Kashmir witnessed one of its worst floods since late 19th century, in September 2014. Most parts of Srinagar city were inundated in water. Kashmiris came together for help in absence of any visible government on the ground.
FATES of Kashmir and Habba seem to be entwined. Born into a poor peasant family in 16th century Kashmir, the mystic poetess – the empress of Kashmir – Habba Khatoon needs no introduction. Married early at age 16, Habba or Zoon was left withered atrophy at her in-laws. A cruel mother-in-law and an indifferent husband could never harmonize with her feelings. But Habba’s bosom was filled with love, and promptly, as in a fairy tale happens, the royal emperor, Yusuf Shah Chak, who was once contemplating by the stream, heard her heart-wrenching pathos. Their eyes met. It’s those split-seconds when you disposes yourself of plan or ambition. When you give yourself completely to the golden fate filled moment. The emperor fell for the damsel and married her. The wind man had other plans in store though. The earth that delighted at her bare feet and wind that played with her long hair, soon conspired against this celestial love. Yusuf was captured by the Moghal King and sent to Bihar, where he later died. Leaving Habba again behind. Left to lament his loss, the night wind carried her voiceless cries for years, till she died an unknown death. Waiting for her Yusuf!
While I was in Kashmir in mid September that year, trying to do my bit, the overwhelming human spirit in us swelled my eyes numerous times. Young university students had hastily set up a relief camp on KU campus. With no fanfare and gimmicks to take mileage out of, they went about their work quietly; requesting people like me, who were visiting, not to take pictures. Brave human stories were coming out from all over. As it was, nature’s fury had fist cuffed the bourgeois in uptown Srinagar. Partisans, shikarwallahs, factory workers, cart pullers, jobless youth- without giving two hoots for their own lives, went on about rescuing people from submerged parts of the city. Food supply from rural Kashmir (parts which were dry like Ganderbal, Sopore, Baramulla, Shupiyan) to Srinagar city was immediately ensured. The absence of government and state machinery was literally never felt.
The mood in Delhi was sombre. Amidst packing relief items, bound for Kashmir, I filled a carton of white shroud. It is unexplainable to put that moment in words, to foresee a fellow countryman being draped in white cloth for his final journey. Kashmir had just witnessed the most devastating floods in more than a century. That week had been probably one of the longest weeks of my life. Almost no communication was possible with folks back home. We’d spaced out; thousands of us expats in Middle East and elsewhere.
With almost 20-30 flights being operated every day by various airlines, the ATC at Srinagar airport must have been going through some harrowing time. Not that it crossed my mind once. I wanted to be home as early as possible. I got a late afternoon flight.
Just as we entered into the Valley through the Pir Panchal mountains near Banihal, tragedy below was visible. Brown muddy water had submerged almost the entire valley. Due to many aircrafts scurrying for whatever little landing space Srinagar airport has to offer, it gave our pilot a chance to take a detour along Srinagar, till he could land.
He took a right, and kept hovering above The Dal, and the boulevard. Amidst the harkened solitude of this bygone lake; the Lydia air played its tune too. Or was it only me that heard it, in the voyage of my longing. Turning back, we flew across towards the mountains of Gulmarg and Yusmarg. Thin craggy peak of Tatakoti was lit under this mild afternoon sun. It looked like a thin jar, carrying an immortal drink. Like meditating sufis, the mountains were calm, quiet. Tiny little hamlets, straight out of a Charlotte Bronte novel – must have been near Shupiyan – had visible impression of impending fall. Swathed under balmy afternoon Kashmir sun, where thin line of lean poplars run with an air of flourish, a land yellow in summer, its funereal brume rolling over paddy fields, you felt a deep sorrow, the kind of melancholy you feel when you’re with a pretty woman and the sun is going down. Kashmir the cursed damsel, with a thousand scars perched in her bosom – its air breathing fey, ruined, her fate star-crossed. There is something austere too about her beauty. You can’t help but, fall in love with her.
On one of those nights, when communication had snapped, those long sad nights, when eerie silence from thousands of kilometers far, became too heavy, driving late night over a freeway, thoughts and mind securely placed in my sad land, I envisioned Kashmir as a woman. Battered and shredded. You write sad pathos over her, while admiring her beauty too. The descriptions of paradise satisfy the hunger for beauty. We, narrators of flimsy imagination, prose and poetic, know the sky will never forgo its many evidences. A confined woman, that we love, and we believe she loves us too, living or dead.
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