Tilak was banned, janeu was forbidden, Hindu clothes could no longer be worn, temples could not be built or renovated...and of course a foreign tongue and script rode roughshod over Kashmiri and Sharada, despite such desperate attempts at usurping a beauteous land from its original inhabitants, it did not perish.
Continued from Part 2
Yesterday, before the dinner at his place, Nisar had taken her shopping by the way of the famed gardens of Chashma Shahi, Shalimar, Nishat, and Pari Mahal, all built by Mughals, made famous by movie stars and their songs, with numerous quotations declaring this land as paradise, but was it really, for the Pandits? A place is a paradise if the people are likeable, they have something special to offer, but if the people here refuse to accept history, and may have perhaps participated in the genocide of their neighbours silently or actively, would you still call it a paradise? A place is not merely land, water, flowers, and hills…it is the living beings that it is populated with, the humans that connect to the land in a certain way and thus complete the cycle of life. Now, who are the ones more rooted to this land, who are the ones whose memories irrigate this land...what is 500-600 years when compared to a Mahayuga! Your memories are nothing compared to ours, we remember our mother from afar since you snatched her away from us, you will bear the brunt of guilt, while we shall prosper in endurance.
The gorgeous gardens although perfectly laid out did not appeal to her wild self, she preferred spontaneous unkempt forests. But Aditi was a keen naturalist, and she asked Nisar for the Kashmiri names of the various flowers, plants, trees, at the numerous well-manicured grounds, names of the various birds, some migratory too, that she had spotted on the lake… it was all so beautiful, heavenly too, yes…..what do you call this in Kashmiri?…..what do you call that in Kashmiri? Aditi felt that with Mustafa, the way to his heart was via his mouth, therefore her eagerness to spout a bit of Kashmiri when she returned to Delhi. But sadly Nisar’s answers were mostly in Urdu…..he told her that Urdu was their state language! Strange for a land that is so proud of its culture and ethnicity, that it should choose to forget its own tongue and speak in pidgin!
“Come in March baabi, I will show Tulips”, Nisar had taken time to show her around Srinagar second day in a row, what did he do for a living she wondered, but was too polite to ask, “And I should come back in November for the Saffron harvest hai na!” She added, to show him that she was not completely clueless. Nisar smiled broadly and said, “Settle down here only, like Mustafa’s mother”. What? “What do you mean bhaiyya?” Aditi had been preparing herself mentally for all kinds of information about Mustafa’s family, hence she was immediately curious. “..woh bee Rajput hai..” replied Nisar, smiling approvingly, since she was now converted, hmm that explained a lot. Mustafa’s fascination for someone like Aditi was finally clear, she was of a ‘different world’ in his own words, yet so much was similar!
Aditi ended up buying a few embroidered kurtas for herself, her cousins, her flatmates, and a Kashmiri silk sari for her mother. Her daadi of course wore only kurti-kanchlis. Saffron was next on the list and the ver masala that Mustafa always spoke so wistfully of. The crafts were indeed a delight, but the carpets, the embroidery, the woodwork, all were said to be brought in from the West, by the Islamic preachers, as though the land before their occupation was populated by barbarians! But that is what they had labelled Saudi Arabia too hadn’t they, as jaahil, before the advent of Islam. As per Muslims, no land is civilized enough until it accepts Islam, might be true of the Middle-east, but it was definitely not true of Bharat, not true of Kashmir which is the crown of Bharat. From Charaka, Vishnu Sharma, Patanjali, Vasugupta, Abhinavagupta, Kshemaraja, Anandavardhana, to Kalhana, to Bilhana, to Mankha, Sarangadeva, Pingala, there was highly developed dance, music, poetry, literature, medicine, mathematics, and science here, long before the 14th century. A whole history was brushed aside when the sufis started coming in from the West, railing against the indigenous peoples and their ways.
Tilak was banned, janeu was forbidden, Hindu clothes could no longer be worn, temples could not be built or renovated…and of course a foreign tongue and script rode roughshod over Kashmiri and Sharada, despite such desperate attempts at usurping a beauteous land from its original inhabitants, it did not perish. Literally seven major genocides took place, if we must keep count, to remove the Pandits from their ancestral lands, attempts to pluck them off of their roots, it did not succeed because the available knowledge is too vast, and too deeply embedded in the psyche of the people, you can burn books or libraries or universities, you can kill and rape at will, but even if one person survives, s/he carries the whole civilizational memory along. Today the land aspires to speak in Urdu, a language that originated in the army camps of the Mughals which is a mish-mash of Arabi, Farsi, Turki nouns, sitting on Sanskrit grammar, structure and Hindi verbs, all the while claiming to be the flag bearer of Kashmiri culture! What a farce.
“It is strange that you have only Muslim Chief Ministers, in all these years you couldn’t find someone else to represent you?” Aditi was ready to confront Mustafa after having finished up GK studies for the weekend, she would read up on Kashmir and come prepared to fight it out with him, it gave both of them some kind of a strange high. “Well, you see we have had Dogra Hindu rulers who banned Urdu and beef before so you can’t blame us for not allowing that to happen again!”, “Wow!” Aditi interjected even as he was about to complete his sentence, “Wow! I can’t believe you said this, so how should Hindus feel given how they were treated from the 14th century onwards haan?”, “Well, whether you like it or not Muslims are the majority in Kashmir, so their sentiments take priority and precedence” answered Mustafa with finality. “Right! Last time I said that about Hindus being the majority, that their sentiments should be honoured, you said India was not a Hindu Rashtra! You cannot have it both ways!” But it seemed crystal clear that they were indeed having it both ways, very happily too. Play the minority card elsewhere and talk of majority sentiments when in large numbers. In just two days Aditi could finally make sense of the various versions and strains of the events that took place here. Everything boiled down to religion, it was plain and simple land grab by political Islam.
After dinner at his place, Nasir dropped off a dazed Aditi for her doonga ride back to her houseboat. She thanked him profusely and pleaded with him to keep her visit a secret as she wanted to surprise Mustafa. He readily agreed, taken in with this love-story unfolding in front of him, in fact, he was far more excited than she was about this whole relationship. She did not confide in him that she was staying back another day for something important, her night time research had revealed horrifying facts of the number of temples destroyed in the valley. Where was the Kashmiriyat that they kept bandying about, this hatred for another culture was a common strain anyway, there was an innate inability in Islam to coexist with another ideology as it considered all other ideologies inferior or worthless in comparison, fit to be put to death. Think Yezidis, think Hindus. Mustafa had been honest enough to admit this fact, saying how their two worlds were parallel tracks that could never meet, there was indeed nothing in common. What else could explain the numerous Hindu temple ruins versus the overboard opulence of the Muslim shrines here?
But then why had he initiated this whole relationship? Why had he convinced her initially that it was class that mattered and nothing else, Aditi thought over this and came to the conclusion that if she had not been so strongly Hindu in her habits and mannerisms, Mustafa would have never revealed his real feelings, she had forced his hand, and he had to finally admit that, yes, as per Islam there can be no happy co-existence, it is either a Muslim rule or a fight for a Muslim rule. Why else create a Pakistan?
Her heart hardening by the day, she asked Adil to rent a car for her, she wanted to go to Anantnag, “Islamabad is not safe now madam, wait for 2-3 days”, he was a genial sort, happy to have customers despite the curfew and bandhs, he was looking for good reviews online and on social media, hence he was eager to please and ready to be of service. “How far is Martand from Anantnag?” Aditi persisted in using the Hindu name of the place, why should she be a party to the extermination of a whole race, including their ancient names of their lands. “Madam, not safe now, next time, very close to Srinagar, I will take, promise”. Not to be defeated so easily, she changed her tactic, “How long is it to Jammu, do you have taxis to take me by road? I did not buy a return air ticket to Delhi, it was very expensive…maybe I will take the train from there…”.
A deal was struck and Aditi was soon on her way, she called Nisar to thank him once again for his time and for taking her around, for showing her those parts of Srinagar which were not usually on a tourist’s itinerary, he had been a great local friend, except for his zeal to convert, which she brushed aside, and wished him luck. At least he was direct and honest. Nisar had expressed great interest in paying his respects to Ghareeb Nawaz at Ajmer, and knowing his love for mystic Muslims, Aditi had warmly invited him home, “You must visit us bhaiyya! pukka, okay?” I think I understand poor Prithviraj Chauhan better now, thought Aditi, how can one not be grateful? How can one be thankless? How can one not forgive? How can one be adhaarmik? She had eaten but one meal at Nisar’s, and she would be forever indebted.
That is when Aditi found herself in Verinag, confronting her inner demons, after her visit to Martand, on a car ride from Srinagar to Jammu.
The whole country is now agog with the happenings in Mattan, it has caught the imagination of the youth. Poems and shorts are filling up social media. Photos, selfies…hashtags..the government is on the back foot once again. In its bid to revive tourism and promote the erstwhile temple of Martand, it seems to have opened up the proverbial can of worms. There are vociferous demands from civil society, Pandits from across the globe, and Hindu revivalist groups, all of whom are demanding fresh construction and renovation of the Martand ruins, as per the numerous architectural drawings available of this site. They want it to set an example of the glorious civilization that Kashmir was once, before it was laid threadbare due to iconoclasm. Various travellers from Auriel Stein to Alexander Cunningham have described this temple complex in the most grandiloquent terms. ‘It is our 5000 year plus history, and we have every right to restore it to its original grandeur’, said one of their spokespersons.
It has been a decade, such a long journey, but feels like yesterday!
Aditi alighted from the aeroplane and looked around the tiny tarmac, she felt a sense of nostalgia even though she had been here only for two days the last time. She had been in love and heartbroken. How immature she was, how clueless. She smiled at her memories, she thought fondly of Mustafa even though they had not parted well. She had moved on and was happy with how life had lead her on this unforeseen path. She was here for the next six months from April to October, she had chosen the dates herself, as she wanted to visit both the Tulip Gardens and the Saffron fields. This was the perfect place to complete her book. She had an agent, she had a publisher, they had liked her premise and the first chapter, so along with her manuscript, and with the handsome advance they gave her, here she was! She had called Adil to check if he was still around, if his houseboat was free to host her, and thus she found herself in Ceylon once again looking at the kite looking at her, perhaps the same one from a decade ago, who knew!
Aditi had been an avid follower of a few of the famous Kashmiri handles on Social Media, but over time had been disappointed at how whether a Sabbah or a Junaid, they always espoused a one-sided partisan view of the place, through their photos, videos, blogs, they managed to garner the sympathy and acclaim of the mainstream Indians while silently working against the country they othered as ‘India’. The only praiseworthy aspect in India for them was ‘Bollywood’, that too if the film had dialogues and songs that were suffused with Urdu. Anything overtly Hindu, or in Hindi was smirked at. So, right after her return to Delhi all those moons ago, Aditi had started blogging about her trip to Srinagar in great detail, she had presented her honest thoughts, and the Hindu point of view. Soon the blog took shape of a Youtube Channel, a Facebook Page, a Twitter and Instagram account, stories came pouring in, and she started compiling them meticulously, this gave voice to many Pandits who were waiting to tell their tales. People sent WhatsApp videos of their lives in refugee camps, of their grandparents and parents who went mute from the suffering, from waiting to return home, of the various travails and achievements of Kashmiri Pandits the world over. She was now unwittingly an honorary member of this much-persecuted society. In a way, her presentation of this whole saga had many more takers, as she was looked at as being more objective, than if the Pandits themselves had talked of their personal trauma directly.
When Mustafa had met her on her return from Srinagar a decade ago, she could sense the change in his body language and attitude towards her. He had not expected her to be so bold as to land up in his territory. After that it was all power play, him trying to reclaim his legitimate position as the superior in the relationship. He was no longer kind, gentle, or quirky with her, he started getting physical, and violent. Aditi understood this to be a clear sign of defeat. She was not his sweet innocent pet anymore. She was ruthless and dangerous. How could she just up and go to Srinagar? Without telling him! Without confiding in him! It was as though he owned the place, as though the city was his jaagir, Aditi was now constantly reprimanded, he started being rude with her for no reason, the facade was slowly peeling, and the last straw was when he got mad at her for gifting him a statue, a bust of Buddha for his birthday. She was sensitive enough not to offer him the glory of Rama or Krishna, she knew that he did not have the bandwidth to appreciate them as divine or beautiful…..but she was aghast at his sudden burst of anger at a human bust, Buddha was a rishi too wasn’t he?
This was very unexpected behaviour from the atheist gentleman that he always portrayed himself to be. She knew that he knew that he was in the wrong, his people were in the wrong, yet accepting that, accepting history as it was, would take a brave soul, and her Kashmiri had turned out to be a coward. His loss she said to herself, and let go of him without a second thought. Nisar had called her once or twice to check on her and to ask after, he seemed to have more affection for her despite their very brief association, than what Mustafa showed towards her! He had tried to probe as to why everything went south like this, but she had been non-committal, saying that it was tough to maintain a long-distance relationship, given that Mustafa was a diplomat, and Nisar had no choice but to accept this logical reason for the break-up with great sadness.
In the initial days of courtship, she had dreamt of their union as transcending all barriers, looking forward to accepting all differences, as a way to become better human beings together, after all, was this not the grand vision of any relationship? It did not seem so for him. Mustafa’s idea of a perfect couple was when the Hindu in her would erase all differences, which meant that she give up her unnecessary unwarranted bhakti on a daily basis, unless it involved something acceptable like ‘meditation’ – sitting as he called it – that was fashionable, trendy, and very in. He had mentioned once that as a child he would play around as though he was Hanuman burning Lanka…and this had made her heart swell with expectation, with a love that is happy in finding that it has been able to cross a dam, but no….that was but a memory of watching a TV serial and meant nothing more, his current countenance was that of a globalized Indian who wished to stay away from old fashioned ideas which were not modern…and by modern he meant Abrahamic…that is what it was…his mask had dropped, for a self-confessed atheist his hatred for a blameless bust seemed so wrong..and she started seeing and noticing more and more such differences. How blind she had been, how foolishly naive!
Aditi entered a Srinagar where the Hari Parbat was now open to the public, where one could have darshan of Sharika Devi without any hurdle, where one could do the parikrama too if one wanted. This Srinagar was where she could pay respects at the Raghunath Mandir that was renovated after its destruction in the 90s when it was set on fire by jihadis. She was free to go to Kheer Bhavani and to Martand near Anantnag. This was her Srinagar. She would visit Khanqah-e-Moula too, but this time she would go directly to its riverfront and pray to Kali Maa. She would pay tributes at Ganpatyar, perhaps also at all the other 50,000 temples over time that dot the valley, all of which had been either destroyed and or left unused unworshipped. Yes, she would certainly make some Youtube videos on those. Her channel was now one of the most trusted for content on Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. She had travelled extensively interviewing people, Pandits mostly, many of whom still lived in refugee camps. This was her service to the people who had lost everything because they had put their country first, her love for Bharat and their dedication to the same made them her allies.
After returning from Srinagar, Aditi had gone back to Ajmer to get a sense of who she was, and what she really wanted to do with her life. Although people often made fun of Prithviraj Chauhan and blamed him for letting go of Muhammed of Ghor even in a win, it exhibited to her the clear difference between dharma and adharma. A Girija Tickoo or Sarla Bhatt could have just as easily taken place in Ajmer, and they did, except we don’t know their names…like the name of the poor girl her father lost his life for, trying to save her, this was dharma...what was common to both Srinagar and in Ajmer was this ideology that looked upon kaffir women as easy meat. This was adharma. If she had joined the IFS or IAS she was sure to be a sarkaari babu stuck with people like Mustafa, highly bright officers kow-towing the official line only for the position and prestige that the job offered, without an iota of deshbhakti in them, working towards adharma. She would be better off outside the system. Her first Kashmir trip had revealed to her that she was not meant for the stifling air of bureaucracy. It showed her where her svadharma lay. She would instead brave storms and trolls, she would be courageous and bold, just as her father might have been at war, she would bring the reality of this region to the masses, so they could see for themselves the truth that was constantly couched in victimhood and false chest-beatings.
When she broke a story on how the Rohingyas were being settled in Jammu illegally, despite India not being a party to the Refugee Convention of UNHCR nor its 1967 protocol, on how Pandits were still unwelcome in Kashmir Valley, while strangely Jammu was now welcoming Bengali speaking Muslims from far off Myanmar and Bangladesh. On how crimes were now on the rise due to such unhealthy demographic changes, all hell broke loose, that story raised a storm in the Parliament too. Of course, she had done due diligence, her portrayal of facts could not be doubted. First, it was the Europeans who started living off of houseboats in the early 1900s, as this did not need land ownership, they came in large numbers and started forming power centres in the valley, wasn’t it Maharaja Hari Singhji’s Permanent Settlement Law of 1927 that prevented Westerners from taking over Kashmir? Whatever gains that might have accrued from that soon vanished with Sheikh Abdullah granting citizenship rights to Uyghurs (Chinese Muslims) and Bakshi Mohammed to Tibetan Muslims in the 50s. All through, the policy and attitude towards Hindu and Sikh refugees from either POK or the various wars with Pakistan from 1947, ‘65, ‘71, ‘89 did not change, they were left out of the system conveniently. Meanwhile, parts of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir are being happily gifted to China constantly while populating it with Sunnis, and erasing the trace of any non-Muslim from their own land. The Shia inhabitants of Gilgit and Baltistan are now but a minority with no say in their personal affairs. Of course, no one cares about what happens to the Dogras, Gujars, Paharis, Kishtawaris or Ladakhis in all this hullabaloo. The same could be said, and more of Sindh, of Balochistan. What is it about a newly formed Islamic Republic that tends to eat away at its hosts, she asked, concluding her lengthy report.
Given the fearlessness and strength of her writings and research, she was being invited for talk shows and feted by politicians of all hues. Aditi had found seed money right after, to start her own channel, to share her original content on a larger scale, and that was that, there was no looking back. It had not been easy to give up on her childhood dream, but this was essential, and she had had the wherewithal to go full throttle with it.
As an influencer on all matters Kashmir, her recent vlogs had incited someone to put up the murti of Surya devata at Martand! Now that the other side had shown their real intent, by desecrating the sacred space, she put more vigour in her writings and videos and extolled her countrymen and women to land up in Kashmir, in Anantnag, to protect their old ways. People came pouring in by the dozens. She now wanted to shake the whole system up, she wanted to inform people of the dangers of leaving one’s community, one’s kula, for the sake of looking cosmopolitan, or because one’s weak heart was looking for ‘love’, what you might get instead was a bashed skull, a converted name, an alien culture that will never treat you as an equal.
Cafe Turtle had long lost its sheen, it came close to shutting down many times, and finally after sputtering and coughing for a few months, it simply vanished one fine day. Just like him and her, their space gone, their love gone, what remained was the aftermath, that time and space which in fact revealed the hollowness of their short-lived union. If you choose to see, you see very clearly. Now, if ever they met on her insistence, which was extremely rare, she was the one who paid for their lunches, she would buy him small tokens to express what was left of her feelings for him – a pen here, a notepad there – but there was nothing from him to her. He would get Kashmiri scarves for his colleague’s wives, for his instructors..but nothing for her…and when he got to know of her blogs and her writings on Kashmir, he simply cut her off claiming that he ‘felt used’.
Aditi let him go too without a fight. There was nothing left for either of them except disappointment. It did not surprise her in the least when she heard that Mustafa had been criticizing the government and its policies more and more openly now, in the presence of foreign dignitaries and officials. She could handle another wife, she could handle his roving eye, she could even handle his eating beef, she could excuse his cowardice, his parsimony, but what she would not accept nor tolerate was that he was working against the country, while making full use of his position in the government, milking the very system that he hated viscerally. Ironical that he should feel used by her!
Aditi smiled at the fish in the transparent temple tank at the Suryadev temple, “Thank You” she whispered to the keepers of waters, thank you for reviving my dead Martand. Walking up to the beautiful white marble statue of Surya Bhagavan she paid her respects, offered fruits, flowers, distributed sweet boxes among co-pilgrims, added a wad of notes as donation in the hundi, and took prashaad from the poojari. She sent a silent prayer to her father, wherever he might be. May Papa finally go onwards in peace, knowing that his daughter thought of him fondly, and was proud of him, and was no longer sad or lonely. Aditi had found her strength within herself, she paused and thanked Mustafa too, only because he was the main reason that she had finally opened her eyes to the reality around her. She trekked up to the Bumzoo Caves on a whim and sat down to meditate in front of Kaldeva. This time she could sit long and quiet without fidgeting, this time she was still.
At Verinag, again. Ma was visiting after almost thirty-five years. So much had changed in Kashmir from the 90s. It was now safe to return, the many terrorist outfits had to finally shut shop, thanks to the Indian Army, and the political acumen of the central leadership. Right after the state took over control of the mosques and the madrasa curriculum, much of the weekly Friday hate that was spewed against Hindus and India disappeared. Her mother was like a young bride again, she had dressed up in her choicest chiffon, made up her hair in a lovely bun, her lipstick matching her heels, and bangles, she tiptoed to the exact spot where she had stood hand in hand with her dear husband when pregnant with Aditi. She smiled at the reflecting waters and whispered, “Look how she turned out! Just like you Adi”.
Despite heavy patrolling and barricading, another Surya devata murti miraculously appeared at Martand in the main chamber, exactly at the spot where a few days ago a similar murti was demolished by miscreants. It remains a mystery to everyone as to how and when this is happening, with full media glare. No one has been witnessed placing the said images. Some are calling it a political stunt, while the opposition blames the government, saying it is part of their efforts to saffronize the area. The public is convinced that it is indeed the power of Martand who wants to break free from his lifeless shell and be ready to shine his light once again on the Kashmir valley. Many more Surya idols are being ferried from across the country as we speak, in solidarity with the movement. Native leaders world over have condemned the blasting of the sacred images at Martand, and have called for a stop to constant pagan and indigenous persecution by the majoritarian religions of the world.