A Commonwealth Short Story Prize-winning author’s diary of events on his last link to Kashmir.
Dawn, March 1990, Home, Srinagar, Kashmir
Mother: Hurry up! The truck is ready to leave. The neighbours are waiting. Look after your sister.
Me: Why aren’t you coming with us?
Mother: We will get you back once the situation improves.
Me: But what if…?
Mother: At least, both of you will be safe.
Night, May 1990, Camp for the Displaced, Jammu
Sister: I’m thirsty. Will you get me some cold water?
Me: Can’t you wait till tomorrow? The water tanker will come at 5 a.m.
Evening, October 1992, Camp School for the Displaced, Udhampur
Boy 1: What are you going to do after passing Class 12?
Me: I don’t know. What about you?
Boy 1: Engineering, so that I can get a good job and support my family.
Me: And what will you do?
Boy 2: I’m staying here in the camp with my parents and grandparents. I can’t leave them alone.
Evening, March 1993, Railway Station, Jammu
Man 1: You’re also going to Karnataka to get your son admitted in the engineering college?
Man 2: We’re taking a train to Pune. My son has got a seat in an engineering college there. Balasaheb has got the engineering colleges in Maharashtra to waive the capitation fee for us Pandits. He’s our only saviour.
Man 3: We must send our children away from the wretched camps.
Man 4: What about you, dear? Where are you going?
Night, April 1994, Udhampur
Mother (sobbing): Why are you still here with us? Forget Kashmir, forget home, and forget us. Your future is outside. Go to Delhi or Bangalore or Hyderabad.
Evening, October 1994, Music Teacher’s House, Udhampur
Me: Guruji, I’ve decided to become a flautist.
Guruji: Are you prepared to forgo everything and surrender before music? It will take you a lifetime to learn one raag.
Morning, 1995, Varanasi
Dear Mother and Father,
I didn’t get selected for the Army. I am in Banaras now. The dharamshala I’m staying in is on a ghat. I don’t know how long I’ll stay here. You must not worry for me. I’ll try to find out what to do next.
Evening, 1995, Pandit Bhola Nath’s house, Allahabad
Pandit Bhola Nath: Don’t stop. Keep playing.
Me: Panditji, what should I do in life?
Pandit Bhola Nath: Go back to your guru, touch his feet and keep doing riyaz.
Afternoon, 1995, Ustad Bismillah Khan’s house, Varanasi
Me: Khan Sahab, what is the meaning of riyaz?
Ustad Bismillah Khan: Riyaz is Namaz.
April 1996, A Phone booth, New Delhi
Me: Grandpa, it’s me. How are you doing?
Grandpa: A mad dog has bitten you…I want to talk to Saddam. I want to talk to Jawaharlal… Get me a watch… Get me a wireless…
Me: Papa, why is grandpa saying all this?
Father: His memory is gone. Only a dream remains.
June 1996, Srinagar, Kashmir
Auto driver: You’re a Pandit? What are you doing here?
Me: Take me to Downtown. I want to see my house.
Auto driver: I will take you there but you must go back to India afterwards.
31 July 1999, Cremation Ground, Devika, Udhampur
Me: Grandpa died a sad man.
Father: Death is deliverance.
December 2001, Denver, Colorado
It’s snowing. A boy is making a snowman in the backyard of his house.
Snowman: Do you remember me?
Boy: Is that you…?
June 2012, Srinagar
Mother and Father take grandma to Kashmir to see our ancestral house there. Grandma falls ill on the third day.
Father: Grandma is critical. She wants to see you.
I fly to Srinagar. The city is under curfew. A taxi driver offers me a ride. I reach SMHS hospital at noon. When I enter the ward, a nurse says, ‘You are late by a minute; she just passed away.’ Mother is pouring water into grandma’s mouth. I give grandma a last kiss.
Me: Should we cremate her here in Srinagar?
Father: We should take her to Jammu. Jammu is our home now.
Morning, June 2016, Office of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner for Migrants, Jammu
Father: My son has come from Delhi to collect his state subject certificate.
The clerk hands us a note containing the list of documents to be arranged. We’re to dig up the proof of residence in Kashmir. We rummage through stacks of dusty files arranged district-wise on termite-ridden shelves. At last, I find my name and the address of our house in Srinagar on a piece of paper. We run from one office to another to get the paperwork verified and attested. Several days later, the state subject certificate is handed over to my father.
Father: Keep the certificate safe. It is your last link to Kashmir. Don’t let the link snap.
(The author is a Commonwealth Short Story Prize-winning author)