‘Flight of the Deity’ from Martand Temple, Kashmir – Part 2

The night was endless, and the ground shaky, the waters seemed to invite her to jump in and not resurface ever, yet dawn broke with its promise for brightness, shining its orbs on the cragged edges of the Zabarwan, and as she looked towards Mahadev’s peak, she prayed for his assistance.

‘Flight of the Deity’ from Martand Temple, Kashmir – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

It was not fair. You cannot make me fall in love with you, knowing fully well the two separate worlds we belong to, you cannot make me believe in you, saying differences don’t matter, only to make a U-turn soon after saying we would not work. I will make it work, you just wait and see. Aditi was determined, she would not let such silly inhibitions on his part spoil what they had, which was really special. Ok.. first things first, where to stay…where to stay…she found a boathouse that she liked, she read the safety ratings for a lone female traveller, and sent an SMS, booking for 2 nights on a whim. She received a call immediately, “Madam, you want taxi from airport? Also sightseeing? We will arrange. You are coming for holiday ..yes? …how many?…..alone! …” he sounded shocked, Adil his name was. His houseboat had some great reviews on Tripadvisor so she went with it. Ceylon it was called. There must definitely be a Kashmir Cafe or some such place in Sri Lanka thought Aditi with amusement. She knew the lure of the unknown very well.

That is when she decided to call Nisar. A few months ago when Mustafa had not been well and she had gone to his quarters to look after him, she heard his phone ring, before she could give it to him lying on the bed with high fever, the phone battery had run out, while putting it to charge she said, ‘Someone called Nisar ….’. Mustafa had asked for her phone immediately, to make a call back to Nisar, his childhood friend. Chatting happily in Kashmiri, which sounded so exotic to her, like a secret that was not to be spoken in public, he hardly looked like a patient in pain.. She had saved Nisar’s number that day for the future…..just in case. All she knew was that he was Mustafa’s classmate in school, and that they had been together even in college, after which Mustafa had moved to Delhi for his Masters, which lead him to prepare for UPSC with the Zakat Foundation India.

“Nisar? bhaiyya…umm… Aditi, Mustafa’s ..ummm friend…are you in Srinagar now? I landed here today, yes just now by the 4.00pm flight..haan ji…no no, Mustafa is not with me ..he couldn’t come …actually ..umm…if you are free ..can we meet..I can explain..”

And so it was that Nisar took on the job of her chauffeur, and tourist guide, and showed her around his city, more like a large town. “So you went to school together! And college too? SP college na?..” Aditi was very excited about finally meeting someone from Mustafa’s childhood, someone who knew him before his foray into the world of bureaucracy. Someone as raw and simple, like Nisar was, it was a delight to chat with him. He had no pretences or airs about him, no unnecessary defences either.

She had not asked for it, but Nisar drove her from the khanqah straight to the Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta, again the strange eeriness, the lack of people on the roads due to the bandh. On entering the precincts devoid of anyone, the beautiful courtyards and numerous columns of the large prayer hall spoke of a time when there might have been only calls to worship and not to war. Almost innocuous if you did not know its history. Looking around Aditi thought to herself, so this is where the slogans to kill kaffirs originated from; convert, flee, or die, this is the place where neighbours and friends were taught to hate their Hindu brethren, the reason why Abhinav Bhan had to run away from his motherland, the reason why he had to grow up in a tent. Her mother had told her of their Pandit friends, the Wanchoos, and the sad fate that had befallen them, not one of the men in their family had managed to escape the wrath of the Islamists, shot dead in broad daylight, merely for being Hindu. Their women and children had been smuggled away to Jammu hurriedly, overnite, entrusting them to Ragnya devi’s care. They had built their lives from scratch, having nothing on their person but clothes when fleeing the mobs. Their lives were made up of sheer grit and determination, despite all the injustices and indignities they had suffered for being unapologetically Hindu, for being patriotic towards their country India, not one of them had turned into a terrorist. Thankfully the Wanchoo sisters made it to Jammu with their honour intact, they were fortunate enough not to fall prey to unmentionable horrors as some others had. What would Nisar say if she asked him a simple question, “Why did Muslim neighbours in Srinagar participate in the genocide of their fellow Kashmiris?”, he would probably deny it outright, just as Mustafa had done. Or blame Jagmohan.

“It was all Jagmohan’s doing, you tell me how did so many army vehicles become available for the Pandits to flee in such a coordinated manner? You think we have not suffered, I wrote exams with bullets flying overhead, that is how I grew up, not living a protected cushy life like you in havelis, cantonments, and convents, sheltered and ignorant …this was a conspiracy don’t you get it, to make us Muslims look bad…”, that was uncalled for and it hurt, but Aditi let it pass. He was obviously upset and probably went through tough times too. Despite all his efforts to convince her of their side of the events, what was unacceptable was that no one really spoke of the Pandit pain, as though it were taboo.

So much reconciliation was happening in other countries…..look at Rwanda for example, wasn’t that country prospering now, despite such a horrific past; Hutus killing Tutsis provoked by the Catholic Church machinery, Tutsis being played by the Belgians against the majority Hutus as a divide and rule policy…far too familiar a story…but they were working at sharing pain and healing their wounds. That could happen only if both sides found a common ground to work on, but here in Kashmir, it was as though Sunni Muslims had existed forever in these realms, and no one else had any right over it. No other narrative was acceptable to the majority in the valley, feeling victimized for no valid reason, they actively shut out their hearts to the searing stories of the Pandits.

What of the hate sermons from the mosques? What of neighbours assisting murders, rapes, kidnappings? What of the the ideology of Ghazwa-e-Hind? No, this was never discussed.  Hindus like her were too polite to make someone like Nisar feel uncomfortable. This terrible situation was allowed to fester because Hindus do not like to make people uncomfortable. We are too gentle, thought Aditi angrily. She was angry at herself too, that she had allowed her heart to run away with someone who did not care about the plight of a whole community, a fellow Kashmiri community at that, which was uprooted and stateless. She had not expected this of a civil servant. An Indian civil servant. Yet, given that she believed in freedom of expression and the fact that Mustafa did not hide his true feelings, this was probably a sign that he trusted her with baring his heart, however bitter the contents might be, to her this was a sign that he cared deeply for her, even though he was always nonchalant about his feelings towards her, brushing away her lofty declarations of love as childish, girlish, mawkish.

“Fine, let us say Jagmohan did this and the government had a hand and what not, sure we want Muslims to look bad, hence we dole out millions to your state where you enjoy the highest standard of living while the rest of India pays taxes for you to own bungalows and gardens… imagine we have a Minority Ministry and various schemes only for Muslims in a secular country! How come Hindus or Sikhs in Jammu and Kashmir have no minority rights? What stops you from accepting their minority status?” Aditi was no fool, preparing for Civils meant that each occasion was a battleground where you practiced your pitches. “You are not doing us any favour, our waters provide electricity for the whole of northern India, why would India give away our waters to Pakistan in such a lopsided treaty, have you even read the Indus Waters Treaty, the complete document, I have? Or you want to be an IFS officer for the glamour of it? And by the way, all that monetary package and assistance that you Indians keep cribbing about, none of it reaches the common man..”, it hurt even more when he said ‘you Indians’, not because of the fact that he felt excluded, but because he and his ilk were occupying the land that is Bharat while not feeling any sacred connection to it, except for claiming it as their religious domain, and enjoying benefits by the state while hurling abuses at it.

The tragedy of such a false narrative which was repeated ad nauseum was that, world over the Sunni Muslim version was taken as the only truth, just as it had happened with Kosovo, populate it with Albanians, and Bosniaks, both Muslim communities, then claim demographic majority to usurp land, and when in majority deny rights to all minorities, repeat the formula! Poor Serbs already much-maligned due to their skirmishes with the Bosnians and Croats had to take it on their chin and had let go of their ancestral lands, orthodox churches, and sacred battlegrounds, because the world over they had already been branded guilty.

Even if their political sparring was a mere intellectual exercise, Aditi was being awakened from her idealist paradise bit by bit. The only saving grace was that Mustafa was honest with her, there was deceit in his honesty somewhere, she could sense it, yet she was unable to pinpoint what, while her own honesty had never deviated from the truth, neither in its ignorance nor in its idealism. Until that time when she could unravel this knot, he was someone she looked forward to meeting every Saturday at their table.

Nisar took this opportunity of being in her company to try and convert her. His next stop was to be the Pir Dastgir Sahib close by in Khanyar, ”Very beautiful place, Kashmir has many peers you know, we are very spiritual people, so many sufis, this is dedicated to Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jelani of Baghdad…best place in Srinagar, very powerful…” Aditi understood this to be a confession that Nisar was a follower of this saint. The interior was definitely spectacular with ornate crystal chandeliers and the floors completely carpeted, the whole building was decorated with stained glass windows, lacquer work, papier-mache, tiled walls and roofs, yet understated. It was like walking into a movie set of Pakeezah. She liked it here despite the dazzling glitter, it was beautiful and peaceful. Unsure of what to do by herself, she simply followed the crowd. Although there were not many women, in fact none, except for the old ladies outside kneeling and kissing the ground in front of the green and white structure. Aditi came out of the building, enjoying this intercultural experience, and in a good mood.

Nisar though seemed a bit reluctant to appreciate the decor and did not agree with her pronouncement, “It was much better before, this is the new building, old building was burnt down…I liked the old one..”, he added ruefully, “Who destroyed it?” Aditi was curious because it was obvious that the valley was left with only one kind of people now. “Oh…lot of money is coming from Saudi, Middle-East…they don’t like our ways of praying, our believing in the supernatural, our music…they say this is not Islam..must be them…” How different is this from when people are taught that idols are forbidden, that they are haraam, and it becomes state policy to go about breaking murtis and temples thought Aditi, but kept her thoughts to herself. Nisar was evidently still in pain, and she did not want to hurt him for no reason.

Nisar went silent for a while, but on hearing Aditi make empathetic sounds, he looked up at her for a few seconds longer than he should have, so she knew something untoward was coming her way, and then he said it, “Maybe you can keep roza, it is very holy during this time”, Aditi’s smile vanished, why did he have to spoil this wonderful moment. Couldn’t she simply participate without going all the way? Liking this space did not mean that she disliked what she had or where she came from. This was the whole trouble. This inability to co-exist, inability to let others be as they are. This assumption that one’s belief system is superior and the only way, that it has a right to change and convert everything else into its fold. Azaadi ka matlab ya? La-Illa-Il-Allah, Hum kya chaahte hain? Nizam-e-Mustafa! This was the crux of the Kashmiri ‘struggle’, a struggle to deny everything pre-Islamic deeming it as non-existent, and everyone not-Islamic labelling them as oppressors. Why else would an Iranian be revered at the cost of local devi devatas? Why else would someone from Iraq be celebrated thus over local rishis, all of whom had taught and lived the truth of inclusive plurality long before any outsider set foot here? But how should she deny Nisar who was hosting her, without being rude? How should she say, ‘Sorry I am not going to be a Muslim just because I like one’? She used health as an excuse to get out of this bind, and was further upset at herself for not voicing her objections openly to him, due to her internalized ‘nicety’.

In fact, while she was quite capable of appreciating this place, with its Islamic heritage and all, would Nisar or Mustafa ever step into a Dilwara or Ranakpur or Ambaji? That beauty which was incomparable would never be theirs to enjoy, only to destroy! The skill, the craftsmanship, the stone carvings, the architecture, all that which went into making them, along with the visionary belief systems that stood the test of time embracing all within its fold, all that would be replaced by chandeliers and carpets which financed the likes of Bhatta Mazar. You come from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, find a perfect valley, there you persecute the locals, forbid them their customs and practices through state power, break their temples, and lo! now you own the place. And when a simple eager girl shows up with love in her heart, try and convert her. The very idea that two different diverse entities can co-exist is simply alien to most faiths, but look at India, it has celebrated this core concept and put that grand vision into practice for centuries. This is what defines my desh, and makes it special, unlike any other land, Aditi’s heart always filled with pride whenever she thought thus, of ‘my country’.

The Sun Temple at Martand was so magnificent and grand that it is said that it took Sikander Butshikan, the tyrannical idol breaker, a full two years or more to burn the whole complex down in the 15th cent. C.E.. It was during his reign of terror that 700 or more Muslims, foreign settlers from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, came along with the Sufi Hamadani, who helped the despot further by making lives of ordinary Hindus unbearable in their own land, making way for one exodus after another from their beloved Kashmir to other parts of Bharat. Despite centuries of gathering dust, Martand is a remarkable example of Kashmiri architecture, a fusion of various styles such as Byzantine, Chinese, Gandharan, Gupta, Greek, and Roman. With 84 fluted columns surrounding the main shrine, housing 70-80 smaller shrines outside, and a surya kund in front of the main building, this must have been a sight to behold when draped in gold as commissioned by Lalitaditya. Currently, the central shrine contains 30 odd disfigured images, in front of which is a chamber with broken carvings of Ganga and Yamuna. There are no records of what happened to the main idol in the premises, but the location of Martand on this karewas is one of the best vantage points overlooking the vale of Kashmir. 

Aditi’s first encounter with the Kashmiri language were these lines: asi gachi Pakistan, batni rosin batta gatssin, this was much before she met Mustafa, she had heard these horrible lines from her classmate in school, and they had hit a raw nerve. For something like this to have happened in this day and age, where the masses come out onto the streets, among them people you have grown up with, studied or worked with, who call jihad against you, calling you kaffir, chanting at you to leave the valley, to leave your womenfolk behind. What is it but an open call for mass rapes, the gall of it! And for these persecuted Pandits to be still living as refugees in their own country, in tents, in camps in Jammu, was something she could not digest. She got to know bits and pieces of the struggle from her classmate Abhinav Bhan, who was a shy young boy, conscious of the way he spoke Hindi, who had grown up in one such tenement of Nagrota, he was hardworking and eager to make it big academically, he was ready to fight the odds that had been laid before him, and to win. He never talked about those difficult days, the only time he said something was when she pestered him with questions like how many such camps are there? Are they all in Jammu? He would look far into the horizon to answer softly, his voice trembling Muthi, Purkhoo, Jagti…seeing his utter helplessness in even mouthing these names, Aditi soon stopped asking him curious questions about Kashmir. But that seed had been sown. She knew a bit of the other side of the story now, the side that was never acknowledged. Abhinav would sit by himself at the window staring out, whispering these lines over and over again. Was he saying this so as to not forget his painful past, or was it to remember the enemy by?

The Rajput in her was instantly enraged every time she remembered this phrase. Her ancestors had committed jauhar rather than be defiled by the invading mlecchas. The Pandits though had chosen to escape, and were reviled for surviving rape and pillage! You could call them cowardly for not staying back and fighting it out, but even Shree Krishna was a Ranchod, he chose to run away to Dwaraka to save his community and his people rather than be decimated. Why should the choice be between fight or flight, why can it not be simple harmonious coexistence, with all the differences intact? She was trying this experiment with Mustafa, but she knew that all the trying was from her end only. He had already given up on them, when he realized that she would not convert nor change her ways. “What old fashioned backward ideas you still hold onto DeeTee! paapa-punya…so filmi…what do you mean punarjanma….such a ridiculous concept, merely greed on your part, to come back again and again in different bodies……for what! It is laughable, take this one life and do your best, that is it!” This was him mocking her and her beliefs yet again, Mustafa did this ever so often, her customs, her ideals, her beliefs were all up for grabs to be scoffed at, they were fair game, but not once did he mistakenly mock his own people or call out their supremacist tendencies. She laughed and smiled at his seemingly harmless jokes but she was making a silent note.

“It is their home too you know”, Aditi had time and again said this to Mustafa, although she should have said, “It is their home which you all have usurped you know” but the Hindu gentleness and sanskaar prevented her from putting him in a spot. “They have done well for themselves, haven’t they? Pandits have always been more educated and literate at the cost of the Muslims of the valley, and now they get all kinds of dole from the government, and sympathy from people like you, they have had it good both ways”, Mustafa surely did not mince words, and meant every word that he spat out with no trace of compassion in him. “Don’t blame the Dogras Mustafa, for protecting Hindu interests, Afghan rulers and Mughals were no better, in fact, they were worse. Have you forgotten about how they executed Guru Tegh Bahadur for not converting to Islam?” Aditi’s first outing in Delhi was to the Sis Ganj and Rakabganj Gurudwaras. If there was a community that matched the Rajputs in their valour it was the Sikhs, born to protect dharma. Imagine watching your disciples being sawn in half, being boiled alive, being set on fire, and yet not budging an inch to give up on one’s ancestral faith. Bhai Mati Dass, Bhai Dayal Dass, and Bhai Sati Dass were household legends in her grandparents’ house.

Having grown up in Ajmer, Aditi was not new to peers, dargahs, and Muslim culture, there too a Sufi from Sistan, Moinuddin Chisti had set up shop to convert the indigenous peoples to an alien faith, but what intrigued her with Mustafa was the Kashmiri aspect of her relationship. The language, the place, the people, their customs, she was connected to all this in some bizarre way. She was open to learning and was excitedly looking forward to every new experience here in Srinagar. Her youthful enthusiasm always overcame her doubts and fears, “How far is Kheer Bhavani? Maybe we can cover that too today, tomorrow I will keep free for the flower markets, and to visit your house…and ..” What she really wanted was to ask Nisar about Mustafa’s family, if they lived here, if she could visit them, get to know them..but she was a bit apprehensive about opening up her heart to this stranger. “No no baabi there is pathraav happening in Gandarbal daily, very dangerous to go ..” Nisar did not sound convincing at all. How come they were able to travel to all the mosques, khanqahs, and the dargahs trouble-free, perhaps she was overthinking as always. “What about Sharika Devi..on the hilltop, Hari Parbat?” she asked pointedly, “Koh-e-Maran? band hai…renovation chal rahaa hai…” Well, it definitely seems like I will have to come back to Srinagar thought Aditi.

Nisar would clearly not be taking her to any other Hindu temple that much was apparent. It is about what we grow up with, what we are used to, and what speaks to us. Comfort comes from familiarity, of knowing something deeply. And with civilizational memory, of who we are, as an individual, as a people. Her comfort lay in being Hindu, being Rajput. Aditi was not one of those to abandon her identity for the sake of a man. Her curiosity and her interest in the other was genuine and sincere but it seemed to her more and more that her openness and easy acceptance of the other was being misconstrued and misunderstood. Back in her commodious and elegant shikaara reached via a short ride in a lovely doonga, she could hardly relax, one after another, peddlers of wares came knocking, wanting to show off their artwork and to sell. Aditi was merely a source of income for them, an Indian source. This Kashmiri exceptionalism was laughable, given that the Rajputs too felt the same! Each clan and community was awed by itself, totally impervious to the existence of others. This was not too bad though, thought Aditi, until and unless it lead to supremacism which is what had happened in the Kashmir Valley. A Buddhist-Hindu land wiped clean of its people and their memories.

“Shankaracharya came here, and had to run back south as no one converted to his line of thinking” Mustafa could be so ignorant and thoughtless sometimes. “Ya, that is why you call your city Srinagar! Because he had no influence there!”, Aditi never let him get away with mocking her people or her culture. He was constantly taking jibes and potshots albeit in a friendly-fire manner. “How about making fun of your own people for once? Or are you too scared for your life!” It was strange that an atheist should be so interested in religion, especially hers. It drained her to be constantly on guard, but it was worth it. Sparring with him helped her understand her background better too. Her mother was surprised nowadays at how easily Aditi accepted to perform certain customs and rituals which she had once called archaic or patriarchial.

That morning in the houseboat was gorgeous, she came out of the beautifully wood worked main salon, to the sit-out area in the front with its pinjiraakari windows, and lace curtains, overlooking the lake, just as dawn was breaking. Adil had sent over a guy who was ready with his doonga to take her to the flower market. In the brightening darkness, and the sound of lapping waters, she spread out her hand to play with the ripples, which were rhythmically dancing to the tune of the pre-dawn Ramzaan prayers. They sounded familiar, no not from Ajmer, they sounded Vedic, just as Mustafa had said, “When the Sufis came they copied the Sama Veda style of chanting, you can hear it even today if you go there during Ramzaan…..but why would you…” The clamour of the tourists despite the call for a bandh, the early morning hours, along with the various vegetable and fruit sellers juxtaposing the fabulous array of flowers on display took her breath away. A water market with real people with real lives, these were the regular Kashmiris wanting to make ends meet, here was a slice of life, a window to normality. The houseboat owner had also confided the same in her, “We don’t have any issue with Indians, our livelihood depends on tourists, but what can we do, our fate is to see so much violence..”

In a few hours Aditi was ferried back to the houseboat where she had breakfast by the lake watching the birds perform for her on the placid waters – purple coots, terns, ducks, grebes, moorhens… a kite sat atop the rafters of the adjacent shikaara watching her with its piercing eyes, even as she watched the birds…far ahead a lady was cleaning the weeds, or perhaps she was harvesting the water plants, a man appeared from nowhere silently in his Kashmiri kayak full of resplendent flowers, he went past smiling gently at her, waving, she waved back at him, thankful that he did not treat her as yet another customer… ..then she heard the temple bells from the Shankaracharya Hill, across from where she was, which brought her back to the here and now, yes I could live here she thought. As long as there are temple bells ringing, I could definitely live here.

Nisar called and asked her to come to the main road as early as possible, he would take her to the gardens, some shopping, and then to his place for dinner, his mother was excited to meet Aditi. Thus she found herself invited to their Iftar party. Aditi was looking forward to the food as she had heard so much about it from Mustafa who was always nostalgic about Monj Haak or Doon Chetin or some such unheard-of dish. The table was well laid out with numerous items, she asked Nisar to explain them to her, not wanting to be caught unawares like she had been with Mustafa once. On one of their Saturday outings, they had gone to a Kashmiri restaurant and he had ordered beef, without even wanting to know if she was okay with it, she attributed it to him missing food from home, but it hurt, that memory was still so fresh that she wanted to be doubly sure here too. If Mustafa was invited home she would make sure that she did not serve what was forbidden for him, but he, knowing fully well that she was a devout Hindu, had been very inconsiderate. She had been very upset at his lack of basic niceties, was it out of ignorance or was it premeditated she was not sure, and then it slowly dawned on her, this is what Mustafa meant when he said we are two different worlds. Was he trying to force her to choose, to accept his world? Was it out of love? Or was it out of disdain? Despite this dishonour, an indignity meted out to her perhaps unwittingly, Aditi had excused him, but she let that incident stay in her mind, to be counted against him when the time came, just as Shree Krishna had done with Shishupala.

Of course, nothing from the food or worship is common, in fact they belonged to opposing banks of a river, how was it even possible to co-exist or cohabit! Unless one of them gave in. It seemed to her that in this union, she was expected to be that person, the one who gave up her chaap and tilak. Aah! There you are much mistaken thought Aditi, not for nothing am I a Chauhan, could I ever sell my beliefs and my being for a few moments of lust, or even a lifetime of ‘love’, no. Not after those countless wars to maintain our self-respect and dignity, not after those countless jauhars by my ancestors, no never. She could hardly touch anything once she even thought of the word ‘beef’, so she excused herself to the bathroom, wanting to vomit.

Aditi thanked Nisar’s servant maid who looked demure in a hijab, who served Sherbet no sooner had Aditi entered their house – it was made with basil seeds – she really liked it, and told them how much she enjoyed Srinagar too. To bridge the uncomfortable silence and language barrier with Nisar’s father and mother, she asked for photo albums to browse through, “Bhaiyya show me your school photos na, how did you all look in school uniforms…”, and that is when she saw the wedding photo. Mustafa standing next to a beautiful woman, surrounded by friends and family, all smiling and tired, at a wedding, which seemed to be like ….his own….her heart was pounding hard, and it broke without making too much noise, lest Aditi would hear her mother say, “I told you so, don’t trust them”. 

She realized a tad bit late that it was not really so much about trust as it was about fundamental differences. On one hand, Ma was so devoted to her husband, not knowing whether he was dead or alive, even after 20 years, that promise of saat janam ka saath was kept alive and well, and on the other hand there was a contract, which could be torn apart at will, at one’s whim and fancy.

Aditi shut the albums instantly, unable to bear the penetrating pain that passed through her heart, as though an arrow had been released, and she was the target, whoever the archer was, was a great shot, it hit home and dug deep. She was dumbstruck. To allay suspicions that she had been ignorant of Mustafa’s marital status, she had to come up with something else, “Was your house affected during the floods? I saw photos online, and in the news, it must have been very hard during that time na?” Nasir did not reply immediately, he took his time, as though not wanting to credit his saviours, “Yes yes so much water came baabi, it was a very bad time for Srinagar..all neighbours helped…” He did not seem to elaborate, so Aditi handed him some words, “I saw that the Army personnel were very helpful na?”, she looked at him expectantly, “haan...Army also helped little”. He did not let the word Army stay long in his mouth, as though it would pollute his tongue. The same Army that had helped the valley tirelessly, selflessly during the floods, the same Army that her father had been a proud part of. The same Army that was helping to keep this land from becoming a Gaza or a Syria.

She would have to reconsider her leanings, her ideology, her belief system, how could someone dislike the very people who help and save your life? If there was no terrorism there would be no army presence, and if there was no funding from across the border, from other nations, wanting to play the Islamic card, there would be no Kashmir problem. Aditi had seen videos of how Benazir had whipped up passions with her fiery speeches against India and Hindus in the late 80s, how when the war with Soviets ended the battle hardy mujahideen crossed over to try their luck in establishing their writ here, just as they had done with Afghanistan.

Martand Temple is also called Pandu-Koru by the locals, and the belief is that it was first built in honour of the Sun God Surya either by the Pandavas or their descendents, or that the Pandavas resided here. Who is Martand? He was the 13th son of Aditi, and was born lifeless unlike her other 12 sons, the Adityas, hence he was abandoned into the sea for many yugas, the Satisar was then drained, from which he was rescued by his father Kashyapa, and thereafter worshipped as Martand here. He is known to bestow great health and fortune when prayed to especially on his janmadin which falls on Magha Shukla Saptami. A new temple has been built nearby which houses Surya Bhagavan, and is in worship now. The waters of the Vimala Kamala kunds here are said to be very holy and people collect them and take them home just as they do with the Ganga. Pilgrims on their way back from Amarnath feed the sacred fish of these temple tanks, and only then complete their teerth-yatra.

Aditi was led to the table which was laden with dates, dry and fresh fruits, and Nisar rolled out the menu to her; kebabs, phirni, sheer khurma, kashmiri pulao, haak, nadroo yakhni, rogan josh…. and some other dishes whose names sounded like murmurs from another era, for by now she was too shaken by this inescapable reality to be angry,  and too heartbroken to be hungry. She did enjoy the dum aloo though, and asked about the masala, how else could she thank this generous elderly lady, Nisar’s mother, she was grateful that they had invited her, hosted her. Not letting her hosts suspect something was amiss, she casually made a comment while sipping Kahwa, “…..so Nisar bhaiyya where are you in this group photo, I don’t see you…you must be working hard at the wedding …?” She was not sure how her voice would sound when she said this, but it obviously worked, no one was perturbed, and Nisar started rummaging for a photo with him in it, “..deko… I am here in the group photo with Zarine baabi’s family…”, and as she had hoped, he slowly let out bits and pieces of information that she was looking for. So that was her name, Zarine. Where is she, what does she do…..how to ask all this without giving away the fact that she had not known of her existence until a few minutes ago.

What she gathered finally, thanks to Nisar’s enthusiasm and wanting to be useful, was that Zarine’s family did not want Mustafa to join the Indian government which they felt was a betrayal of their cause of Azaadi, they were orthodox people too, and thus the young couple’s relationship had suffered, which at the moment seemed to be on hold. Well, as per the Muslim Personal Law, (Shariat), Application Act 1937, which was applicable all over India, Mustafa was entitled to this wife and three more, why did Aditi think that this would not happen to her, that this piece of information, which she had tucked away in a corner of her brain, which was filled with a lot of such information as preparation for Prelims, would not come backbiting at her. She also gleaned that Mustafa’s sister whom they all had been so fond of, had married ’out’, and thus was excommunicated by the whole family. No wonder he hardly spoke of his people, his siblings. “She lost her place here when she married…him” Nasir could not even bring himself to say the Hindu name. “She does not come here anymore”. That law that disenfranchised women in J&K, she had to look it up in detail when she got back to the houseboat, Aditi remembered reading something about how draconian it was, how discriminatory. This much she understood though that while his own sister could not live here in Kashmir because the law mandates that if a woman marries out of state she loses her right to property, government education, employment and health care, Mustafa was free to marry anyone, more than once, and could settle anywhere in India. A fantastic idea to overtake any land! You can’t claim mine, but I claim mine and yours too. If you say a word, I shall scream victim. And right on cue Nisar divulged, “…this photo is from his reception in their Bombay house..I went also, first time in Bombay….did not see any filam stars…so sad… ” saying this Nisar laughed heartily at his own feebly attempted joke.

The night was endless, and the ground shaky, the waters seemed to invite her to jump in and not resurface ever, yet dawn broke with its promise for brightness, shining its orbs on the cragged edges of the Zabarwan, and as she looked towards Mahadev’s peak, she prayed for his assistance. There was not much else that she could do at this time.

To be Continued…

About Author: Kavita Krishna

Krishna Kavita is a student of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati ji, of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, and has continued her Vedanta studies with Swamini Svatmavidyananda ji and Swami Sadatmananda ji from the same paramparaa. She enjoys writing and teaching about Indic language, culture, and thought. Kavita has degrees in Philosophy, Engineering, and a postgraduate degree in International Education, along with graduate certificates in Public Policy and Filmmaking.

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