After the hectic journey of two long days, I reached Mahindergarh, a detached and apathetic town in the north Indian state of Haryana. The bus stopped near the entrance of a Dharamshala, a well-built spacious architecture clad in long strings of sparkling diamond-like small bulbs. The bus conductor suggested that I would get the cheapest lodging for the night at this Dharamshala in the whole of Mahindergarh. It was the hour when darkness descends the earth and mixes with the tender fading light of the day. The anxiety and fear of being alone, the blistering heat of the whole day, and the drudging traffic drone had already vanquished my hopes of adventure in this new land. The next day was the date of my interview in a university there.
I got a small room in a corner of the third storey of Dharamshala. It was terribly humid, all my vigour was spent. I eased down my duffel bag, changed my stinking dress drenched in sweat and took a bath. Back in my room I reclined on a stained bed and desperately missed my home. I had to purchase a new sim card to talk to my home. I got up, stuffed the wallet in my pocket and walked out into the narrow, dusty and frowzy streets of the market to purchase a sim card. I struggled to find out a shop in a stretched-out line of cluttered and unkempt stores. Finally I found a shop, a huge signboard with the words Yarada Communications written on it, hung on its top. As I walked in its direction, the three young men standing in the shop constantly gazed at me as if they were waiting for my reception. I had never expected that a strange dialogue on Kashmir with the owner of that shop was all I would get from there. As I approached, a burly man with a dusky bearing, a bulging belly, a neatly cut moustache and a pen stuck between the fingers of his right hand, stepped forward, sat in the chair facing a table and pretended a profound preoccupation with some calculation work. He knew my presence there; he raised his head and spoke in a sophisticated tone, which is very rare in Haryana, Namaste sir, what do you need?His unwarranted token of veneration caught me by surprise. Sir, I need a mobile phone sim card, retorted I with a noticeable discomfort.
Sir, please sit in the chair, you will get everything, said the owner patiently. Then he suddenly and loudly called out someone, Deepak fetch a full tumbler of juice for the guest.
Sir, please do not trouble yourself. Let it be, I rejoined with an apparent disquiet now. He seemed to be hugely interested in a prolix confabulation. Wishing to truncate everything I said, Sir, what are the requirements to purchase a sim card and how long will it take to get the card activated?
Tomorrow morning the card will be ready for use. You need to give me a Xerox copy of your voter card, two passport size photographs and the name and address of a person whom you know here and who will be called and questioned about your details that you submit in this form. You also have to pay one hundred rupees, explained the owner without a hitch while handing over a sheet of paper to me.
But I have just arrived here. I do not know anyone here and no one knows me, I responded promptly.
I can understand that you are not a local. Where do you come from? said the owner with a considerable ease.
I am from Kashmir. I havent called my family for two days now. They will be intently anticipating a phone call and I cant arrange a witness who can give right details about me now. I replied with an overwhelming contrition of having no acquaintance there. In the meanwhile someone brought a full tumbler of mango juice. As I quaffed it, its coldness doused the broiling heat of my body.
It will be very temperate, very coldish and very refreshing in Kashmir. It snows there even in May and June. Does it? said the owner with a tender smile crossing his face as if his whole body felt a tranquilizing touch of snow.
It snows in the higher reaches in May sporadically but, it hardly snows in the plains of Kashmir in May or June. In June it is also very sultry there in Kashmir, retorted I with a slowly gaining confidence.
It is a notion here that Kashmiri people are very fair and good-looking. Do you find it is true? questioned the owner while fiddling with a Hindi newspaper.
Most of the people here look like Kashmiris but, there are some dissimilarities which occur due to some topographical variations, I said trying to be more objective and impartial.
You know, I have travelled the whole of my country except Kashmir. It had always been my intense desire to visit Kashmir but, due to militancy and everyday encounters there, my dream could not materialize. I do not know why are you people protesting against India and why you want to go with Pakistan, said the owner, a little serious and focussed now. He was slowly intruding into the territory, which was repeatedly and mindfully forbidden to me by my parents; the territory not to be trod at all once I entered Jammu.
I myself exactly do not know why it happens there. In my village it is quite peaceful, I replied timorously, pretending not to know much about the problem.
Look, I know the young belligerent people throng the streets, raise anti-India slogans and hurl stones at troops who are deployed for their safety. He talked to a new customer in a strange language which I could not follow and then turned back to me, You know India is putting in all possible efforts to develop Kashmir but, people are rigid there. They do not want any development in the state. They give shelter to the militants, said he, his tone mixed with anger. He was now at the heart of it. Beads of sweat trickled down my face. I could not even dare to twist the conversation back to the necessary requirements to purchase a sim card. I could not even leave the shop without confessing the strange guilt.
But I really do not know much about the politics. I come from a very poor family, I have come here to complete my studies, to secure a government job, and finally to help my family, I said after a heavy silence.
But you must know about your state. You must know that militancy is a serious deterrent in the way of progress and prosperity. You must know that India invests a lot of money to develop Kashmir. You must know that army is deployed for your defence, your well-being, and how can you provide lodging to militants and let them sleep with your women? spouted the owner.
I knew he had picked up a fragmented version of the story, but I was feeling comprehensively debilitated to debug his infected opinion of Kashmir. Like any other Kashmiri student, I was strongly exhorted by my family not to indulge in any political fracas outside Kashmir. I knew the fact that Kashmiris never allow militants to sleep with their women or they purposely promulgate extremism or they fight the forces without a cause. I was alone and I knew most of them are painted with the same brush. I again pretended to be ignorant.
Yes, militancy is a problem there. I also want Kashmiri people to live peacefully as you live here, I said, justifying his rhetoric as true. He paused for a while, looked straight at me and then continued, What will you get from that small and poor country Pakistan. Bloodbath in the name of religion is an order of day there. When she cannot steer her own self, what the hell on earth will she administer you. He was serious and I could feel the red-hot anger in his words.
Pakistan is really an impoverished and disturbed country I said, almost agreeing with him to avoid any calamity. I missed my home; I desperately needed to make a call. Every time the word sim-card stuck into my mouth.
You are a student and you can understand it better. When you know your families are continually in danger and that militants can assault you anytime, you should not openly protest for the revocation of AFSPA. This Act only strengthens the army to protect you people, said the owner with increasing assurance in his words.
Yes, I also hear of encounters regularly in Kashmir. Since my village is very peaceful I do not know much about army, encounters and AFSPA, I replied favourably.
There is also a great benefit to the people of Kashmir. According to Article 370, we cannot purchase your land, but it has even greater disadvantages. Do you know? If it were allowed, rich Indian business tycoons would have had established industries and factories in Kashmir and everything would have been the other way round. Do you agree with this? he said, thinking he has raised the most seminal issue.
You are right. There is hardly any big industry, I rejoined in affirmation.
And do you know, with the BJP government in the centre there is every possibility of the scrapping of this irrelevant Article from the Constitution? he questioned with a complete self-belief. I nodded my head, he continued, We live in the same country, if you can buy my land, why cant I buy your land? I again nodded my head in confirmation. I could not even talk now. After realising my distress he said, I think I am boring you. Anyway, bring someone who knows you or who is ready to shoulder the responsibility of knowing you. Without that I cant give you a sim card. I think, because of your being a Kashmiri no one will easily take this responsibility here.
Here no one knows me better than you, sir. Please, can you do something for me? I requested, knowing there is no other way out.
Sorry, I cant do anything. You go and make friends with someone around, he suggested.
May I leave then, I said.
Yes, you can leave, he said in a lower tone.
As I left the shop, the owner laughed. My legs lurched as I walked. I scampered back to my room. I sobbed as I reclined on the bed. After a short silent contemplation I asked myself, When I crossed Lakhanpur, I lost my identity there and then.
Author is a PhD Scholar at Central University of Haryana. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.