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Kashmir and Me: A Conflicted Identity

By: Niyati Bhat
I don’t know what to write about Kashmir. Almost every Kashmiri writer I know is writing about Kashmir, about their memories, the agonies, the good and the bad phases. I can’t. I was born 2 years after the migration. The rage that engulfed the valley hadn’t died down completely nor had our condition, living as refugees improved but I was too small a kid to understand what it all meant.
I never experienced the plight or the aftermath that my parents did. They didn’t give up. They made a beautiful life again, for me. Whenever in Delhi, any of my friends talked about going to their village in summer holidays, they named Rohtak or other villages in Haryana. I have grown up with Haryanavi and Kashmiri kids but I never saw a Kashmiri kid leave for his village in holidays.
When it came to me, all I could name was either Sundernagar in Himachal or Jammu. It was quite late that I understood what being a Kashmiri was. But it wasn’t the same with my upbringing. I was brought up with the Kashmiri traditions. The language, the colours, the food, the religious ceremonies, the festivals are deeply instilled in me as in any other Kashmiri.
But when it comes to Kashmir, I don’t know what to write about it. All I know is that I have a longing, restlessness, a feeling of belonging to that region even though I have never set foot on that land.
The question pops up in my head: Where do I belong?
To the Kashmir which is itself confused and engrossed in conflicts?
To the India, where my status is nothing beyond a Kashmiri migrant?
Or to the Pak, which wants Kashmir dearly but only with its Muslim inhabitants excluding the Hindus of the region?
To the history which isn’t mine or to the present which lies in daily conflict?
Maybe I’ll let the future decide a place for me. Because, now, right now, I don’t belong anywhere except for the little corner of the earth I am occupying, building an identity of my own. That little corner is my college, my small office cubicle, my parents’ house and this blog in the virtual world. And most of the times, the road, where I travel, which lets me walk despite who I am. It is the most neutral place on earth. All occupy it and none occupies it. Still, it’s also been held under the barricades of borders otherwise the road could run as far as you let it irrespective of boundaries created by humans.
I am a wanderer and this road is my constant companion. I walk on it searching for my identity every second of my life. I hope I’ll find it before these seconds run out; before time decides, ‘It’s time’! Time for me to dissolve into nothingness.
It makes me ponder over another thought. Will the identity matter then? Will it matter whether I am a Kashmiri or Indian or Hindu or Muslim when I die? The only thing that will matter is my mark that I will leave upon this earth. All that will be left is what I did in this life, what I did for this life despite my conflicted identity.
I just don’t want to be remembered as one more person who wrote about her disturbed homeland but as a human being to dared to step in and help change that disturbed homeland into the beautiful valley that was!
The Kashmir where swans swarmed in Dal lake, where shikaras were full of songs, where fields were worked upon by their owners, where knives where used only in kitchens, paddy fields and butcher shops, where no one knew what hatred was, where mothers cooked roganjosh, gushtaba, rice and other delicacies and turned every meal into a feast enjoyed by the children of the whole neighbourhood, where children bathed in streams, people walked around in pherans with kangri tucked under, where afternoons were spent on almond, apple, peach trees, where Sundays were spent playing cricket, where sounds of alif bey tey (Urdu words) were pronounced in unison by all the students in the school yard irrespective of what their religion is, where fathers returned home in the evenings to big, happy joint families, where the day was declared a holiday when the shooting of a Kapoor or Bachchan movie took place in the village, where nobody bothered about being a Hindu or Muslim, where no one was jealous of the peace of the valley, where just humans lived as occupants of a peaceful valley and contributing to a beautiful dream which looks so good to be true. Really, so good to be true, an illusion.
I don’t want to find an identity as someone who is Kashmiri Pandit or Indian but as a person who made it possible to bring back this illusioned Kashmir. Yes, I want to be that person!
And, this illusion, this dream can be turned into a reality if everyone didn’t think of themselves as an Indian, Kashmiri, Hindu, Muslim or Pakistani, but as a human being who would want to contribute his bit to restore this devastated region into the Kashmir that was.