It seems to be the season of open letters, so I too will hop on and instead of wasting my breath on writing open letters to people who do not deserve my attention and much less my words, I am writing you this long due (love) letter.
I am defiantly taking the freedom (given that freedom is scarce) to tell you that you are the worst love of my life. The worst because despite having only known life with you for eight years, from my birth till the age of eight, you have incessantly and relentlessly called me back to you. You just will not cede, you will not let go, you will not forget me and you will not leave my side. You are defiant by nature. You occupy my soul while being occupied by ruthless others. The worst because you will also not let me ever forget you. And it is not like I have not tried. I lived a decade and a half away from you in cultures where they speak other languages that I now speak like a native. I have a history with other lands, peoples, streets, cultures and “futbol” clubs. And to be quite frank I have spent more time in those other lands than I did with you. But that didn’t stop you, did it? In all those years away from you, you always kept calling me back home and even though you did not have a post office your love still reached me from far away. Tell me, why do you persist so much and why are you so militant in your persistence? Why do you keep me thinking of you? Just let me go.
Out here I have a job to keep and a life to lead and responsibilities to fulfill. You mock me reminding me that all these are nothing without you. And you know I made you a promise that I would return for good to be by your side till my dying day, so why can you not forget me and let me forget you for just one second? Why do you always have to keep me engaged and thinking of you, constantly, minute by minute, and day by day? You even inhabit my sleep. My spouse tells me that I lament in my dreams in the Kashmiri language. That I seem troubled while I am sleeping, dreaming of you. My spouse is not Kashmiri so she doesn’t understand what I am saying in my dreams of lamenting in Kashmiri. But I lament often in my sleep and my spouse hears my lament so often that she has by now memorized my all my laments for you. She now even teases me with “aai waai”, “aai Khodaya” every time I complain about any issue while awake because that is what I say when I am asleep lamenting, dreaming of you.
As I said you are the worst love of my life. You have not even spared my spouse with your love. This idea of coming back to you is entirely hers because as far as I am concerned I could walk all the way to hell given how far and wide I have ventured from you the world over. I say I would even go all the way to hell, just to hear you calling me to come back to you. I guess that label of “paradise” sticks to you for a reason. I know you have more than enough to deal with, with the situation at hand. But nonetheless you still keep calling me back.
My spouse and I have been married for five years and we communicate in English and other non-Kashmiri languages. But even she recognizes our undying bond. She has witnessed how day by day during these five years of marriage how I have been consumed by the thoughts of you. Even when I look at her I cannot forget you because she too has become a reminder of you. She is on your side, a collaborator (in the right sense of the word) of your plan for my return.
And you know the only reason we have been apart this long is because my relatives and family always said “don’t come back, this is not a place for a child, a teenager, and even an adult, go and live where you can live and not die before your time, things are rotting here, yeti chi haalat kharab, there is danger at all corners, finish your studies, live your life, you know we did so much to get you out and now you want to come back, don’t waste the opportunities that were given to you, there are so many here who could do so much more with opportunities you were given, think of them …” And I didn’t want opportunities. The only opportunity I ever wanted was the one to be by your side. Yet they gave me that admonitory lecture every time I expressed the need to come back. But they can do it no longer. I did my job. I got my degrees. I fulfilled their basic requirements. Even their worrisome words cannot hold me back now. I seek a(n) (un)timely death at your feet right where I was born.
So much has changed since I left. I am a shame to the farmer blood coursing in my veins. I will have to learn everything from zero. How to till the land, learn about crop rotation, irrigation, pesticides, organic farming, agriculture, technology, grains, planting, seeds, processing, etc. And these degrees are nothing but paper and ink next to my departed grandfather’s farming knowledge.
We don’t even have a cow any more. The last time I saw her I was six. She had beautiful black and white patches and I wished I had called her Dorotea (Dolly for short) when I was growing up abroad. Even the chickens are no more. But the waer has survived and there are vegetables brought in from Spain occupying it with that (only) acceptable foreign non-invasive food occupation of our soil that leads to my family’s subsistence and not to its extermination, like the one meted out by that other undesired, ruthless and detestable kind.
And now you will probably wonder why I consider you the worst love of my life. Well, because you could have made it easy on me and let me know that there is no life without you, it is just absent living. You could have given me the courage to stand up to my family when they ‘coerced’ me and ‘guilt-tripped’ me time and again by saying “think of all those who wish they could leave but can’t.” That pressure was incessant because every other year I would come to see you, in my area there would be news from the neighbours of somebody who was picked up never to be seen again, somebody succumbing to injuries, somebody detained, beaten and tortured, somebody raped, somebody executed with their body dismembered and thrown in the Lidder river behind my house. That somebody always had the name of someone in close proximity, a friend, a friend of a friend, a relative, a neighbour, someone from the next village, someone from the city, someone across the valley, someone’s someone, all with much lesser than six degrees of separation so much so that it might as well have been me or anyone I saw each time I came back and feared never to see again each time I left.
And this is exactly the rationalization my family and the village people used time and again especially in those times: “anyone of those massacred, tortured, raped, disappeared and beaten, or simply anyone living through such bloodshed here would trade places with you in the blink of an eye to escape their tragic fate and to have an iota of what you have been given, don’t disrespect the fate of the dead and the suffering of our people, go and become someone, yeti chu zulum, nyebar gazzith bann keh.” Te waiyn baniovus bu keh. Waiyn hyekiv ne mye keh ti wanith.
Bu wotsay chaenyen kadman pyeht. Paradise is at the feet of the mother they say. And they are right, I might have naturally been untied from the umbilical cord that attached me to my mother at birth, but the umbilical cord that has kept me attached to you, Kashmir, my ever present motherland, is one sustained by the people of Kashmir, to whom I have previously written an open letter aptly titled “An Open (Love) Letter to the People of Kashmir” during June of last year.
Amjad is a Kashmiri teacher and writer who lives abroad.