On Kashmir and Kashmiriyat, & Tahaan as well

Saw the movie Tahaan today. Have been wanting to see that film for a long long time and it had even been broadcasted on some channels a couple of times but I somehow used to miss it. Finally, I got my hands on the DVD and after much wait I managed to see it. The Santosh Sivan film tells a tale of young Kashmiri kid Tahaan (which literally translates into God’s blessing) and his donkey Birbala.

Through the intricate interweaving of the two central characters the story keeps moving indolently much like the gentle stream that is constantly shown in the film. While the story is about innocence, it somehow reflects upon the deep scars that have been imprinted upon the valley. More than a movie on Kashmir, Tahaan is a movie on Kashmiriyaat.

For me, Kashmir is basically a beautiful haze, a charming valley of deodar trees, where saffron flowers abound. Then there is the beautiful charming Dal lake, on which shikaras or small canoes keep floating hither-thither carrying all sort of goods and merchandise. Houseboats also abound on the Dal lake, where honeymoon couples can spend a few days and nights in looking at the millions of stars that shine in the clear skies. Then comes the lilting music that has notes from Sarod and little or no words, except the melodious twang of the strings. This is followed by the supposedly amazing Kahwa that is boiled continuously on curvaceous Kashmiri kettles. The amazing and intricate rugs come next, rather royal and heavy these carpets are fairly ubiquitous and yet hardly affordable.

Surely, one cannot talk of Kashmir without talking about Pashmina shawls, made from the wool of a much rare mountain goat these fabled shawls can fit in a matchbox or pass through a ring, even people who have never set an eye on these shawls can be heard swearing on these miraculous features. And finally, the oh so beautiful women of the valley, whose cheeks are even fuller and redder then those apples that are much famous   all over.

This is the image of Kashmir that we have kind of grown up with, embossed again and again by the numerous Hindi films and tales from parent and grandparents. Thanks to Kashmir ki Kaali, Silsila, Roja, Mission Kashmir, Fanaa, etc. there is a Kashmir that we all cherish in our minds, fantasise about in leisure, dream of a day we will see with our own eyes.

And yet there is another Kashmir that forces itself on our consciousness, a Kashmir of guns, grenades, blasts, killings, Terrorists, encounters, LOC, rocket launchers, Amarnath Yatra, JKLF, AK47s, Kargil, army patrols, strikes, revolts, anti India protests, Article 370, army atrocities, secessionists, Wazir-e-azam, POK, Panun Kashmir, displaced pundits, child warriors, curfew, dull elections, etc. There is a deep chasm between the Kashmir we dream off and the Kashmir we dread.

Like any other Indian in the plains (as a valley’ed Kashmiri will remind you), we look at the land from a narrow nationalist perspective. Kashmir, for us, has ceased to be a geographical entity; it is a matter of pride and patriotism. It is fire that is constantly stoked from across the border, just to pin our nation down. After all, if the people of Kashmir were unhappy with India and Indians; why were they silent till 1989, when the guns started blazing in the valley?

Finally, there is the religious angle to it. Apparently, Kashmiris are basically Muslims, and unable to trust the rest of the land that is Hindu dominated. Yet, so many millions of Muslims live in this country; in fact the nation has the second largest population of Muslim in the world. If so many can live without wanting to secede, why do the Kashmir Muslims.

Hence, for the rest of India, Kashmir is an Gordian knot that can only be solved by a firm resolve. Did we not do so in Punjab??

Probably, this is where we falter, this is where we slip. Kashmiris should not be seen and perceived merely as Muslims; like Kashmiriyat should not be mistaken for Islamism. I have been fortunate enough to have a friend from Kashmir, whom I keep debating with over the issues. Ironically, one of the characters in the film Tahaan, shares his name with my friend Idhries. Thankfully, my friend is much more open minded and patient when it comes to dealing with patriotic jingoism that comes from people like me. In the course of numerous discussions we have had over rum and coke (me) and coke (he), I have had a chance to know firsthand the real story of Kashmir, the how, why and what of the valley. And when I saw the movie Tahaan today, all those thoughts blazed across my mind.

The movie depicts a very stark and rigid land, where the general people are being exploited by a few wily traders, where there is much obtrusive and unwarranted army handling, there is little or no employment, people live quite like the way their forefathers did ages ago, and yes in the shadows lurk the evil denizens, ready to pounce and corrupt if given a chance. They seem to be as omnipresent and as inconspicuous like the Indian post system. Mercifully, there was no stereotypical depiction of Kashmir, like the shikaras on Dal Lakes, etc.

My dear Kashmiri friend often tries to convince me that Kashmiriyat is quite like ‘Mi Mumbaikar’ or even the ‘Maharashtra for marathis’ kind of feeling. A philosophy that is linked to land and culture. But sadly the term Kashmiriyat is now synonymous of anti-Indianism, thus while a person stating that he or she is a ‘proud marathi’ is not perceived as a threat, a distinct Kashmiri is surely.  Technically, a Kashmiri is as much of an alien in Maharashtra, as a Bihari is.

But, I won’t be stupid enough to try and wordify the complex sub-nationalism (more like para nationalism) in a few sentences. There is much more than what meets the eyes, ears or even the brains. Over the years, much thanks to the political machinations, the valley has been secluded from the plains and has not been part of the national mainstream. The Kashmiri youth that has grown up ignorant and insolent about India and the value it represents. Obviously, the mistrust runs both ways.

The big question lies in front of us is whether need to or should be saving Kashmiriyat? Will it be worth it, if the valley is integrated in the national main stream and its uniqueness is lost for good? Can there be a Kashmir without the Kashmiriyat and should we in the plains be sceptive or supportive of the same? Can there ever be a resolution, a day in the future when there will be no more gunshots or bomb blasts in the valley and the Kashmir of the dreams merges and entwines with the real one?

Honestly speaking I don’t know the answers and nor does my friend. And yet, I dream at times of visiting the valley someday with my beau. Floating over the Gondola like shikaras on the Dal lake and spending a few sleepless nights in the cosy autumn month on a houseboat. My parents were lucky enough to have been able to visit the ‘heaven on earth’ a couple of decades back. We still have with us a Paperkazi (made of paper) flower vase they purchased back then. In fact, till a year or so back, my mom also possessed an small and wonderfully crafted round box that was crafted from a single beetle nut. Sadly the termites chewed and did away with the handicraft.

I do hope that some miracle happens and the clock is set back and unfortunate denizens of the plains (like me) can savour and soak the heavenly delights of the valley. Till that happens, I will be looking at all those movies on Kashmir and heaving a deep sigh of regret and unfulfilment. Seeing Tahaan, I was feeling a wee bit jealous of even Birbal (the donkey) who at least could reside in the valley and run as he willed. Can only hope and pray that when I step into the valley and if and when, I do, the reality far outshines any preset notions about the place. It should make me realise, how impossible it is for a person from the plains (like me) to be able to construct and imagine the hilly paradise, even with the aid of all the Hindi potboilers. Till then, I keep my hope alive and amuse myself with Tahaan and his donkey tales.

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