Hello. I hope you’re all safe and well. I don’t know why but I have been thinking a lot about Kashmir lately. Kashmir, often called Paradise on Earth, is a troubled state in India. Its history is stained with violence, unrest and their obvious companion exile. Now, although my ancestors, Kashmiri Pandits, had to flee the state, likely during the Mughal Era in India, and I have never visited the land, I still identify as Kashmiri – my facial features, my last name, the traditions I follow are all reminiscent of my inheritance. However, since I am far removed from that experience, I am always at a loss when people ask me where I’m from.
This poem was written after one such conversation. I was having a conversation with friends and they asked, ‘Where are you from?’ I said, ‘Kashmir.’
Immediately, they followed up, ‘Where in Kashmir?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Do you still have property there?’
‘No. Never did.’
‘Is it as beautiful as they say? What is the political situation there?’
’Okay, so why do you call it home, then?’
Everyone just had a casual laugh about it, but it really got me thinking. I wrote a bit of it at the time, and then polished it for an office exercise and submitted it for publishing, soon after. It was published in an edition of South Asian Ensemble in 2014-2015.
Here is the poem, with a few revisions:
“Last night, I met my friends
Over dinner and drinks;
We had a great time chatting
’bout silly little things,
Until they caught me completely off-guard,
By asking a question I’d never been asked.
One by one, they started discussing memories of their hometown…
Distant memories of belonging to one place, of being tied to it forever.
Thinking about my turn I was filled with panic –
How could I ever explain where I belonged?
Making a mental note to get a bunch of new friends
Who asked better questions,
I pondered the answer over and over again.
I sneaked into my heart, and strolled deep inside
To dig out a name I cautiously hid there,
And kept sheltered, away from all harm.
The place celebrated as Switzerland of the East,
As Paradise on Earth,
The beautiful Kashmir!
The place to which I owe my notoriously long nose,
My complexion, my light eyes,
My fat-laden, spice-loaded food,
And the perfectly embroidered patterns on my phirans.
But how will I ever explain to them why, despite being a born Kashmiri,
I never set foot in Kashmir?
They would laugh at me if I told them,
I didn’t want to visit it as a tourist who couldn’t wait to return.
That I wanted to go there when I could call it my own,
Even a tiny inch of its land to carve my initials on.
Wouldn’t they make fun of me when I disclosed,
I visited it in my dreams each night,
Played in the captivating valley nestled quietly in the Himalayas,
And absorbed the beauty of its snow-capped mountains?
I got lost in the lush pine, deodar and chinar forests
And its deftly designed waterfront gardens.
I cherished the brilliance of its silvery streams and sparkling waterfalls,
Slid down fragrant slopes of bright, vibrant flowers.
Oh, how I relished luxuriously cruising around the Dal Lake in a Shikara,
Or stealing a silent sleep in an exotic house-boat!
They wouldn’t know how often I imagined wrapping myself
In the spell-binding beauty of the picturesque Pahalgam,
And the splendour of Gulmarg and Sonamarg;
Or drowning in the magnificence of Srinagar’s marvellous orchards and lily-laden lakes,
Being immersed in the gentle hues of its four fabulous seasons.
No, I wouldn’t be able to explain to them
What it meant to be tied to a place you’ve seen only in your dreams!
‘Cause the Paradise has been plundered for centuries now,
By Greed and Satan’s entire legion,
Not subtle as the serpent this time,
And definitely not alone.
They abducted the Eves, mutilated the Adams,
Snatched from them what Nature had gifted willingly,
Until they chose exile over death and dignity.
No, they could never understand what it meant
To belong to a land that cannot belong to you.
So, when my turn came, I quietly answered
I don’t have a home, there’s nowhere I belong.
And as they laughed heartily at my anomaly,
And moved on to the next glorious narrative of a distant home,
I went back to reflecting upon the lost paradise,
And revising my mental note of getting a bunch of new friends
Who asked better questions…”
Would you like to share a similar narrative of belongingness/belonginglessness? Comment below or send me a message.
©️Pebble in the Ocean 2021