Every year I wait for the best time of the year that is when the sun is baking the deserts of Middle East and concrete Jungles of Dubai, expats like me are busy booking their tickets and buying gifts for their loved ones preparing to go back to their home countries for a much awaited summer vacation. While students in my college are busy planning their trips to Europe and America, I count down the days till I reach home because for a fact I know the lure of ancient and romantic cities of Europe and the scenic Swiss Alps are not much of an attraction when u have been brought up in the valley of Kashmir.
The promise of a peaceful summer vacations at my home is what keeps me going through all the ups and downs and challenges of our otherwise easy college life. The promise of a perfect summer in the midst of snow capped Himalayas, the gushing waters of Aharbal, the glaciers of Sonamarg, the lush meadows of Gulmarg, the dense forests of Pahalgam, the sunset on Boulevard, and the infinitely many other equally beautiful places still to be explored.
Unfortunately for last three seasons, all the plans just remained a piece of writing on a white sheet of paper. Three consecutive summers of unrest and turmoil, it was as if Kashmir was on the verge of a breaking point either an unlikely revolution or a terrible civil war. And I didn’t know which side to be on, whether to think of the uprising as an ‘instigated’ violence by some vested interests against the system or whether to think of it as a genuine call for freedom against a foreign rule which has killed more than 100,000 innocent lives of our own. I didn’t know how to react, whether to be angry at my people for ruining otherwise a perfect tourist season and with it the livelihood of many locals or to stand tall shoulder to shoulder with my people and participate in this fight against injustice and oppression. In the end, inherited selfish human nature won over me and I preferred to stay inside the safety of my home cursing the people for ruining my hard earned summer vacations and did nothing while hundreds more sacrificed their lives for a just cause which may seem impossible and futile to a keen observer.
This year like the previous years we waited for the summer with same impatience and excitement although a fear of one more ruined vacation seemed to take hold of my sub conscience every now and then but I always pushed away the thoughts by planning trips hoping for perfect holidays at home. And then the time came for all of us to pack our bags and leave for our homes. As usual most of my friends flew to various parts of Europe while I boarded the same Air India flight which would take me to my beloved home, Kashmir.
To my surprise I was one of the only 4 or 5 Kashmiris waiting in the queue to board the flight whom I could recognize easily due to very peculiar characteristic traits and sharp facial features inherited in our race! Rest were from different parts of not just India but whole world as it seemed. It was clear from the excitement on their faces that they were tourists on a trip of their lifetime. I could recognize hearing German, French, Russian and even Persian being spoken by people sitting behind me and I myself sat with a bunch of Indian tourists. I didn’t know what to expect when my flight landed at Srinagar International Airport because if it was anything close to last three years than it would be a long journey home. I remember travelling from airport to home last year under immense protection as if a VIP travelling in the war zones of Gaza, Palestine.
But to add to my surprise there were no hartals or curfews, no calls, no demonstrations, no protests, no burning of tires or shouting of slogans, not even any pelting of stones. Every single native seemed to be occupied with some work of their own and the youth busy with their colleges and schools while a crowd of tourists happily passed by them. The smiling faces of foreigners clearly explained the excitement and pleasure they felt in just being here as if a chance of a lifetime. Maybe they had waited so long to see this land in all its glory for it had been famously described as being the heaven on earth. I could easily imagine them exclaiming in their minds…’’Heaven!’’
Elders of my family often used to tell me about the glory days of Kashmir before the violence broke out. How alongside the crystal clear waters of Dal and Nigeen, Boulevard would be crowded with the foreign crowds. When all you could see were people equally as fair as local Kashmiris but with various shades of hair color. They used to tell me of the days when everywhere your head turned you would recognize Bollywood stars posing for their shots and yet it was treated as just being a very ordinary event. They used to tell me of the days when people with blonde and red hair used to come from the various parts of the world just for a breathtaking sunset on Dal Lake, or for the exciting skiing on the slopes of Gulmarg, or for the challenging treks of Mahadev, Haramukh and Kolohoi, or for a taste of Wazwan and Kehwa,or to buy themselves the treasured handicraft furniture and rugs or simply just to stay here and enjoy the hospitable and warm nature of a typically cultured Kashmiri family as if this was the closest thing to heaven in this world.
All I could see today was something which reminded me of the same days of the old that my elders used to tell me of. Tourists from all parts of the world had lined up boulevard, the hotels were fully booked, shikaras loaded with tourists floated on the sparkling waters of Dal, Houseboats were getting some of their dedicated foreign tourists back after a break of two generations. And in the midst of all this I happened to meet a group of French, Swiss and Austrian tourists who after a brief conversation stated that even though their country is very beautiful and the Alps are glorious but it is nowhere near to what they had seen in the past 2 weeks in Kashmir. I even met some young tourists from Southern India who were otherwise very rigid vegetarians but couldn’t resist tasting the famous Wazwan of Kashmir!
I have never seen such perfect summers in Kashmir since the year of my birth which happens to be the most unfortunate year in the history of this land. Although it might be nothing new to elders to see the tourists crowding the valley as if Kashmir was the centre of world tourism but for people of my generation this might be a very rare sight. Comparing the current tourist season with any of the 80s or 70s the elders might shoot down the current season as just a rare and very small scaled glimpse of old but for people my age it is the best we have seen in past 20 years.
Seeing the vast contrasts of two summers separated by just 12 months is remarkable. It was as if just a year ago I had left my home in a war like situation where the people had stood up in unison against a power much greater, as if I had spent my last summer’s in a safe house in the heavily disturbed Gaza of Palestine and yet just one year later I come here as if coming to the serene and peaceful Switzerland of the East.
One just can’t resist but give in to the temptation of imagining what a peaceful Kashmir would look like. A booming economy, the tourist centre of the world, prosperity and peace to its people and once again a cultural and religious hub of the whole region in large. Once again a land of mystics and Sufis, untouched valleys and unseen treasures of nature. Even a possible centre of world adventure sports. Unmatched potential for progress and prosperity co existing with our old age customs and traditions of brotherhood and hospitality. A coexistence of the prosperous and modern new with our very unique old. Ahh… How I wish!
What an unfortunate generation I belong to, I never got to see the Kashmir I imagine in my dreams, which was a reality my elders lived. Dream it truly is and coming back to the actual current reality of today where an entire generation has been led aimlessly by leaders who themselves have failed to recognize an actual aim for struggle, a realistic goal. A rational mind tends to think that accepting our destiny and fate lies with the might of our foreign ruler may be the best option for a fact that no blood would be shed, no innocent lives would be lost and tourism based economy will once again boom. But for a passionate lover of his land it is very hard to accept a personal life of prosperity and peace when his land is still not free and the sacrifices of his brothers have been forgotten.
Personally, I still can’t decide what the future of my land should be. Peace and prosperity of my valley at the cost of true freedom or freedom at the cost of our economy and more importantly many more innocent lives. This is a question that can’t be asked because it can’t be answered. The answer can’t be asked from our leader or our ideal, it lies deep within our own patriotic souls. All we need to do is look deep into ourselves with a patriotic and yet very rational mind and see for ourselves what truly is the best for our mother land. I believe, God will answer.
For the time being I enjoy the very brief period of peace and prosperity that this summer is and take as many digital pictures as possible for my college so that when my Europe return friends meet me, they all will exclaim in unison…”Switzerland wasn’t this beautiful !”