Author: Simply Suparnaa, January 1 2011 Coming back from Eid celebrations from a newly acquired friendship, I ponder on my inclination towards the rich cultural heritage that the Muslim way of life has to offer. It seems I have a special place for it in my heart more than most people in my sphere of existence. Is it a past life bond or May be the upbringing? The early part of my childhood was dominated by a Muslim neighborhood, Muslim cuisine, and Muslim friends primarily due to my grandfather’s orientation. He was a self taught and self made Urdu journalist cum publisher who built an empire for himself in Pakistan and a name to reckon with in India. Well, what ever be the reason, it also becomes the trigger to defend the dwindling individual cultural, religious and political sentimentalities. A raw nerve throbs with so much so as a reference to one undermining the other.

The quest to contribute towards saving this very dying spirit of tolerance, had been brewing in my mind for some time. Unfortunately the turn of the 20th century brought along the worst possible human atrocity and behaviors across the world and so was the case closer home with the partition and its aftermath as is still felt in the valley of Kashmir.
A place that epitomized beauty and religious tolerance through history lies scattered. Policy or politics?

In the spring of 2006 I had my chance to film in the valley; some six months post the earthquake that shook it not withstanding the borders. Calamities at least, don’t discriminate, they are great levelers. So was the case on the 8th day in October in the year of 2005. Destruction in the valley for a change was brought on by nature itself. Wrath or revolt?

After a harsh winter and complete apathy of the Indian media towards the victims of the disaster I found myself in the world’s most militarized zone, Baramullah district of the J&K state. The town of Uri was the worst hit on the Indian side of the LOC. Uri also had shoot at sight orders by the military. Logistically, of course, the film was made possible due to the undoubted support of HelpAge India, an NGO that worked relentlessly in the area since the calamity.

We traveled through broken roads and trekked through uneven paths to reach the interiors of the villages where people still lay trapped due to the disrupted infrastructure and in the hope of a miracle. Some of these villages were just at the border. Amazing stories, of people living oblivious of the divide that mars political maps filled the air. Cross border marriages and ropeway across rivers carrying from one land to the other were common place, I was told. There were also heart rending tales of camaraderie between the people both civil and military across the borders through this natural disaster.

The experience left an indelible mark on my existence. It was through one of these excursions and an ensuing conversation that a casual remark from my host and guide, Shabnam Ara, caught me unawares. She looked at a beautiful river flowing (the landscape in these parts were phenomenal) and she wished aloud for being a pebble in one of these streams that go to the other side. The remark was made with such yearning that I was caught off guard primarily of the intent with which it was made.
Would she rather be in Pakistan?

Of course! Pat came the reply. And we left it at that.

The rest of the day I battled with a barrage of thoughts, here was a young and beautiful human being who offered diligent help to these people stranded in the most god forsaken place. She was intelligent and articulate, a graduate from the Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi, I remembered from an earlier conversation. Her family on Shabnam’s behest had promptly shifted me out of the hotel and offered their house for me to stay in for as long as it was required. This was done to avoid garnering unsolicited attention towards a lone woman from Delhi in the city to film. Anything could happen, after all it was Kashmir! The night before, we broke bread together with Shabnam’s family of five, including 2 siblings and her parents. We relived the festivities of the family through their prized video recordings. Sipped nun (salt) chai and relished the morning nan bread.

Here was this wonderful young Kashmiri native who had her heart in place, making a comment like this? I was baffled and couldn’t find the right words to express myself, at least not in response to the remark. On the way back that day after I wrapped up the shoot and Shabnam finished her days work with the displaced people, I broached the topic again.

Would she rather live in Pakistan?

She replied nonchalantly ‘Of course’.

‘I want to know what that place feels like. I have heard about it so much from my grand parents in their stories and reveries. The caress of the breeze and the wetness of the river –it is all but a dream. Today we can’t even think of crossing over lest be branded as militants. As it is it’s a tough life we lead in Kashmir. Literally like an insect in the stone flour grinder. Between the military and the militants there is no reprieve. Why is it that I can’t visit the places my parents and grandparents talk so fondly of? Why do we always have to live in fear?’

I had no answer. I still have no answer.

Over the years I have met many Kashmiri Hindus too who have been displaced from their land and long to get back to their roots but don’t, given the situation.

The incident also reminded me of another and I could then draw an analogy. Maybe you can too and empathize with Shabnam as I came to it.

Thanks to a job with a private FM company, I had the honor to meet distinguished musicians and singers. Some were celebrated, some upcoming and some even from across the border. During one such interview, I had the chance to interact with a singer from Pakistan, Adeel Bakri. He felt privileged being in India. Since childhood, he reminisced; his grandmother would speak of Jalandhar, a city they were settled in before the partition. The grand mother would pine for a whiff of the draft that would carry the sound and smell of Jalandhar. She even remembered the details of the sweet shops there and the delectable sweets she had never tasted since. But owing to the strained relations between the 2 countries and later her failing health, her dream to come back remained just that a dream. Her wish was also to come back and be buried in Jalandhar.

What Shabnam said took me by surprise but what Adeel Bakri said makes me see things in perspective.

Sometimes we ourselves are victims of our own conditioning. It makes sense to unlearn and see the truth as it really is.

Sometimes crossing borders don’t necessarily need to clash; they can well weave together like the fingers of our hands.