too is very welcoming. Everyone starts chatting̱ up in Kashmiri and I sit there observing. The feeling of love and respect really overshadows all the negativity which has ever been there around the valley. The playful stories of their past, the urge of Kashmiri Pandits to relocate in Kashmir, trying to convince Bajee to move back to Kashmir makes my head go for a spin.
Now is the time to revisit the memories. Wani uncle accompanies us. We start with John Bishop Memorial Mission Hospital where Rinku Didi, Arun’s sister, and Arun were born. Initially Arun was not interested to visit the hospital but as we enter the premises, he gets more excited while Bajee becomes nostalgic. He goes inside to meet the manager and then visits the ward where Arun was kept. Coincidentally Rinku Didi and Arun shared the same hospital and the same ward.
From there we start for Nagbal which used to be the school where Rinku Didi, Raju Bhaiya (Arun’s brother), and Arun went. Inside the premises there is a spring, in front of which an idol of Anant god is installed; hence the name Anatnag! In the same premise Boytoth’s (Arun’s grandfather) kuthiya is situated where he used to perform yagnas. When we visit, the kuthiya is not there. Only shambles.
Bajee is feeling the pinch and it is evident from his expressions. The old Nagbal School too is no longer there. The new school building is now under Indian Army. The condition of the building is equally debauched. Arun is somehow trying̱ to give me a picture of how it all used to look like and I can sense the disappointment. The only thing that still exists is the Ram Mandir. The temple has silver coins ingrained on the floor. I am told that Bajee & his friends, when they were kids, would try to dig out those coins.
Wani uncle tells us how they used to come from the top of the hill and try to throw stones in the spring. There are four springs in Nagbal out of which two are sulphur springs. The school children used to swim in the spring after school. Arun shows me the place where all the kids would bathe and they used to feel that the spring was too deep whereas it was not. It was the kids who were small. Sulphur springs are good for people with skin problems. And then there is a small man-made room for the ladies to bathe, where the water from the springs came directly.
People have littered all over the place in Nagbal. Even the temple premise is dirty. A committee has been set to take care of Nagbal. Bajee is saddened to see the sight.
We come out to visit the Goja Mohalla, the lane where Goja’s used to stay, while Wani uncle leaves for his prayers from there. Bajee stops the car and starts walking towards a dumping ground. When we are in the middle of the ground, Bajee stops and says, “This was our home!” Nothing is left here except for the land, which is now a waste-land. I don’t know what to say.
Dumbstruck I just keep looking all around. This too is Kashmir! The ugly side where humanity seized to exist. Bajee goes on describing what used to be his home once, where he grew up. It was a beautiful, lively four storey building. The house was burnt by the militants after they left. He tells us how militants would come at night and eradicate families mercilessly. He shows me the house where Taithi, Arun’s aunt, used to stay.
I want to see the seven storeyed Jad house, Arun’s maternal uncle’s place, but we are late. It is dark now and we have to reach Nagdandi as soon as possible due to security reasons. With a heavy heart and disturbing thoughts, we leave for Nagdandi ashram, the place we are scheduled to put up for the night. Nagdandi ashram is maintained by our relatives.
The ashram (illustrated in cover image) was founded by Swami Ashokanand. Bajee and all his siblings used to visit and spend lot of time there as kids. For him it is like his second home. When we reach there it is already dark and there is no power. While we sit for a while and freshen up, the power comes and we go for dinner. After dinner there is not much to do as people sleep early here; we too follow the decorum and hit the bed.