Foreword by Eminent Author, Content Strategist, Social & Political Commentator; Spokesperson, Mumbai BJP
Growing up in Jamshedpur, our preferred holiday destinations belonged to the eastern parts of the country- Darjeeling and Sikkim as hill stations, Puri and Digha for their beaches and Baidynathdham as a pilgrim destination, to name a few. Very few were lucky to travel to faraway Kashmir and ones who did were looked at with envy.
Kashmir indeed was seen as the utopian land of fantasy, the India’s very own Switzerland. Of course, Hindi movies had an important role to play in making Kashmir seem more ethereal than say a Himachal. Whether it was Shashi Kapoor singing “Pardesiyon se na Akhiyaan Milana…” in Jab Jab Phool Khile on the Dal lake Or Shammi Kapoor romancing Sharmila Tagore with “Yeh chand sa raushan chehra” in Kashmir ki Kali, the whole idea of romancing your real life partner in Kashmir carried an unmatched vicarious charm.
In college when I once had a crush on a Kashmiri girl, I realized that the attraction wasn’t merely for the individual. Subconsciously perhaps it was for the whole gamut of small, small beautiful things which Kashmir and her people represented through the Hindi movies.
I finally visited Kashmir in May 2015, along with my family. In a week’s stay we covered Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg, besides spending a night in a houseboat on Nagin Lake. Though that was one of the relatively peaceful phases in recent years, one could sense that the calm was temporary. And so it turned out!
The moments spent by the river Lidder in Pahalgam or in the heavenly Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa in Gulmarg, are among the most blissful holiday moments of my life. On this trip, I instantly developed a penchant for the kahwa and still look for opportunities to savour this beverage wherever I can. Every bit of Kashmir manifests Amir Khusrao’s couplet- Agar Firdaus bar rōy-e zamin ast, hamin ast-o hamin ast-o hamin ast. (If there’s a paradise on earth, its here, its here, its here.
When I think of Kashmir sitting 2000 km away, there are two things which instantly dot my mind: one is natural beauty of the place. The other is the unending suffering of the land. It’s indeed sad and ironical that both of them are intertwined to the land’s destiny.
As an author and now a politician, Kashmir has been there in my thoughts and my writing. The sheer Islamic radicalization of the valley known for Sufis, saints and shrines, is perhaps the most disturbing chapter in history. It is obnoxious for a land known for its rivers and mountains, to unnaturally shut itself out from the free flow of ideas and go back in time. The worst sufferers are of course the poor inhabitants and suffering, mind you, transgresses religion.
On the one hand, the Kashmiri Pandit families are yet to overcome the scars caused by their forced exodus from the valley. On the other, those living in the valley continue to suffer due to death of humanity. Is their any solution in sight or is the valley irreversibly doomed?
I have been asked specifically to refrain from giving a political angle to the Kashmir crisis and hence despite temptation, I would stick to non-political ideas.
First and foremost, the whole idea of Kashmiri Pandits returning to the valley is a bit flimsy and I can’t see that happening in the near future. The reason is simple: present day settlements are employment driven. Are we prepared to create the right job opportunities for a largely well-educated Kashmiri Pandit community before expecting them to return to the valley? The present law and order situation is anyway not conducive.
A more viable idea for now would be to pump in investments into Jammu, give it the best infrastructure push and create large scale job opportunities, which makes the city an economic hub.
Moreover, the city could be nurtured as a Kashmiri cultural hub with arts, handicrafts, cuisine, literature and cinema guiding the discourse. Let the displaced Kashmiri Pandits savor the best of erstwhile Srinagar in Jammu, until (and if at all) conditions become conducive for them to explore going back to the valley.
When I talk of suffering, artisans and craftsmen from the valley, too, have been among the worst suffers. The iconic pashmina has very few takers today. Whatever little they produce, is being sold at measly prices to small & big exporters, middlemen etc., who in turn, sell these through their retail outlets in various parts of country at very high margins.
This is where some of our fashion designers can potentially help. It would be great if a part of their collection includes stuff created out of ethnic Kashmiri karigari. We all know pherans, shawls etc. are world famous. Designers could weave in culturally cult or desi-global outfits into their collection. This might provide a more regular source of employment to some of these artisans, besides acknowledging their craft and finesse.
Moreover, as an author, I have often wondered why we don’t see more stories from Kashmir coming out as books. This is boom time for contemporary Indian literature. Fiction, carved out of real life experiences, is being consumed widely. This is just about the right time when some of those who spent their growing up years in the Kashmir of 80s can come up with an evocative account of an elusive paradise.
As I have mentioned, these are some of the non-political ideas which might help in assuaging the suffering of Kashmir. However, a larger solution can only be political, which I would want to be optimistic enough to hope, is possible.
Until then, let me savor my kahwa sitting in Mumbai. I recently experimented a rare combination- the Bihari state ka paratha with kahwa. And mind you it was an amazingly awesome fusion meal.
India too is a rare combination of many divergent practices. And yet it thrives best in fusion. When the fusion is trampled upon, it ends up being what the Kashmir valley is today.
The land of Sufis, saints and shrines deserves better.
Inputs: Tuhin A. Sinha
Pictures: Tuhin A Sinha & Kanchen Ranjana
Editor: Saloni Kilam Rampal