“We are leaving in next 2 hours for Jammu”, BobJi announced almost panting.
“We are not going anywhere, and where will we go?” I could see a silent tear in the eyes of my father while he protested with a feeble voice.
“Are you crazy ? Don’t you realise, everything is burning outside. Every day Pandit`s are being Raped, murdered and kidnapped. All our relatives and friends have already left.”
“No, I don’t have anywhere to go. Do me a favour, take my daughter along with you. Let her stay with Anu (my aunt) for couple of months in Jammu”.
“Why Don’t you realize, the announcements made on loud speakers clearly want Pandit`s to be thrown out of Kashmir ? Could you not see that last night? ”
These words and memories still send a chill down my spine.
Bobji was my father`s brother-in-law, married to his eldest sister and they lived just a kilometer away from our home. He was the eldest member in the first circle of our close relatives after my Grandparents left for the heavenly abode.
I being 11 years old at that time, travel meant excitement. This was the first time I would be travelling out of Kashmir into a different world. I had heard lots of stories about Banihal tunnel and associated places like Khooni Nala which connects Kashmir to the rest of the country. I was looking forward to see trains, which I had never seen in real, only read about in books and seen in TV.
But the restlessness, the pain, the anguish, the surrendered look in my father’s eyes, who otherwise would always be in command, made me realize that the journey ahead will be tougher. Just few hours before, local people (except Kashmiri Pandits) in thousands marched through the streets and lanes in Srinagar shouting “Naarai Taqbeer. Indian Dogs go back! Merge with us or we will remove your existence”. This procession and shouting continued almost for the whole night.
We had a big 5 storied house for a family of four in Srinagar. My mother would hold me and my sister tightly as randomly someone in the procession would bang our door. Those moments made us sweat with fear even though we were in Srinagar in the peak winter of January.
Early in the morning my father tried to take the opinion of Bilal Mohammad Saab and his wife, after the streets of Srinagar witnessed hatred all through the previous night. We approached them with the hope that we had some good friends to support us. But we were shocked with the nonchalance with which we were received! There was absolutely no concern, either in their expressions or words. This broke not only the confidence of my parents, but also their hearts.
What puzzled us was that we and our friends had lived through the thick and thin of life together. I remember how we used to celebrate our festivals together; how my father used to guide their children with studies and also provided free tuitions. I also remember few years before this episode, during those days of limited options in communication, Bilal Mohammad saab did not return till late one evening and my father left home late in the night in peak winter to find him at all the locations suggested by his wife, Raaje. She at that moment relied no-one, but us.
I equally remember the love both of them used to shower on me and my sister. I remember the sweaters and gloves she had hand-woven for both of us.
We were bewildered beyond belief! Somewhere I have still not come to terms on what exactly shook the foundation of our strong relationship! Was our bond so weak, that a couple of announcements on loud speakers and few printed pamphlets could break it? Or was the relationship an arrangement of convenience based on plain give-and-take? This question has haunted me, time and again. And will probably continue to haunt in days to come.
I very clearly recall the day of our migration or the Good Bye day in the valley. After Bobji convinced my dad to move, we left our home around noon. We had just couple of small bags with us. We did not want to be centre of attention in our journey as the words doing rounds those days were, “If Pandits are found moving with luggage, it means they are fleeing and it also means they will be carrying gold!” We were too scared to risk our lives by carrying some extra stuff other than just our cloths for next 2 days. After staying for the night at a relatives place, which was at a safer location, we started together with our relatives and BobJi`s family, early next morning for Jammu.
For a kid, it was the most stressful journey of my life. Once we crossed Banihal Tunnel, I could see that every member has heaved a sigh of relief. My mom hugged and kissed me as if to reassure herself that we were ALIVE ! Once we reached Jammu, I could see some smiling faces on roads and at the railway station. All of a sudden the world looked completely different and surprisingly a good place to live.
The 12 months before we moved, had been extremely painful and stressful. During that time I probably missed my classes 80% of the time, as either it was a Curfew day or some organisation would put a notice threatening to blow the school with a bomb if classes were conducted. I also happened to witness gun cross firings, shooting and stone pelting. During that time it was almost impossible to go on the roof or the top floor of our house as the eyes would hurt bad with tear gas. We would hear a minimum of 10 bullet shot sounds in a day and this number would go up on the Friday afternoons.
It`s been 26 long years since we migrated and the world has changed. After a long and painful struggle for years and after leaving all the belongings there, our family with my father in command, put the life back on track. I must have lived in more than 10 houses or flats after our migration, but I still dream of our home in Srinagar; I find myself there. I still continue to call it my Home for some strange reason.
After the birth of my children few years back, we visited Srinagar to offer our prayers to Sharika Maa at Hari Parvat. She is our Kuldevi. During the last trip, we had to face barrage of stones near Tulmul where the famous Temple of Maa Kheerbhawani is located. Thankfully none of us were seriously hurt, in spite of the fact that couple of glass panes of our SUV got smashed.
In Kashmir, the land of Saints and Sashwat Brahmins, Kashmiri Pandits have gone through 7 stages of exodus since 14th Century by Syyid Mir Ali Hamdani. The folklore goes that few centuries ago after the mass killings and after drowning lakhs of Pandits in Dal Lake by Malik Saifudin and Sikandar, 280 Kilograms of sacred thread (white thread worn by Brahmins in the neck also called as Janaeu or Poitaey or upnaynam) were burnt. Our generation has been fortunate, brave and resilient enough to survive this.
Even though today I am a migrant in my own country, I still have confidence and hope that we shall emerge as winners, even if the world remains silent.