The Loot

The Loot

लोग टॢट जाते है एक घर बनाने मे,
तुम तरस नही खाते बसतियॉ जलानेमे
Dr. Bashir Badr

Saman hakuava taereth? (Did you manage to get your belongings?)

During the early days of exodus, this question was a path selector in the typical conversion flow.

A ‘Yes’ to this question, would then lead to “What all did you manage to salvage?”

A ‘No’ would lead to a few emphatic banalities followed by “What all have you managed to buy now? From where? At what cost?”

When the center and state governments continued to snore and militancy refused to subside, it started getting clearer that the excursion outside Kashmir wasn’t going to end any soon. Most who had fled had left with no luggage so as to not raise suspicions among their muslim neighbors; Any or all muslims could be potentially terrorists or their informers. Trust was at all times low especially post the gruesome killing of B.K. Ganju in March 1990s. His name was on the Friday hit list, and militants had come looking for him. His muslim neighbor, a lady, had informed the retreating militants that the poor man was hiding in the attic. It’s still not easy for me to understand or relate to the kind of hatred and pervasion against the hindus that existed and still does in Kashmir.
Back in Jammu, I lay asleep on the brown rakzine sofa that had far outlived its life. There were gashes in the rakzine cover, most made by me, from where I would pull out the cotton filling. The spring had lost its elasticity and protruded from the seats, making it difficult to sit comfortably. I must have fallen asleep while playing as the unevenness did not make it a comfortable place to sleep.

I was woken up by a soft murmur and a softer sobbing. I opened my eyes to see my aunt and my mother sitting on the divan. A grey briefcase with mostly certificates and some papers lay open on the glass table in the middle. I peeled myself from the sofa to give my aunt a sleepy hug.

Aarake shraan shui gomut. (You are drenched in sweat.)

She patted my cheeks, still red from the sweat and heat.

I lingered on partially from the soporific effects of the hot afternoon and partially hoping for a gift from my aunt. My mother hastily asked to get up and study. Enough of sleeping. I would have heard these words from her a million times, but her anger was uncalled for. Something was amiss. I caught some words, which made sense only much much later.

Let’s buy the cloth now and give it to the tailor today. He will get the salwar suits made in a day. He is very fast.

My uncle didn’t leave in 1990, when most of the community was exiled. He would laugh and say that it’s better to die in Kashmir then bear the garamei trath (horrible heat) of the plains. He held on to Kashmir for as long as he could possibly do even though his work with the government department often made his safety a concern for us all.

As it is, the Hindu houses in our locality were numbered. The locality was called a mini Pakistan even before ‘89. When safety became a concern at our ancestral house, my uncle moved to the relatively safer localities of Karan Nagar and cantonment, living in rented accommodations.

His work in the government department helped him make some contacts in the army. The exodus was already a few winters old and militancy was louder and more entrenched than ever - aided wholly by the inaction of the state and the inaptitude and insouciance of the central Congress government. The KPs had started making desperate (almost daring) attempts to retrieve their belongings from their crumbling houses. My uncle managed to arrange a truck and an army vehicle to support the retrieval. Per the plan, my grandparents were to surreptitiously enter our house in the night and pack anything important and useful still there. No lights to be switched on. All curtains to be drawn. And only candles to be used. arly morning, my uncle would arrive with the truck and the army cover to load the packed luggage and move out within the 10-15 minutes window agreed by the army.

Everything was planned to the last T – or so he thought.

At dawn, my uncle arrived with the truck and an army jeep in tow.

The scene in front of him completely threw him of his feet. The well thought plan was flowing down Jhelum. My grandparents were sitting in the kanaei (living room) waiting for him. Not a handkerchief was packed. With a calm face, my grandfather told him they will live here in the house he and before him, his father and his grandfather were born.

My uncle was shocked. Crucial time was lost. But this was no time for a family saga. Outside a mob was fast gathering and the soldiers were getting impatient.

My uncle asked my grandparents to move aside. He rolled the carpets on which they were sitting and threw in the roll whatever he managed to lay his hands on. The equally bewildered soldiers, who had witnessed the scene, helped him in loading the trucks. In 15 mins, the truck was reversing. By then, the group of curious neighbors had turned into a full-fledged mob. Somewhere in the whole hullaballoo, my grandmother had packed our Gods in a green bag in which we used to buy Kashmiri bakery rotis. I vaguely remember buying the kanderwan (Kashmiri bakery shop) rotis from the kanderwan somewhere at the start of our lane.

Most of what my uncle could salvage were things lying within reach and sight. Things of everyday use - of little or no cost, but that have become more valuable with time just because of their association with my ancestral home. These in a way are the memory reinforcements I have. Proof of a way of life that is fast ceasing. Proof that I have my roots in the northern tip of India.

When the saaman was opened in Jammu, my mother thanked God for the 2 photo albums my uncle had remembered to pick, and I thanked God for half a shelf of mangled novels. The ones for children from the lot I finished in the subsequent few weeks. Among them, a red hardbound book of Grimm’s fairytale, which is still there at my house in Jammu.

In the whole hullaballoo, he forgot many things – a few expensive, most not – the Pashima my grandmother had as a bride, huge copper utensils in which you could cook for a saabh (big gatherings such as marriages), an antler’s horn in our wot (main living) my great grandfather who worked in the forest department had got, and a whole variety of other common stuff – each with a story of how it came, who got it, who passed it on, et al. A ton of regular stuff - not necessarily expensive, but just ours. When my grandmother died in 96, I remarked to my mother that Bhabhi (grandmother) had only few good sarees. My mother lamented that Bhabhi had two trunks of silk and pashmina.

Musalman aasan ayech karaan vanye ! (The muslims who looted our home would be enjoying it now.)

Except for the antler’s horn, none of the other things I remember seeing, but have captured from the snippets of conversations at home. Even when I piece together my memories with the ones relayed by people around me, I still gaze at an incomplete picture that continues to haunt me.

What pains me most is that our three generations - my grandparents, parents, and me, had to spend their lives in struggle, starting from scratch, dehumanized and denied any justice, solace, or closure. And most importantly, our cultural identify lost in the whole din for survival. Yet in the whole scheme of secular India and our intellectuals, none of this matters!! You and I have never heard of any intellectual, artist, actor, scientist returning awards because the government hasn’t been able to resettle Kashmiri Pandits or bring to justice even one militant or his master responsible for the numerous killings of Hindus in Kashmir.

Not even a single one even after an agonizing 30 years wait.

Why not a single story from our gruesome genocide was good enough to be converted to a movie by the Benegals and Kashyaps of our Bollywood world? Why the whole world and our own country chose to forget about us? If pellet gun and constant curfews are worth debating and writing tomes on, should the torture and killing of Sarwanand Kaul Premi and his son not be? The rape and dismembering of Girija Tickoo not be?

Out of the 219 killings of pandits in a 1.5 year period as per govt numbers (thousands as per estimates from Kashmiri pandit organizations) was there not even a single one worth fighting for and worth remembering by the wider junta and media?

Any time I hear the ‘bias against Kashmiri Muslims”, I want to throw the big fat bricks thrown at my house back at the pretentious TV anchors.
Ruchi is an Indian Kashmiri living in exile for the last 29 years. She is emotional (may be overtly) about all things Kashmiri. She is trying to understand our cultural uniqueness and the need for preserving our identify especially in the generation who has lived outside Kashmir. She is passionately clinging to her memories of Kasheer and is pining to end her exile and reclaim her roots in the land of her ancestors.
Follow Ruchi on Twitter @rr_vichar.