Life changed, a lot changed, 23 years ago everything changed. One goes through a lot in life, you win some, you loose some. However, in hindsight, there is only one thing you never want to loose or change and that is your home. Home is not where the house is, home is where your heart is, where your soul is. Its been 23 years and I haven’t found it and I know I will never find it . . .
Rahul Pandita has written a book (Our Moon Has Blood Clots), a personal memoir that gives a sense of what happened to majority of Kashmiri Pandits, 23 years ago. I have not read the book but have read some excerpts. I am pretty sure after reading the excerpts, this book is going to be a first hand account of what Pandits went through during and after the ethnic cleansing.
Throughout my life I have always believed in having a balanced approach. The biggest contribution to this, perhaps have been my parents. They have lead the most selfless life, even if they had options to move on and achieve a lot more. Anyways, that is for another day. There has not been a single instance when I have not thought about the misery of Kashmiris in general. Whenever any one has discussed Kashmir with me I have always defended Kashmiri Muslims. I have always tried to share their misery as well. Most people were surprised at my position and many of them would water down the debate, they were perhaps wanting me to take a position of hate.
I wish people back home had taken a similar position. It was a blunder that did not or perhaps they knew what they were doing.
1989, trouble had started in the valley and it was getting worse every day. Strikes, bomb blasts, firing etc were gaining momentum. One afternoon, coming back from school, I saw a matador (mini bus) getting blown with people inside. I saw it from a distance but I was shattered and afraid.
January 1990, I was 14 and in Gulmarg, like every winter, skiing. I used to ski for three months every winter. I was fortunate, extremely fortunate to be able to do that. However, this was no ordinary winter. Things had started to change in the valley.
My dad was very close to a friend of his and as such we were very close family friends as well. When I say very close, I mean extremely close. In winter when I used to come back from Skiing after sunset, my toes would be nearing frostbite on some occasions. Aunty would sometimes take my feet and shove them inside and underneath her arms. She would use her body heat to help me from that excruciating pain. She was like mother. You get the drift of how close we were. However, in January of 1990 things were starting to be different. She had changed and she would say things that made no sense at that time. She would tell my mother that very soon we would have holidays on Friday instead of Sunday. The Sunday movie would play on Friday instead and so on. We didn’t believe her as we were not fully aware of what was happening in the valley. We were so naïve. On the Ski slopes the usual pleasantries of good morning, good afternoon etc were replace by showing two fingers in V shape, representing VICTORY. I would happily show the V sign, I didn’t know what it meant. Later on I understood it meant Azadi – Freedom. Victory of making Kashmir Azad from India.
Kashmir was full of saints and there were a few who would roam around in desperate condition, torn clothes, walking barefoot on snow, talking to themselves, abusing etc etc. One such great saint in Gulmarg was called Amlaal. He was very close to my father and would often come home or to his office. He would ask for things like shoes, phiran, socks… In this winter of 1990, Amlaal, who lived in Babarishi, asked one of the persons – “thelecha kaulsabh bachavun”, meaning, do I have to save my Mr. Kaul (my dad). In utter disbelief of what he had heard, the person replied hastily and said what option do you have. The next day, JKLF (Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front) had pasted a warning on our hut, it was written in Urdu and was addressed to my father. Then there was another one posted at his office. We were shocked. My father complied with what was written in these notices, however, things were not the same anymore.
We continued to spend time in Gulmarg and I continued to have a good time. That winter I got to spend some time with Dr. Abdullah’s two daughters. We used to catch up and play table tennis and a card game called “Russian Rummy”. It was fun and I didn’t realize that this was not going to last.
Somewhere in March, as usual, we moved back to Srinagar and started to realize the full extent of what was happening. It is important to remember that back in 1990, we did not have Internet, mobile phone etc. News would travel at its pace and because we were kind off disconnected from the valley, in Gulmarg, we really did not understand the full extent of how Pandits were being selectively targeted.
In Srinagar, my two uncles and we had three houses in a row. Behind our house we had a Sikh family as our immediate neighbor. A river flowed very close to our house and on the other side of the river we had more neighbors, all Muslims.
Many Kashmiri pandits had been killed on the flimsiest of grounds. One of the ways to justify killing a Pandit was to brand him or her as an informant. Working with GOI was almost a sure shot way to get that branding. My dad worked with the GOI and it was well known. Somewhere towards the end of March, my uncle came in a very upset mood. He had heard that my fathers name was written on a death list (called the hit list) and the local butcher was heard saying that my dad has to be eliminated. When we heard this news, we were all extremely disturbed. Even at this stage we did not know what to do. The thought of moving out of valley was of such magnitude that even a death threat did not help take that decision. Meanwhile, things had spiraled out of control.
End of March, we would hear announcements from Mosques about azadi, kafirs, muhajideens, etc etc. One fine day our neighbor from across the river came and told us that we had to leave. Things had taken the worse possible turn and we had to leave. The announcements from the local mosque grew louder. We finally started to tremble. It was clear that the end had come and we just prayed to let the night pass so that we could leave. Our houses had significant land on all side and the boundary was trees with barbed wire. It was late night and we were all extremely terrified. Our house was last in the row and beyond that were fields. I still remember getting instructions from family members that if people come to kill us, I along with my cousins was supposed to take cover of darkness and run into the fields. We were not supposed to look back or think as to what happened to mom, dad, uncles, aunts, grandma …, we were supposed to run.
Run we did and we ran never to return back. Next morning, the entire family went to Lal chowk (city centre) with virtually nothing and boarded a bus to leave the valley. We left never to return back.
The ordeal did not stop at that. Jammu was another chapter in life. It was a new beginning; it was the beginning of an ordeal. Everyday was a new shock. One room,
eight six people, no room cooler, 45 C, no fridge… and years went by. I didn’t understand what was going on. It was hell and I wanted out. What did I do to deserve this hell, I could not understand. However, I got all my answers from my parents. They did not give up. They were determined to see us through. They were determined to make sure that I had a chance at a future, that my cousin brother had a chance at the future.
A lot happened and I learnt a lot of things. Life taught important lessons, lessons that very few people get to learn. I don’t regret learning them. What has stood by me till now are those lessons. What has made me survive are those lessons. Why I did not take a position of hate are those lessons. What made me go back many times to the valley are those lessons.
I have only one regret – why was truth not told, why was it suppressed, hidden or simply ignore. It has to be told, it can’t be told through any other lens. I hope “Our Moon Has Blood Clots” gets a chance to tell the world what happened.
I want all my friends and acquaintance to read the book and know what happened. I don’t need anyone’s sympathy, I am just looking for an acknowledgement, an acknowledgement that has not come for 23 years!