In a quaint guesthouse in Pahalgam, two men welcome me with wide smiles. To be fair, almost all guesthouses here look quaint. Even the flower gardens outside have a vintage look. Maybe because things start to reflect their surroundings. The first thought that came to my mind on seeing the duo for some reason, was the Hamlet inspired film Haider. The song “Aao na“, set in a dystopian setting shows three grave diggers who are digging their own graves, mourning the future of the next generation of Kashmiri youth. It was late, so I didn’t strike a conversation with them, even though I wanted to.
The next morning, I found the two men preparing tea and toast for breakfast down in a cave like kitchen. Their names are Ghulam Mohammad and Ghulam Rasool. I sat down with them inside the kitchen instead of waiting upstairs for my tea.
We started the conversation on a light note, talking about Ghulam Rasool’s daughter Nasreena, who has done her MBA from Kashmir University. Right about then in a weird coincidence, Nasreena entered the kitchen with fresh cow milk for the tea, panting. She had brought the milk from her home in the village.
And then came the unavoidable part of any conversation in Kashmir: militancy.
“Actually, Kashmir’s problem is that a lot of people are educated but unemployed. If we had busy people, nobody would pick up stones. If the government cared enough, they would give our youth jobs,” Ghulam Rasool said. “We have relations from Srinagar to Anantnag and Pahalgam is the only place which is completely safe,” he added. A man who claims to be entirely unlettered tells us something that echoes the views of experts on the Kashmir issue.
“Ande bech bech ke,murghiyan bech bech ke bachchon ko padhaya, magar wo ghar me bekaar baithe hain,” (We paid for education of our children, selling eggs and chicken, but they are wandering for jobs now) he sighed.
On a good look, it seems to me that tragedy has made home in the souls of the two old men. The reason they are so friendly in talking to us, I tell myself, is because they hardly have outlet for all their pent up emotions.
Now it’s time for the other friend to talk. Ghulam Mohammad, who has kids who are also unemployed talks about the time when his house became a site of constant crackdowns by the army. In Anantnag, he says, “bahut logon ko pareshan kiya jaata hai. Logon ke gharon me kabhi bhi crackdown kar dete hain, kabhi bhi investigation ke liye le jaate hain,” (People are being harrased even inside their homes and many are picked up on the pretext of security), he says. Wiping his tear quickly, he added, “the youth of our area are traumatized. They attack us at our own homes, search us and also cause damage to our house property in the name of safety.”
On the subject of militancy, he said, “When somebody becomes a militant, even we, the people that they spent their lives with, don’t get to see them. There was a young boy in my neighborhood who was beaten up a few times by the army. I think he was forced into joining militancy due to the trauma he suffered.”
We punctured the conversation with lighter topics in between, because it was both difficult for them to say and for me to hear. So we talked about his daughter’s wedding. Then we spoke about pherans, the universality of it. “Ameer, ghareeb, mard, aurat, sabb pehen lete hain,” (rich, poor, man, woman, everybody can wear a pheran!)
A third friend joined us later. Lighting a hookah, he said, “the militancy now is nothing compared to the militancy of the 90’s. Now people are just being scared unnecessarily. Militants will never harm any civil property or civilians, unlike the forces.” He sits with Ghulam and Rasool and partakes in the conversation every now and then. In this Kashmir filled with tragic stories in each house, he ends his dialogue with “beta baap ka nahin reh gaya,” (Young men have become rebellious) referring to the many young boys who join the militancy in Kashmir against their families’ wishes.
I sip my tea, with my toast right inside the kitchen and not on the dining table. They smoke their hookah, eyes seemingly sad, looking elsewhere. And yet the next morning men like Ghulam and Rasool will smile and welcome people like me, outsiders, and tell their tales to whoever cares to listen.