Culture & Society

‘My last wish’: A Kashmiri Pandit’s Letter To Muslim Friend Back Home After 1990 Exodus

An erudite scholar of Sanskrit and Persian, a reflective poet of Urdu and Kashmiri, Pt. Ved Lal Kaul wrote to a former colleague and town’s Imam High after realizing he can’t return to his native place anytime soon

A letter from a displaced Kashmiri Pandit to a Muslim friend
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The unprecedented developments in late 1989 changed the whole social and cultural landscape of Kashmir. The armed insurgency and participatory jihad of local factions with non-native commanders first time brought Hindu-Muslim binaries on surface. While the minority were driven from their homes and their members killed selectively, the majority silently watched it. They too suffered due to counter-insurgency measures for a good number of its community children who had waged war against the state.

Till 1990, the sublime stream of Reshi culture would flow since its formation in mid-14th century. After the advent of armed insurgency, it is hard to believe that two communities of Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits had lived together peacefully.

The new literature is contested. The political debates are equally disputed and cultural landscape is fractured. There is a sense of deprivation and amiss of nativity in both the communities. The emptiness has been filled up with the determined set of contradictions that have brought cracks in the cultural mirror of Kashmir. These contradictions are produced in extreme versions of religiosity which new generation takes up as a powerful social discourse for justifying essentialism. It makes the conflict inevitable and future uncertain.

Here is a case of a Pandit who was displaced at the age of 80 from his native place in Kashmir. Pandit Ved Lal Kaul Raj, my father, was an erudite scholar of Sanskrit and Persian and a reflective poet of Urdu and Kashmiri. A government school teacher, well respected as Master ji, known for his religion-integrated humanism that had earned him poise and after his death social grace through his contributions. This is his letter to his Muslim friend who had been his colleague and Imam High of the town after realizing he can’t go back to his native place. It’s a piece of literature depicting common life experiences, pain of separation and longing for his home and the people.

The original letter is in Urdu, it has been translated by Pandit Chaman Lal Kaul, a Kashmiri academic based in Bandipore.

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I am in a fix as to how I should address you. Should I address you as respected Imam sahab, as Maulana sahab or simply as Mama sahab as I would call you and thus reveal my inner-self to you?

Finally, I have decided to discuss a few things with my Mama sahab. These two words contain a legend, a history in them, a sweet story, a solid reality in which there is love, sincerity and brotherhood in the real sense. 

As a routine affair in my life, every year in the month of November or before that, I join my children serving outside the Valley and thus spend the chilly winter there with them. As usual, last year also I bade goodbye to my Valley for a few months. Fortunately or unfortunately, after my exit, a revolution swept the Valley that had never been thought of before.

However, I don’t want to indulge in the ups and downs that followed but I think it to be important to put it on record that as I was on my return to Valley and had a brief stopover at Udhampur, no one allowed me to proceed to my Valley. I felt bewildered after I was told different versions of the events. In short, my mind was filled with immense threat and fear. The strange unheard events so far, my courage began to leave me. I tried my utmost to leave for the Valley but I got no permission from my friends and children. I tried to convince my near and dear ones of my innocence and unblemished character but to no avail.

I asked myself why should anyone kill me. What wrong have I done to anyone? I have lived a simple poor life, enjoyed the trust and confidence of my friends, neighbours and have marched slowly ahead in my life. Where am I at fault? However, life is dear to everyone. It needs an adventurous, wildly adventurous heart to return to the Valley in such circumstances. But I couldn’t take the risk, so I have to change my mind. I couldn’t return to my homeland after spending some days at Udhampur. I returned to Banaras. Now I am in the scorching streets of Banaras.

I stand at crossroads. I am left with two options. One is my keen desire to revisit my homeland and the other is a material quest.

It is my earnest desire to visit Kashmir before I die, roam around the silver mountain tops, lush green meadows, the silvery foaming waterfalls and cool down my eyes with the sight and sound of the flowing murmuring streams of pristine water. I want to forget all about God’s heaven on seeing the velvety meadows. I have to talk once again to my lovely people about love, compassion and brotherhood. I want to converse with my age-old trusted friends and neighbours and I want to share my grievances and complaints with them and thus renew and reorient our mutual trust, confidence, faith and care for each other which the distance of time and space might have hampered. Needless to remind you, Sir, that my relations have always been comparatively thicker with my Muslim brothers rather than with the Hindu community. I was closer to the Pirs, Fazilis, Bhats, and the Zargar families.  

My circle of friends and acquaintances was always very vast. Who doesn’t know how close I was to Mirs of Bandipore and the Dachigam? How close I was to Mr Taseer Sahab and other poets?

I don't want these facts to recede back into a dream. To crown it all –my own village Kalusa—my head bends low always in gratitude to my friends and neighbours like Mr Mohammad Afzal Khan, Mr GH Hassan Akhoon. Especially my childhood friend Mr Wali Mohammad Safi can never be out of my mind even for a single moment. No, no, it is never possible. There are many well-wishers to name. Even remembering one makes tears run down my eyes. This is no exaggeration but a stark reality. This was the life I have lived. These relations have been all that I have earned in my life. They are my life treasures. But the cruel time has snatched this wealth from me. Friendless, destitute and dejected, as I close my eyes, all the past memories flash one by one on the screen of my mind. They appear and disappear. A family member calls me to dinner.

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In the context of the present revolution whenever Bandipora is mentioned, I hear your name referred to. Your family is not confined to Jammu and Kashmir. It has spread outside the state. I have heard your name being mentioned with great reverence here in Udhampur.

If the minorities in Bandipora have always felt safe, it is because of your sincere efforts and good wishes. It is my keen desire to spend the last days of my life in my hometown. Can I have a word of assurance from you?

After having fulfilled all my duties towards my family, I live a content life. By the grace of God, there is no dearth of anything. But it is quite necessary to have enough money handy in old age when you are living outside your homeland. When the needs are fulfilled, the honour remains intact.

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Manzoor Ahmed Zargar —a student at the Baranas Hindu University and a close friend of my son Ashok Kaul—is a resident of Bandipore. He is leaving for home to enjoy the holidays. I am sending my authority letter to you through him. Kindly exercise your influence in this matter and manage to get the case settled. You may seek help from Mr Triloki Nath Sadhu from Ajar as well.

God alone knows when he will summon me to his world.

I have always enjoyed the love and friendship of your brothers. Please extend my respect and regards to them and seek apologies on my behalf for any mistake if ever committed.

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Love to your children and highest respect and regards to your better half!

Out in the wild,

Ved Lal Kaul

(Ashok Kaul is an Emeritus professor at Banaras Hindu University)

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