Kashmir Diary: Childhood Memories Of Kashmir

The bond between me and Puchi in today’s Kashmir seems more of a myth than a reality. Peace is integral to true development and survival with grace.

Illustration: Saahil

Dark nights alone
yet we dream together.
Our vision not a fluke
No ghost in the snow.

Finding her. Can we?
Her touch
that shall enliven.
Her presence
that shall remit

I had heard
She will!
Radio Kashmir
said—she loves us all.
Loves Raheem, loves Raina
yet we don’t yearn for her now.

Passions cool
blood trickles
houses smoke
As we drift, alone.
Our vision
a mirage in the desert.

Darker nights
now we dream alone
trying to avoid sleep.
Waking undesirous
moving into oblivion.

Radio Kashmir
really sings.
So they say.

Darkest nights now our fate
and we stop
even dreaming alone.

That childhood best friend

Renu Dhar, aka Puchi, was my best school buddy. Her mother Phola Ma’am was our teacher who taught us in the same school. She was an affable lady who would always treat Puchi and me alike. Since the school was located in the heart of downtown, namely Bohri Kadal, near my ancestral home, my granny would usually turn up at lunchtime with delectable food and enjoy a chitchat with Phola Ma’am. Puchi and I cruised along the early childhood days blissfully till we were separated by unkind destiny.

The shabby school building stands tall even today in the centre of Bohri Kadal chowk with billboards fixed on its ramshackle facade. The building is there, but the school is gone. Perhaps, it was shifted to another place. Today whenever I pass through the busy chowk, my memories of Kashmir in the 80s appear as a powerful illusion; an illusion nonetheless. In between a world full of make-believe, the childhood thoughts rattle me. Some of it is sweet, some of it sick.

Puchi was a friend beyond any identity archetype. This Kashmiri Pandit girl and her mom were a part of my growing up in an ambience that never related to any differences. My family never briefed me about any dissimilarity. Puchi was an extension of my learning and my loving. From neighbourhood to school, the togetherness felt natural. The synergy of mutual spaces was beyond compare. A stroll to the Shah-i-Hamdan shrine would naturally end at a nearby Mahakali Asthapan on the banks of Jhelum River. Aroma from the diverse cuisines would mingle and travel through the heaving lanes and bylanes. Celebrations and festivities were a part of shared delight.

Cutting reminders of loss

Then everything changed. Puchi left Kashmir one dark night, silently. I had no clue about her whereabouts. During those days I could hear loud and ranting slogans from the rusty rooftops. Kashmir had erupted. Various killings hogged the headlines. Gawkadal, Zakura and Hawal massacres dotted Srinagar city. Blood, bullets and betrayal shrouded us. An undeniable sight, which I could never forget.

I stayed back in Kashmir for a long time. Long enough to fear I was growing old while surviving the daily drama of death and destruction. I was witness to the macabre that I wanted to forget. The constant trauma smothered me. But I forced myself to remember what I was witnessing. I was too confused to confess that my memory is bequeathed to me by the conditions around me. I can’t shrug off that memory blatantly or disband it totally. So, I remember because that’s what witnessing does, what living under the shadow of a gun does. It was too uncanny, too ugly, too unforgiving.

More than 30 years have passed since Puchi left me in a grisly lurch. Her community migrated from Kashmir. Those of us left behind in Kashmir suffered. My graduation stretched to five years as I hardly attended college. The grenade attacks outside my college gate, in the heart of the city, blasted my scholastic growth. There was no respite to make new friends. I hardly got to know anyone in college, and kept to myself. I missed Puchi! All along.

Conjoined Miseries

Everything that holds me to my past—the Kashmir of my childhood, and then youth—cannot be despised altogether. I cannot attempt a dogged erasure and cut out realities of the past. That’s why all files of Kashmir are open because both Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits are yet to find an antidote to their pain. That’s why believing blindly only in our own testimony and turning it overly dramatic is receiving credence. There is a big historical moment that both communities share: the moment of pain. Both are going through this together but it does not seem to reduce the sting. The bouts of sadness or grief persist. Practically, not politically, both are no longer capable of despairing more than they have already. Enough time has gone down to turn inward and recalibrate. Look impartially into all files that carry scars of both communities.

The bond between me and Puchi in today’s Kashmir seems more of a myth than a reality. Peace is integral to true development and survival with grace. Only mutual harmony will uphold the safety, security and prosperity of the present and future generations in Kashmir.

(This appeared in the print edition as "Kashmir Diary")

Syeda Afshana (is a freelance writer)