My friends in the valley who are fortunate to have their homes in Kashmir (for whatever reasons) do not look for an option. They do not have to decide. They do not have to think twice before packing their bags. They do not have to convince their parents to let go of the fear of fanatics. They do not have to make bookings. I, even though from the same land, have to undertake all of this.
…my phone is still ringing…
Every year I am ‘invited’ to Kashmir. Invited to a home, half of which I believe is mine. Jawahar tunnel is the passage into my huge living room. My hall is painted in colours of sensual blue that appeal to the eyes instantly. Behind Dal Lake are the paintings of snow peaked hills on the wall serving as highlights of the dining hall. On the treacherous way to the bedroom is the Puja-ghar. The huge Shankracharya temple and Kheer Bhawani are bowed to and respected by all the family members. The bed room is my sanity haven. Next to a bridge, under the shade of a banyan tree is where I think I slept sometime ago. The green pasture is the quilt I am covered in, whenever sleep beckons me.
This is the home I am asked to come to. The invitation arrives with sugar coated pudding in words; others come as a colloquial reminder in conversations. Several are too emotional to be ignored while quite a few extremely derogatory.
The ‘invitation to come to my own home’ echoes sometimes through my friends, by tourist agencies, occasionally by separatists trying to project a secular outlook and often by the mother earth dying to take me into her lap. Till now I have ignored all the appeals. I had taken a pledge long back that I shall never take off my shoes on that gravel as a tourist.
As my Muslim friends reiterate that they are going home for vacations, I’d decided I shall never utter from my mouth that I am going to Kashmir for a retreat. It would be an insult to my whole identity if I did so. Like them I also wanted to exclaim ‘Hey, I am heading back to my home’.
As of now, happily into my early twenties that day has never come. Unable to again build a home in Sekidafar or Habbakadal, I am a restless soul. The home, of which I heard innumerable stories from my mother, also became lullabies to put me to sleep. Almost everyday, my mother refers to her Habbakadal home like a child who never forgot the one Barbie doll she owned. But any discussion of rebuilding that home would only show a trace of eternal fear on that forehead. This failure resultant of inherent pride made me take a resolution.
The pledge is losing its ground now. Forced to take my words back, I have decided to visit the valley and if the Ishta Devi wills I shall fulfil it this time. When will I again head back and whether that shall be as a tourist or not are some questions which remain unanswered as of now; but that will not deter me to keep enticing myself to go bare feet on that terrain.
Till now for me Kashmir has been like a fable. A land faraway from my current home, somewhere my parents once resided. The legends and stories not connected to mad rush of New Delhi. A land I am fighting for, believing it shall be of people it once belonged to. Till then I will have to visit the Chinar and come back and then visit it again.
The only difference from then and now will be the revelation that enlightened my soul about my home. The fact that it will always be mine. No hand can snatch it, and no eyes can make me a stranger to it- the shade under the Boueen(Chinar) tree, next to the bridge.
…before the caller disconnects the line, I better receive it and tell him I might be seen in Gulmarg this time around. But that is not accepting an invitation, that’s just a wish to come back.
If I do not gather the strength this time, for sure I never will. The fear lingers on in my parents’ heart, but I need to pack my bags and bring back for them the Prasad of Khir Bhawani. Only then may be, they will say once again’ “lets go home this summer”….
The writer Pooja Shali is studying Mass Communication at AJK MCRC, Jamia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org