Since the last one week, the conversations with my mother have only been about Kashmir. She keeps insisting I return to Kashmir. If a war breaks out, she tells me hopelessly, I want you to be with the family. Our conversations have become morbid.
When the Indian government decided to send additional 10,000 troops to Kashmir, my friends and I didn’t sleep the entire night. We kept discussing the possible events that might unfold in the Valley. And since that night, the anxiety has gripped us, like black magic, possessed our minds, made our hearts restless and robbed us of sleep. The little sleep we get here – far from home – is filled with nightmares. It's filled with hopelessness.
The only news that comes from home is of panic. There is nothing that we can do. Picture this: back in Kashmir, roads have teemed with armed forces, tourists and Amarnath Yatris have deserted the Valley, non-local students and labourers are leaving worriedly; people are panic-buying, stocking the essentials; and inside the closed doors, families talk about the possibility of war and how to survive that.
And here, hundreds of miles away from home, I am despondent. I keep assuring my mother over the phone that there is no possibility of a war. I lie to her that I am sure of it. I want to tame her anxiety. I want her to calm down. For a moment she believes me. "Khudai Kari raech" – God will keep us safe! – she prays after every sentence. But she is my mother. She may be naive to the political developments but she understands when I lie.
I grew up in Kashmir. Like most of the people there, I have been a witness to the violence and bloodshed. For someone in Delhi or any other part of India, it may seem like a Bollywood scene to witness army men outside your home roaring their guns. But my childhood memories are filled with such scenes. These are the only souvenirs from my childhood. But today, the situation is different; something that I have never witnessed.
I have never been so restless before. In the office, I try to focus on work, but whenever some news comes from Kashmir, I grow restless and I panic. When I am at my room, all that is on my mind is Kashmir and the looming uncertainty. There is nothing that I can do to calm myself. Like a mad man, I aimlessly walk in my room or stare blankly at walls. I pick up a book to distract myself but every word, every sentence turns blur. I go out for a walk, but I feel paranoid.
I am now afraid of people. I return to my room and take a walk again, from one corner to another. The heart does not rest. In times like these, I am afraid of losing my mind. The feeling drives me crazy. Have I already lost my mind? Is this what they call madness?
I don’t know what the central government is up to in Kashmir. The speculation about abrogating Article 35-A, bifurcation or de-limitation may be wrong, but the way the government is handling the issue right now is appalling. The administration is clueless and local politicians are battling for their survival. The series of government advisories only hint at imminent tough times. The entire state is shrouded in chaos and confusion. There is no attempt to allay fears and debunk rumours. And that is what leads to anxiety.
Amid the deployment of additional 38,000 soldiers, when a common man sees tourists and pilgrims fleeing the Valley, hospitals being ordered to prepare for uncertain times, non-local students rushed out overnight, escalating tensions at the border, what will he speculate? He will prepare himself for long-weeks of curfew and a war.
And here in Delhi, I don’t think differently. The only difference is I don’t think about surviving the war; I think about how to be with my family in such times. I know I may be over-thinking it, but in such times, all that comes to my mind is home. If the war breaks out, my friend tells me, I want to die in my home. That may be too morbid a thought but that is how life has been for us.
And that is not where it ends. On Twitter, people have been calling for a genocide of Kashmiris. So many are celebrating the fear that has gripped the people there. People are talking about vengeance and throwing the locals out of their homes. The little hope that is left is shattered by these tweets. Here in Delhi, I am afraid of going out. What if one of these people identifies me as a Kashmiri and harms me? I have grown paranoid.
Every night I wait for the sleep. But with a restless heart, it evades me. At midnight, I close my eyes, picture my home, my family and Kashmir. As I see the Valley at midnight, from the plains, I beg the restless heart to stop still.