Saturday, August 18, 2007

Is the apple tree still there? (Part 1)

Suhail tells me of a boy who went with him to a boarding school, in a remote district of Kashmir. The boy, it seems, felt home sick, time and again, and would run away from school whenever he got a chance. After a few days, he would resurface, with absolutely no emotion on his face.

“What happened, why are you back so early?” his friends would ask him.

“Nothing,” he would reply. And then after a pause, he continued. “It may seem as if I was beaten up with brooms and a cricket bat, but that is not the case. Or it may seem that father kicked me and then rubbed nettle grass over my legs, but even that is not the case.” Then he would be silent. He would not speak for days.

I have felt home sick for seventeen long years, but like that boy, I never got a chance to run away. In my case, it was not the school, but exile from which I longed to escape.

It is a hot day in Srinagar, when I drive down on the roads in a Maruti 800. Beginning from the aerial view of the valley from the aircraft, as it prepared to land at the Srinagar airport, it feels like déjà vu. Tin roofs, vast fields of paddy, and the T.V. tower atop Shankracharya hill, standing like an old man, adjusting his spectacles, but still struggling to recognize a great grandson who has been away for too long – it only seems as If I have been here before.

From the Rambagh bridge, the car moves towards Lal Chowk. I see the first signpost of my home: Chanapora. How many times have I waited at this spot, in sky-blue shirt and grey trousers – my school uniform – clutching a one-rupee coin in my fist, to catch a bus back home!

On the Jahangir chowk, I spot the exhibition ground. Flashes of an incident, narrated to me by my mother, occur to me. A week after she was wedded to my father, the entire family went to watch a circus in the ground. While looking at the distant face of a performer, who stood at a height, ready to set himself on fire and then jump into the water below, my mother sensed that something was amiss. She told this to her mother-in-law but she wouldn’t pay heed. In a few minutes all hell broke loose. The performer got nervous and just would not jump. The crowd got restless. There was a stampede. My mother led every family member to a nearby shop, whose rear wall was broken, and then, they got away to safely.

The Assembly building on the banks of Jhelum is like a pale moon. The black soot of a fire that broke decades ago is still there. Nothing has changed. On the other end is the Hanuman temple. During Operation Blue Star, some miscreants had held the God responsible for the military action, and thrown his idol in the muddy river water. But as children, we were only interested in sweetmeats of Tuesday and watching sadhus with matted hair, sitting cross-legged, taking deep puffs from a common chillum.

The Palladium cinema looks like a postcard from Gaza strip. The Sun Chasers shop is still there. And so is the Jan bakery, the makers of the best pineapple pastry in the world. Tibetans (or are they Ladakhis?) still sell thick woolen sweaters on the pavement outside the Tyndale Biscoe School. The Clocktower in the central market square boasts of a digital clock now. But it still doesn’t show accurate time.

The Boulevard road is the same. Paper machie boxes are still on display in shops at the Dal Gate, as they used to be when I was at home. Dr. Naseer still practices there. 26 years ago, he had told my father that he has a small puncture somewhere in his intestines. Almost three decades later in Delhi, the doctors confirm it, but are unable to detect its exact location. Dr. Ali Jan has passed away. The road on which his clinic existed has been named after him.

The Dal Lake has shrunk but the houseboats still have names like Buckingham Palace and Cleopatra. The car takes a fast turn near the Chashme Shahi, but I guess I have seen the shop where I had the first (or perhaps, second) ice-cream cone of my life. Last time, I had come here with Ravi, on his sparkling red motorcycle. Ten years later after we made that trip, he was dragged out of a bus and shot dead by militants.

Another ten years have passed since then. But not much has changed in Kashmir. The last thing that needs to be checked is our erstwhile house at Chanapora. Have the new occupants of the house changed its structure? Is the apple tree - the keeper of my childhood secrets - still there in our small lawn?

I swear, the thought feels like nettle grass.

(To be continued...)

9 comments:

Karan said...

Hey Rahul, these long silences make me quite restless. I have been checking your blog thrice a day in anticipation of your next post. Please write soon.

Rahul Pandita said...

Dear Karan, It will happpen soon. Thanks, r

Pawan said...

Rahul...you made me CRY

Anil said...

Rahul:
Thanks for taking me back to my home and down the memory lane....... it seems like I am there every minute........thanks for those vivid images...thanks
-Anil

Aditya Raj Kaul said...

Rahul, Its always an honour to read your posts. You keep us waiting for days n days and finally you make us dream of our lost land and tears flow down our eyes. I was just born in Srinagar when terrorism started but know every part of it by now and can map it well in my mind through the stories narrated by my parents, friends and grandmother. I long for my land, I long for the playground outside VitalBhairava Temple in Rainawari where all my brothers and sisters used to play. I long for Vishwabharti College; where my dad had one of the only and biggest bookstore in the valley. And, I long for the air, the water and the mud of my motherland. It makes me too emotional whenever I think of it; but further it makes my pledge stronger; that one day I'll return to my land with my entire community. God Willing ! Thanks indeed Rahul. I'm waiting for the next posts...

vishal said...

don`t know,
how to say.
dont know
how to confess.
when they had caught you,
when they ruining you,
i came to a far land,
leaving you behind
leaving you alone.

i witnessed my brother`s kiiling,
i witnessed my family murdered,
but none changed my mind,
i came to a far land,
leaving you behind,
leaving you alone.

but now here i am,
awake and alert,
aware and ready,
to help your sons,
to help my brothers,
to serve my brothers,
with my heart and souls,
to serve you my mum,
with my flesh and blood........

neena said...

Hi
I am a Kashmiri Pandit but was not born in Kashmir as my great grand parents migrated generations back,,but I have been to Kashmir 2 or 3 times and I always want to go back again as it is so beautiful....its sad what terrorists have made made this beautiful heaven into....

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I am a kashmiri by birth.After my primary education I left Kasmir for further studies, destiny, now I only visit Kashmir for vacations.I whole heartedly apologise to my kashmiri pandits for the situation but be truthfull,isn't that we all are responsible, Isn't that its kashmiris as whole who have suffered.Me and you, even we do not know each other but for Kashmiriyat, are not we related.I hope someday soon InshaAllah I see all the pandits back home, yes home Kashmir.I miss all my pandit Friens,Teachers,Neighbours.Let us all share the responsibility and come togeather as a Family and not play blame game.Let india pakistan fight, we are young generation, educated, lets build what has been destroyed, let us All Togeather Love Kashmir.

Nadia Khan said...

Currently kashmir is not a suitablt place for enjoy, because kashmir fight for freedom.

I hope kashmir won the war against india as early as possible.