Lockdown Letters: When Obsolete Practice Saved the Situation in Kashmir

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Photo by Abid Bhat

Last August when embargo on communiqué was enforced, letters reminiscing the good old days became the only way to stay in touch in the valley.

AHAD DAR, 28, wept like a child when he received the ‘most-awaited’ news of his life amid lockdown last year. His cries echoed in his city home where he got stuck when New Delhi scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s semiautonomous status on August 5, 2019, and subsequently forced the communication clampdown in the region.

Before the trader would cry his heart out, he had an unexpected visitor from his hometown Shopian.

The homeboy practicing medicine in a city hospital had arrived with a letter that Dar’s younger brother had sent through him.

A baby daughter was born on August 28,” the letter, Dar received on September 4 that year, read. “Both your wife and newborn are safe and healthy. We hope you can come back soon!”

Dar had last talked to his family on August 4 when clampdown rendered cellphones inoperable in the valley. The concern for his family living in one of the turbulent belts of Kashmir throughout made him restless. “But with that letter,” Dar recalls his captive feelings a year later, “I felt life back in my veins.”

Till he managed to return to his family that year, Dar would read the contents of that letter every night just to stay hopeful.

But when all this was happening, Kashmir had become a poet’s lament.

‘The Country without Post Office’

As desperate times were calling for desperate measures, the junked routine—the art of letter writing—once again took roots in the valley.

“The idea [of writing letters] was haunting as well as heartening,” says Saba Rizvi, a scholar who wrote a pile of letters to her friends in lockdown last year.

In one of her letters, invoking a ‘beloved’ bard, she writes: “Now what to do in “The Country without Post Office”, where mountains of letters pile up but no mailman to deliver them to their destination.

Each post office is boarded up. Who will deliver

parchment cut in paisleys, my news to prisons?

Only silence can now trace my letters

to him. Or in a dead office the dark panes.”

“It wasn’t just writing letters, but also delivering them to their addresses,” Rizvi says. “Since pigeons or mailmen weren’t around anymore, so the natives themselves became the messenger of their letters.”

Letters of Longing

In the times of curfew and uncertainties, those letters slowly became sources of assurances, happiness and hope in the valley.

Adeeb and his friend, both university students, had no means to talk amid blockade. The letters between the young lovers were being delivered for months by their trusted aid and a mutual friend.

“I felt like a John Keats in the age of Internet,” laughs Adeeb. “Meetings were not a possibility either. Sitting at our homes, left with no options, we started exchanging letters to talk every once in a week.”

‘Redemption’ Moment

The iconic line—“Brooks was here”—from the movie The Shawshank Redemption is enough to invoke emotions in any cinephile.

Akin to an old captive carving the line on his hotel room wall, an anxious banker Amjad had written a similar note and pasted it on his office wall last year.

It was his idea of letting his colleagues know that he had walked to the office and was doing well, but worried about others.

A week later, when he went back, his colleagues had pasted a stark note: “We were, we are, and we will be here…

With no working networks or connectivity, this note exchange became handy for the band of bankers amid lockdown.

“There’re many profound and moving stories of how the valley found refuge in these handwritten letters as they were clouted with uncertainties and troubled times,” Amjad says.

“It was a resilience to reconnect with each other when every one of us was pushed to the wall.”

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Rakshanda Afrin

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