Rough Cut

Why should Kashmiri Pandits return to sponsored lives in government dollhouses?

Can the loss of a homeland be compensated by few pokey flats with a view, if at all?

 |  Rough Cut  |  3-minute read |   10-04-2015
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So there he was, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, a charming and affable man, talking to some journalists at a recent dinner. "Will Kashmiri Pandits return if we build multi-storeyed flats for them?"' My reaction was a polite apoplexy. But clearly, the chief minister didn't think much of what I had to say, given that a ministry of home affairs press release of April 7 says composite townships will be built for Kashmiri Pandits.

Can the loss of a homeland be compensated by few pokey flats with a view, if at all?

Is this what the famed syncretic culture of Jammu and Kashmir has come to? A few hundred Kashmiris living in flats under protection of the security forces? Kashmir can never be whole until its Hindus return - but they cannot be showcase Hindus living in government-built dollhouses.

I was not born in Kashmir, I didn't live there, so I have no personal experience of midnight knocks and whispered threats that Rahul Pandita so brilliantly captured in his memoir, Our Moon Has Blood Clots. I went every summer to Srinagar for an idyllic vacation, which lasted for two months, of hopping from Chashme Shahi to Nagin Lake to Tul Mula while the loo swept through Delhi. The house I lived in, built by my grandfather in 1935, stills exists across the road from the Telephone Exchange off Residency Road, but it belongs to someone else. My family, like most other Pandits, had to part with its home in a distress sale when it was clear that there would be no going back after 1989.

Can the Jammu and Kashmir government ensure that my family's home is returned to us?

Forget that. Can they ensure the freedom with which we (a gaggle of cousins from across the country who gathered at our family home every summer) walked down Residency Road to pick up jalebis and samosas from Shakti Sweets? Can they ensure the drive to Tula Mula to pay our respects at Kheer Bhawani, but actually to dig into luchi and halwa? Can they ensure languorous afternoons spent at Chashme Shahi, with pressure cooker in tow, to run around, watch the adults play cards, and daydream under the chinar trees? Can they ensure the evenings spent cleaning up to look sharp as my father took us to The Oberoi for high tea - the toughest choice in our young lives at that point was whether we should eat the pineapple or chocolate pastry. And can they return the celebrity spotting at the airport each time we touched down or flew out - Bollywood loved Kashmir summers almost as much as we did?

No, I guess the government cannot.

I may have visited only for two months of the year, but Srinagar was my place to be free. It was a place of Ahdoos tea, Broadway cinema movies, and shikara boat rides.It was the city Kashmiri Pandits outside the state called their "home away from home".

It is the city Yasin Malik now claims ownership of. He claims that separatist groups have always appealed to Kashmiri Pandits to return to the Valley and that they will not allow the government to build ''separate settlements for Kashmiri Pandits. This is an Israeli ploy and RSS has taken inspiration from that. They want to create walls of hatred here, spread fire and divide the people".

Excuse me while I gag on the hypocrisy. And at the strange sight of the man who helped create the divide now arguing against it.

How can Kashmiri Pandits return to a Valley where Malik holds forth on Kashmir's composite culture?

We may have lost our homes, but we haven't lost our minds.

Writer

Kaveree Bamzai Kaveree Bamzai @kavereeb

Consulting editor, India Today Group

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