By Amjad Majid
This letter is for those of you who I have had the fortune of meeting here in Kashmir, during my visit this summer of 2015. This is not for all of you. Some of you will feel excluded, but know that inspite of that, I love you, because that is all I have to give to my people.
Srinagar is booming with life in the face of the imminent threat of death by the ever present possibility of state perpetuated violence; with its impunity and its murderous laws set on intimidating and keeping the populace in line. One reaction, one protest, peaceful as it may be – one march, one demand for justice, one stone pelted and you could be dead, blinded, injured, arrested, molested, disappeared, imprisoned and/or tortured before you can even take your next breath and let out a scream or a sigh.
The air is full of suspicion and lack of trust in the system because the people here know the history of their experience in the frenzy of war; they know of that which was inflicted on them and they have been marked by it to a certain degree. How to ensure that, what was done unto them will not be repeated today or tomorrow or the day after? How to trust the state that has shown clear symptoms of psychosis and volatility in the past? How can there even be talk of trust given the utter disregard for human life that has tried to instill a state of paralysis in the people?
The state knows that we know that if we do anything they will make us pay most severely. The system is perpetually nervous, on guard at all times, watching and surveilling, with their bunkers, check posts, random checks and inspections and uniformed enforcers on every corner. At times their suspicion and lack of trust surpasses ours. That is how fidgety they are. In some instances it is difficult to discern who is scared of whom. One can even say that to an extent we have occupied their psyche even more than they have occupied ours irrespective of how much they have tried because at least we have attempted time and again, tragedy through tragedy, horror through horror, to carry forward, live on, succeeding many times in being ourselves to each other.
Here we are witnesses to one another, we even have to be shrinks to each other, since there are no other outlets. The circumstance is such that we have to play healers and magicians, and sometimes clowns and jokers to draw defiant smiles on the faces of our people, to create ripples of laughter that nurture and strengthen. Our defiance is embedded in the kindness and compassion we show one another, in how we greet one another, in how we forgive, in how we embrace one another, in how we listen to one another and are listened to, in how we argue and disagree, bicker and fight, in how we agree to disagree, in how we say sorry, in how we rescue one another from the pits of darkness, in how we remedy each other’s demons, give solace to one another with our words and compassionate smiles and embraces, in how we call each other “brother”, “sister”, “uncle”, “auntie”, “moji”, “baba”, “yaara”, “jigra”, “zua”, “jaana”, thus forming this big family of people who are otherwise unrelated in this grand big flood-ridden, earthquake-driven, turmoil-infested house that is the valley of Kashmir.
We do all these things here and we deal with one another the way we do because we know war, we know what it can do and what it has done, yet we never cease to seek peace and we create it among ourselves. We harbor peace like they harbor a grudge. We make do with what we don’t have; we are miracle workers with defiant imaginations. There is peace in the comfort we give one another and in our bonds and friendships. We are free in each other’s eyes and we have found freedom in one another, because we feel liberated by one another, and in rare cases more liberated by one another than oppressed by them, which is why freedom lives on, and it won’t simply go away, because we will dream it into being if we have to, we will imagine it if need be (for the time being). We will recite it in our verses, sing of it in our songs, conceal it in our memories, draw it in our cartoons, write it in our articles, and we will populate libraries with it, and tell its tales in our homes.
They may enforce as many nightmares on us as they possibly can, but we will still keep dreaming, one by one, and all together. There is hope in hope even when there is no hope left. So you tell me who needs to be worried, anxious, nervous, petrified, mortified, terrified, afraid, belligerent, volatile, psychotic, violent, paranoid…us or them? We will birth love where they plant hatred and division. We will cultivate care where they implement indifference and cruelty. We will seek justice where they impose tyranny. And they will do all this, and have tried to do all this, right here, in our home.
But we are the ones who know the doors and windows here, the corridors and the walls, because we have the most precious of memories here, we have a recollection of the best of times….and they don’t, they can’t, they never will, because this home is ours, not theirs. So all they will ever have is their cannibal greed, their barbaric lust and their savage hunger that drives them to commit unimaginable atrocities. It is they who are lost and puzzled, because ultimately we have found one another, and that too through love…and they have had to dehumanize themselves to do the things they have done to us. So what more can they take from us and what can they even do with it?
Ultimately, they have to glare at their own hands, for the stains of innocent blood never really wash away. They have to free themselves from the shackles they have imposed on us. They have to seek forgiveness even from themselves for they have lost touch with their hearts and souls, while we still preserve and heal each other, rescue each other from misery, and hold each other when all else seems to fail.
You may call me a fool for thinking all this, but I get my foolishness from the love that you have shown me, the hope you have given me, and from the dream that you have preserved. I only put into words what I see in your eyes and in your smiles, and that is something that even death cannot undo.
Amjad is a Kashmiri teacher and writer who lives abroad.