Guest post by RAMNIK MOHAN
“The number you are calling is currently switched off. Please try again later.” This has been the stock computerized response I have heard on calling a friend in Jammu and Kashmir over the last twenty odd days, and still counting. The chirpy, happily surprised voice I heard across our mobiles when I informed my young friend about my sudden arrival in Srinagar last January is too stark a contrast to register today. ‘Lockdown’ is the new buzzword for Kashmir these days.
All links of communication with the rest of the country having been snapped in one fell swoop, it doesn’t quite require much of an effort for any sensitive human being to imagine how life must be for all the folk out there. Nor should it take much of an imagination for such a human being to think of the plight of Kashmiris in the rest of the country dying to hear the voices of near and dear ones separated thus.
My friend’s brother, himself cut off from his family as he was in another part of the country, became my link to my friend. Through him I could get to know of how his family and my friend have been faring all these days in their homeland Kashmir. Cold comfort, indeed, for he could talk to his brother and, later, his father but for hardly a minute when the public landline communications were opened. Now, he too is gone back home after the completion of his course, and I am left with not even that cold comfort of getting tidings of my friend and family through him.
The friend I am talking about is a young woman who has seen the violence that Kashmir has witnessed all through her short life, internalized it all through her childhood and youth, wondering why it is at all necessary. She has also experienced the various shades of the lens with which a Kashmiri is looked upon, the gaze being distinct from that used for the rest of the Indians. The pain extended to the injustice she felt in not being considered Indian enough even though her grandfather had been in the Indian army. And yet, she retains her faith in humanity and the vivaciousness of youth. I do, though, also recall her poignant remark to the effect that this vivaciousness is perhaps an attempt at regaining what was lost of it in her childhood!
Hoping against hope, I called again. The bell rang! Not because she was in Kashmir. It rang, for she was in Jammu, having come down there looking for a job she had applied for, forced to cut herself off from her family, not sure about when she’ll be able to get any response to her applications in the now locked-down valley.
As one reads the first stanza of T.S.Eliot’sThe Waste Land, the mind – and heart – cannot but think of the Jammu and Kashmir of today. August, rather than April, appears to be “the cruellest month” and for someone who has been to Kashmir, this month has come, “mixing/Memory and desire”, with no surety of the desire for peace and calm being fulfilled any time soon.
Ramnik Mohan, formerly Associate Professor, All India Jat H.M. College, Rohtak. is now a translator engaged with issues of socio-cultural concern.