Kashmiri Millennials: Rise and Shine

Kashmiri Millennials: Rise and Shine

Ruchi Kak

Who are we and what do we feel about our culture? Millennials are by definition the generation born between 1981-2000. That makes us very interesting in the Kashmiri context. Most of us have either lived in Kashmir at some point in time, too distant to recollect clearly, or we have never visited Kashmir – ever. We are the generation that undertakes the responsibility to carry on our tradition and culture – in spite of trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle ourselves.

The older millennials, are the fortunate ones to be born in Kashmir. Maybe that’s the closest I will ever be to Kashmir physically; seeing Srinagar, J&K, listed as the place of my birth across all of my official documents.

In some ways, not having a physical connection to a place, emotionally creates a vagabond mentality. I have chosen to live in the U.S. and have the freedom to relocate to any part of the world. My family is scattered across three continents. I wonder whether we would have chosen to live in a single place, if all of my family lived within a 20-mile radius. Ultimately, the progress of a civilization depends on the proximity of its people.

The Millennials grew up with computers in a socially-networked world. That makes us unique, because unlike previous generations, we had an established platform to connect with the rest of the world. In fact, most of us view ourselves as citizens of the world with our roots firmly grounded in India. We definitely have an affinity to the culture we have grown up with – but it’s difficult to brush aside growing up in a global context. Most of us living outside of India, celebrate Christmas with as much enthusiasm as we celebrate Shivaratri. We love to dress up for Diwali and Halloween. Sub-consciously, we have obliterated the lines of polarity between our culture and the culture of the world we live in.

There is a kind of cultural awakening that has rooted itself in my consciousness. I don’t know if it’s more prominent because I live in a country far away from my Kashmiri roots in India, or because I feel responsible for passing on our cultural heritage to our children. It is fascinating to me that I have learned more about the history and mythology of our land, living thousands of miles away from home, through online media. Maybe because the answers we seek are based on the questions we ask, and we develop deeper levels of maturity over our lifespan.

As I grow older, it is becoming clear to me, that I will be construing a Kashmir for my children, based on reflections of what I hear and read about Kashmir. And yes, someday not too far, I might have to answer questions from my children about why we can’t ever visit Kashmir – if we are Kashmiris? And that is when everything starts to get complicated.

I recollect visiting family in Delhi in 1990. My mom’s side of the family were significantly affected by the exodus. They ran a successful retail business, as opticians in Srinagar which was built over generations and in 1989 they had to vacate their homes overnight. Their emergency security investments were either burned down by Islamic Militants or locked away in banking institutions. The very life that they had strived to build, lay at their feet like dust. With no shelter over their heads, no schools for their children and no streams of revenue – they had to come up with a plan to survive.

Somehow, my uncle managed to find a job with an optical store, as a sales executive in Delhi and made ends meet for his family. They lived in a one room set-up, with a make-shift kitchen in one corner and a bed placed opposite to the kitchen. The bed served as a dining area during the day and a resting area at night. Time had changed everything in an instance – just a year earlier they lived in Srinagar, Kashmir, in a three-storied brick house with landscaped gardens.

The story of my grandparent’s experience of the exodus is etched in my memory with every little detail of that fateful night when they first had a premonition about what was to come. As a ten-year-old, it was my first visit to India by myself (we lived in Colombo, Sri-Lanka) and I was happy to be with the two most loving people on earth, my grandparents (Late S.N. Kak and Shobawati Kak). In the middle of the night, they both woke up terrified. With tears streaming down their faces, they were both jolted awake by a nightmare – the ghar devta (semi-god) of our home in Srinagar, was screaming for help in the middle of a raging blaze. They knew in that very instance that their house in Srinagar had been set on fire. They received the news officially that morning via a telephone call from their Muslim neighbor in Narparistan, near Fateh Kadal, conveying that their home was burned down by militants.

On reflection, not only did they lose a piece of their identity but they lost a piece of their soul. We would all be sub-consciously scarred by the deliberate burning down of our house. Our ancestral home with all of its grandeur and history, was reduced to a pile of rubble. The cold lifeless pieces of charred stone and wood, had seen glorious days full of vitality - celebrations of marriages, child births, naming ceremonies, yagnopavits, graduations and a myriad of joyous moments across three generations. The burning down of our houses by Muslim militants, was based solely on our religion, we were the minority – Kashmiri Pundit Hindus.
These recollections from my childhood are woven into a complicated mish-mash of our roots, our sufferings and our collective consciousness to strive for a better life. I can only imagine the power of listening to stories of torture from our ancestors. What would I feel if I had read first-hand accounts of my ancestors, about how they resisted conversion to Islam for several thousand years, in a land that was known for its beauty and its relentless transmutation into a political religion.

I believe that the success of the Millennial Kashmiris as a whole comes from values we learned from our parents and grandparents. No one saw it coming – the generation preceding ours did not see the exodus coming. They experienced traumatic times and could have easily given into anger, depression and even revenge. Instead they chose to triumphantly move on with re-building the broken fragments of their lives. Our generation experienced first-hand the lessons in courage, character, ambition and resoluteness from our predecessors, in spite of the adversities they faced in their lives. We were encouraged to pursue higher education, which opened up a plethora of opportunities for us. Today, we are a 100% literate community and contribute with our collective success across the world.

Despite our successes, culturally we are in perilous times. As Millennial Kashmiri’s, we all lament the loss of our language and culture. We barely speak Kashmiri, we are inept at following half the traditions of our parent’s generation, we have infused our folk music with bangra beats on mehendi-raats, and it seems like our culture is dissipating to an extent that it may just end with our generation. But there is hope – and it begins with us. We can create a world of oneness and belonging – where we connect as mass-miracles of seven exoduses’ in the history of Kashmir. In terms of DNA – we are a stunning triumph of courage and determination. We don’t need to look far for strength, we are the resilience of our ancestors.

We are fun, driven, energetic and great at leveraging social media to its full potential. Millennial’s have the skills and the intelligence to connect in the Kashmiri context. We are fortunate to have a reservoir of knowledge through our parents’ generation and some of us have our beautiful grandparents too – maybe we should listen and share –more importantly start to care to make a difference to our culture, possibly in its last stages of evanescence.

My grandmother’s parting words were - Aye th Baath (may you be blessed with a long-life brimming with health and prosperity), Orzo th Durkoth (may your knees stay strong to carry you through a long healthy life), Che Lassin (may god’s blessing be upon you) and Ayaal roozin mujuth (may your family be endowed with divine favor and protection) – I wish her blessing on all of us– especially our generation, the Kashmiri Millennials! The biggest challenge for our generation is to keep our culture alive and vibrant, and the very least we can do is attempt to try. Millennials – it is time to rise and shine.
Author, story-teller, portrait photographer, travel and yoga enthusiast.

Ruchi, believes in the power of story-telling as a way to introduce the next-generation of Kashmiri Pundits t o its “collective consciousness”. She is interested in learning more about “Millennial Kashmiris” and their interpretation of the ever-evolving Kashmiri culture in today’s global context. Through her own experiences, she feels it is up to the millennials to keep the culture vibrant and valid.

She is a Senior Technical Writer and her career combines her interest in writing, with information architecture and content strategy. You can connect with Ruchi Kak through her profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ruchikak
Wow it was a gud read after a very very long time. This article recollected all my wonderful memories with my family n most importantly the place which we can never forget. It has indeed taken a lot from the older generation but given a lot to the present generation. But all we can pray n do right now is to collect all those pieces n make a bful jewel out of it so that the coming generations remember the place n values forever n ever.. Thanks Ruchi kak for this bful piece.
Added By Priyanka Kak
Reading this puts into perspective so much of what I have heard but never experienced. Our parents and grandparents are indeed very strong minded people. Bow to them
Added By Ravi Tikoo
Very well written and expressed. The younger generation is the reflection of their parents and the our cultural roots are strong
Added By Deepak Ganju
On the mark. So relatable.
Added By Vikas Wali
So sad 😭 story of us all Kashmiri pundits, heartbreaking. Nobody believes in our pain and agony because we did not beg and did not give guns to our children. we absorbed pain to build our future generations. Our only fault is we are Hindus. Our home has turned pigeon house, what an irony.
Added By Chandra Ganju