Pakistan’s capital city Islamabad is not too hot or stuffy. Climate that could best be described as Khosh yivun or modur as sweet in Kashmiri. Zarka Sakina’s flushed pallor is not because of temperate weather, nor her cheeks reddish due to her Kashmiri origin.
Zarka, is indeed glowing, her namesake light-eyes excited. Thrilled, with the dream of Srinagar- her hometown in India, and looking forward, to yellow yolked narcissus, Tulips and Roses and Harud’s reddish Chinars, in just a few months.
Her delight hardly wanes, as her mother-in law admonishes- “Slow down”! She fondly hears it as war war pakh. This time she may be counted as one, but will not be alone. She’ll be carrying an adorable package- a seven-month old baby in her. Radiant at the thought of her new born drinking the pure waters of ‘Chashme Shahi’, her stride turns sprightly.
She dreams of her maalyunn or maternal home, where her child will smell the first scents of Zabarwan Mountains, instead of Margalla Hills, of Islamabad. August’s genteel rain-soaked air carrying the burnt leaves dry-stem fragrances from Wazwan cooking of summer weddings.
Zarka, married last year in August, soon announced her pregnancy. Doctors advised, the seventh month, for safest travel. On May 8, her worried engineer husband accompanied her to Lahore, for the cross country marathon via Wagah-Attari Indo-Pak border of Amritsar.
On a whim, her fond mother-in-law, held her delicate wrists, pushed four heirloom gold Karas on her bare wrists and kissed her hands, saying ‘Maike ghar khali haath jayegi?’ and it rings like “Maalyunn gatchi khi tchaerrivie naa’riev?”
She smiles, but is uncomfortable with the heavy gold and pushes them in the zipped outer pocket of her handbag as soon as she leaves Islamabad.
Zarka alights from Punj-Aab Amritsar-Lahore bus in Attari. Her thrilled demeanor literally falls apart as the gold Karas in her handbag show up in the X-Ray. Zarka pleads, ‘They are personal ornaments’. Shows them wedding pictures, wearing Karas, in her mobile phone. But they refuse, handing Zarka a receipt that permits her to collect the detained Karas herself, or with an authority letter and original receipt by someone within a month of detention. They place value of jewels at more than three Lakh Indian rupees.
Abrar Hussain, Zarka’s father waiting at Attari wonders about India-Pak border formalities. He arrived from Srinagar to welcome his daughter’s first Phirri or first round, after marriage. Zarka runs into his arms on spotting him, breaking down, telling him about the detention of Ammi Jaan’s gold Karas. It pinches the father. Zarka’s mom-in-law is family, but this could be hard.
Holding the original receipt from Abrar, and authority letters flown in from Srinagar, I wonder if all Punjabis are fools. Of course a sure-shot example was actually me. ‘We often Burr-aaaaah ! Gal hee koi nahi’ No Prablem Jee.. And jump!
Gathering some of my leftover faculties, I contact a number of exporters of Indo-Pak trade. One advised “Pay the custom’s duty and reclaim Karas. Hor ki, Saas toh kut puanni hai!” (Or want her mom-in-law to beat her) Another -“Customs, Na ! Na ! They’ll never give back.” One stuck on issue of Kashmir - “Now they will make this like another missile. Maybe the Kashmiri girl was actually bringing the gold for selling, who knows!”
It’s already ten days, with 20 left for expiry of reclaim. I desperately wrack my slumberous grey cells and look once more over the phone list. A last call, I think, and put my fingers into simple Yog asanas. Aashish Raina, a senior custom’s officer picks the call, listens to my rant and asks about Zarka. I tell him they are Kashmiris. ‘Do you have the receipt?’ ‘Yes!’, ‘Wats App me the receipt’! He replies. Calls back; ‘No! Goods have not been detained illegally’, dashing my hopes of a somewhat meek handover, after the presumed ‘illegal’ act was flashed in the media. ‘The gold Karas were found in luggage, if she had been wearing them, they wouldn’t have posed a problem,” he assures.
“We have three choices: First, pay customs duty; second, file a case against the detention; third, find a Pakistani going back and willing to reclaim goods and take with him to Pakistan”. ‘What?’ There is only a month’s for expiry of receipt ! Since Zarka has come for child birth and has a few months to go before the B-Day, no one from her husband’s side in Pakistan is expected to crossover to India for next three months. I plead with Aashish for a fourth option using his good offices to reason with his colleagues. He declines, politely.
Suddenly, a call from a friend from USA, says she is scheduled to go to Lahore from Amritsar for some research work. We pin our divine hopes on her, but she is scheduled a few days later than the deadline.
Aashish suggests for placing a request for an extension period of 6-months to reclaim Karas and advices to use the time to arrange, a person, to carry forward the last option.
Abrar meantime also keeps his eye for anyone likely to cross to Pakistan.
Aashish guides me to talk to Commissioner Customs. It takes me 10-days to see him since he’s out of station. Time, meanwhile is running out. Eventually, Additional commissioner Nitin Saini approves the request and immediately asks to fax application for extension, from Srinagar, without delay.
Having the extension, I approach some exporters but they decline to claim ‘somebody’s’ goods.
Providence intervened and Abrar finds a friend on his way back to Pakistan and we keep my USA friend as a standby for Plan -B. The Additional Commissioner and AC Amanjit Singh are both surprised that soon after filing for extension, we could arrange for reclaim so swiftly. Anjum Mahmud Mian and his wife Misbah call from Pakistan announcing-“Ammi Jaan de Soney de karreyan ne sarhadaan parr kar laiyaan ne (Ammi’s Gold Karas have crossed the borders)!” The news draws euphoria, relief, jubilance and a million thanks and blessings for the pool of humanity that conspired to get the Karas across the India and Pakistan’s Radcliff Line.
Aashish Raina, loves to assist fellow Kashmiris with little thought about their faith. He smells the scent of his Kashmir from them. He brushes aside my thanks. “What is your interest in Kashmir?” he teases me. “Kashmir is my childhood”, I answer for the hundredth time. He obviously misses the spiritual import of a neighbor’s envy. And I hide behind a sheepish smile, content in the thought ‘A daughter shall not regret this loss throughout life, for the mere reason, that no one tried to bail out her Ammi Jaan’s Gold Karas’.
Zarka’s delivered a baby boy in July even as the baby was due in August 2015
The Author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rashmi Talwar, Sr. Journalist and writer (since 1996).
Socio Political Analyst on India-Pakistan issues, relations and policy.
Opinion writer on Kashmir, Geo-Political situations in South Asia. Features, on Human interest, Book, Theater, Film Reviews, poetry, culture, arts; Blogger, social activist and Indo-Pak peace activist.
State Awardee of Jammu and Kashmir (Tourism) and brand journalist for J&K Tourism. In: The Indian Express, The Tribune, The Pioneer, The Times of India, Sify.com, Kashmir Times, Rising Kashmir
Member SAFMA(SAARC)- South Asian Free Media Association Executive- (Amritsar Chp)
Member SAWM- (SAARC) South Asian Women in Media
Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL) an APEX body of SAARC
Advisor for ‘AIWC’, NGO for women and child upliftment.
Trustee, Citizen’s Forum Vidya Mandir, a free school for wards of drug addicts.
Presidium member, Amritsar Chapter of Indian National Trust for Art, Culture & Heritage (INTACH)
Founder and President of Amritsar Sacred Heart Alumni (ASHA)