.Why Kashmir? Is a question everyone asked, when I told them of my travel plans. Srinagar was not a safe option, with regular stone pelting, covert operations and unfavorable weather on top of it. There are safe ‘tourist’ spots, where you can get a good time, depending on the size of your wallet.
But then for me, the question to be answered was ‘Why do I travel’ rather than the ‘Where’. I always hated to do the same things rest of the population did. Mediocrity is my most feared enemy. I wanted to do things a little differently. Moreover I wanted to know and talk to the people, treated indifferently by rest of India.
The trip wasn’t very easy to do. Just hours before take-off my friend suddenly remembered that pre-paid mobile connections doesn’t work in Kashmir. That was a gentle warning of things to happen- One place where the ordinary man is denied rights to access privileges enjoyed by rest of the country. The moment we touched the airport at Amritsar, I heard someone talking about a possible flight cancellation. There was a heavy rainfall in Srinagar accompanied by snow. The pretty girl in the check-in counter seemed to have fallen in white paint and seemed to be happy about it. I was quite worried about having to return home without cutting a name off the bucket list. We waited at the airport. I scanned the motley group and few of them were from the armed forces (judging the physique), some of them were tourists (judging the luggage) and some were traders.
The airport staff were not ready to give any assurance and we waited on for a couple of hours. And suddenly out of nowhere we were rushed into a flight and took off in no time. After 15 minutes of rumble and tumble we touched down at Srinagar airport. From a temperature of 45 degrees we stepped straight into temperatures touching zero.
Later on I started to realize how the image runs so parallel to the life of a average Kashmiri. The biggest error Indian administration did was proclaiming implicitly a national integration based on religion. And further to it, hugely adorned but shallow ‘religious tolerance’, which is nothing but depravity of choice.
I understood how far removed our concepts about the valley are from the real situation. Sitting in the lush comfort of my office and worrying about how to get back home without getting soaked, will not help me in making fair judgment on a community for whom a heavy downpour can mean flooding and lose of livelihood. If weather is worse, the state administration was even worse. I had never seen such pathetically administered state capital and one main reason being the power tussle between the army and democratically elected civilian administration. This administrative failure is the very root cause for the ills in the valley. The economic gap is so visible and prevalent. This in turn reflects in different forms of life including lower standards of life, lesser economic opportunities and separatism.
The people although friendly, view the mainland Indians as nothing more than walking wallets. Any attempts to befriend them is met with certain suspicion and wariness. The daily struggle to survive cannot be comprehended by the tourist population. I had particularly noticed that the tourist crowd, never stepped out of their comfort zone or strayed out of the ‘tourist’ path to talk or interact with a Kashmiri. I did also notice the strong inter link between the Kashmiris where they knit themselves to each other for better possibility for survival.
Here when we talk about survival, we are talking about how a small drizzle can turn itself into a flood or heavy snow, casting the crowds into abject penury. While on a visit to the magnificent Mughal Gardens, I met a famished guy who earned his living doing manual labour. He was telling me how difficult it is to find regular job in the valley. His plight was echoed by many.
The difficult living conditions and the insecurity results in a closer bonding and tight knit structure to facilitate survival. My taxi driver and guide was persuading me for the boat ride through Dal Lake. He said it was a heavenly feeling. I said a firm no, considering the zero degree temperatures. Finally when the sun shown through we got off in a boat. The boat owner had quoted unbelievable rates, claiming he will show us around 8 points. As soon as we started handful of merchant boats started circling around selling everything from flowers, fruits and hot drinks. To my dismay, I found out that the 8 points were nothing nut 8 local shops. (I strongly dissuade anybody from doing a Dal Lake trip).
As I sat at the airport, brooding over the misfired trip, two little mynahs flew around the waiting lobby hunting for food. They were unmindful of the innumerable security checks or gun wielding military. They flew around nonchalantly. Kashmir looked the same. Nonchalantly and unmindfully struggling against Indian nationalistic obsession.