Kashmir from my eyes

Esha Salman

When we talk about a name, we don't talk about a name only. It includes everything which stands associated with us. It includes our family, clan, land, and above all, it encompasses all the anchors which binds us to an identity. This identity shapes our ecosystem for living a life in this world while upholding a set of beliefs and practices. Though we live as cosmopolitan beings, our individual identity impacts everything which surrounds us. As a singular unit, we build an ecosystem which, while impacting our individual belief system, does cast an impression on others. Precisely, this is the reason why the thinkers have always emphasized on connecting with roots. Those beings who are connected with their roots are firm to the resolution of shaping the ideal ecosystem impacting the lives of all the beings in their ecosystem.

I am a teenage Kashmiri Pandit girl whose roots are connected to Kashmir– described as the paradise of the world. I was born and raised in the United States of America. I grew up in California with penning my thoughts as a passion. Growing up most of my life, I was ignorant about my roots, and was spoon-fed lies by people giving their opinions about the Kashmir issue. My parents were teenagers when they were forced to leave the valley. My parents were made up in the minority of the Kashmiri Pandits during their time in Kashmir, and my mother described to me how life truly was like in Kashmir before the exodus as a Kashmiri Pandit, and the hardships Kashmiri Pandits had to face after their forced displacement. Though she never directly meant it, her words described her religion and beliefs as an ignominy. It pierces my heart and soul when she narrates those anecdotes, where the minorities were barred from even practicing their religious beliefs freely, and stones were thrown at places of worship all while people were worshiping. Yes, I countered her at times with sheer inquisition considering here in the United States, I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be prohibited from practicing my own religion. But going through my father’s analysis, media, firsthand accounts through relatives, and other sources, my belief in her words have strengthened over time.

My mother and father both migrated from the valley, leaving a piece of their heart behind, and had to start fresh life in Jammu right from scratch. Leaving their mansions behind, they had to settle for places that were lower. They were penned as burdens and “refugees in their own country”. Thirty years later and the sad but true story of the Pandits continues to stay hidden to the world outside. No one has spoken forth of the pain of these displaced people, and many people twist words around instead to victimize those who caused the pain. Ironically, the world speaks about the oppressors as victims and the oppressed Kashmiri Pandits as ‘burdens’.

Growing up far away from Kashmir where my parents were born, I was always on the cusp of chaos between the two cultures. The cultures in India and America differentiate, therefore making it harder for me to realize who I actually am. I had a realization a couple of months ago that I am one of those few people left in the world who represent the true history of Kashmir. The almanac (Jantari) which my father specially procured from Jammu mentions my existence of nearly 5000 years. A few hymns are scripted in the Almanac being nearly 2000 year old giving an impression that the world is a toddler in front of my existence. The message of those hymns which my father often passes on to me melts my ego to humility and pride.

Growing up in America, I always knew that I was from Kashmir, but I never knew what I symbolized. I remember going to Kashmiri weddings and seeing the bride adorn a bright Dejhoor in her ear. I would always admire its simplicity and how that piece of jewelry was so alluring. My allurement in this dangling jewellery turned into absolute veneration when I gathered the knowledge that this ornament which adorns every Kashmiri Pandit married lady stands as an epitome of the union of Shiva and Shakti. It stays with her throughout her life, even after the unfortunate death of the husband.

I never thought once about the history that the Dejhoor represented because at that point of time, I was so enticed in American culture that I never contemplated looking into it or any other Kashmiri traditions. I feel so ashamed that it is now, at fifteen years of age, that I finally start to gain an understanding of who I am. My goal is to not tell the story of the painful night of January 19- The Kashmiri Pandit Holocaust day– although more people should understand the truth behind that day. My goal is to let others like me, ignorant Kashmiri pandit youth, embrace their culture and learn how to balance it out. There’s a big blue book in my household by the fireplace that has been there my whole life that is filled with Kashmiri stories, food, traditions, etc, and never once did I think to open it and read about my roots. I still remember going to Shivratri functions and singing Kashmiri leelas (Hymns) such as Hosh Dim Lagyo and Dimyo Dilass, but never truly understanding the meaning of these songs.

Every year on my Kashmiri birthday, my family performs a ritual/puja with traditional yellow rice called tehar, steamed fried potatoes (dum aloo), cottage cheese (czhaman), lotus stem cooked in curd (nadroo yakhni), and more foods, yet I never really paid attention to the significance of the ritual (puja). What I now learn about this ritual is that in our belief system, the body is the temple where the soul (atman) resides. This ritual is meant to worship the Atman in the temple– in other words the body— on its birthday. Celebrating life is what our belief system teaches us, something very akin to the American style of life.

I was never interested in learning about my heritage, but now I realize how important it is. Like many other youth, I was so swept up in the fantasy of a perfect American life that I completely forgot about my own identity. I was too focused on pleasing other people by fitting into their culture while letting my own culture gradually slip away. I’m very thankful that I held onto it initially through my parents, and now I have embraced it. It is now embedded in my soul and no person can ever take that away from me.

My sole purpose is to help guide others to their true identity. A couple months ago, exactly on January 19, my mom told me the true story of the Kashmiri pandits, a story that I had never heard before. In the process, my mom started to cry as she recalled the terrible events, and that was a unique day when my mom had been open about her past. Never once had she told this to me before, but on that day, it had felt like a door had opened. That was the day I finally realized who I am and how I must maintain the balance of being a Kashmiri-American. From that day forward, I started reading books about Kashmir history and culture, and the trauma of displacement in 1990. I started watching interviews about the true Kashmir and what the accurate history behind it was. In secret, I would take the blue book by the fireplace and I would read some of the folklore to establish a connection, reliving some of those in my mind. The Kashmiri Pandits have been forced out of their homes seven times in its history, yet the enriching culture of the Kashmiri Pandits (Bhattas) still continues to survive. I must not be hidden under a mattress of lies, but I must come out and tell everyone who I really am and what I represent. I am a Bhatta – the learned. Seeking knowledge and learning is inherent to us all.

I may not have experienced the horrors that befell Kashmir on January 19, but my blood boils when I hear or read about those times. It is important that we keep culture rich and alive throughout generations all over the world. When the Kashmiri Pandits will safely return to their beloved homes is a mystery. It could be 2 years,or it could be 200. This should not bar Kashmiri Youth from instilling their values, to keep it going till the Kashmiri Pandits do rightfully return to their homes. God blessed us with a voice and we will raise it. We will talk about our culture and the hardships that we have gone through that no one else can experience. From any corner of the world that we may be in, it is important to remember who we are, and never forget that. We are the apostles of peace and brotherhood, and violence is not our creed. We are Kashmiri Pandits.

*Esha Salman, a teenage Kashmiri Pandit who loves to write. An avid learner with a deep interest in the arts – specifically in learning Indian classical dancing and singing. Interested in current events and philosophical debates that challenge me to think critically about the world and the way it is currently evolving.
Nicely written article from a teenage girl who has never visited her ancestors home.
Added By Deepak Ganju
So glad that Gen Z is so tuned in to their ancestry and heritage.
Added By Vijay Trisal