Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Still Waters



Emerging from the airport, I inhaled deeply. Like an eager kid, I wanted to have as much as I could - the freshness and the crispness of it all. Far away from Gurgaon’s dust and heat, Srinagar’s air was rejuvenating. A mix of pine and apple. Farhan, the local driver was amused.
“Madam, where are you from?”
“Delhi,” I said.
Aap India se ho?"
I swallowed hard as the husband nudged me to zip up. But Farhan continued, "I visited Deli once. So much pollution, I couldn't breathe,” he said. “We Kashmiris can’t live away from home.”
“I understand,” I muttered. 

A few meters away from the airport, I realized that the air was light, but atmosphere heavy. Gun toting CRPF men dotted the entire stretch. The sight of unemployed youth idling in groups next to closed shops was disturbing. It appeared as if the city was stuck in a time warp of the seventies. When the muezzin’s voice reverberated in the valley, the mountains echoed. Within minutes a veil of uneasiness clouded the excitement of visiting Srinagar after twenty-five years.


Dal - A view from my  hotel

As the day broke lazily, a customary Shikara ride was on the list. In a fit of a nostalgic reverie, I wanted to feel what Shammi Kapoor felt when he immortalized the shimmering waters. Since the ashes of the actor, were immersed in the Dal Lake, I expected the waters to sing ‘Tareef Karu Kya Uski’.

The lake, however was silent. Bearing the brunt of violence, ravaged by circumstances, the olive waters were festering with weeds. Even though sunlight danced on ripples and the backdrop transformed in different hues of green, the lake refused to sing.
Once we were in the midst of the lake the shikara owner - an old man lamented the lack of tourists. Routine strikes by separatists ensure that development remains a dream, he said.
“But the airport is crowded with hordes of tourists?” I asked.
“Most of them are Amarnath yatris. They go to Pahalgaon and the holy cave.” 
"So you support those who call for strikes and bandhs?"
To which he said, "This is our rozi roti. Unke bachche to bahar rehte hai, bahar padhte hai."


The loquacious old man narrated stories about ghosts descending on the terrace of Pari Mahal, located on the Zabarwan mountain range overlooking the lake. He truly believed in the mythical folklore.
“Why don’t they clean these weeds?”I tried to change the topic.
“They purchased weed cleaning machines worth lakhs. But the mechines don’t work.” 
After some prodding, he revealed that he would get one tenth of what we paid him for the shikara ride. The rest would be shared by a layered mafia. When we tried to pay extra, he refused saying there was no point. He would be strip searched at the end of the day."Don't give me money, aap mujhe Char Chinar par khana khila do." Char Chinar is a secluded piece of land in almost the centre of the lake.

During sightseeing, Farhan, my driver was polite but his angst was onbvious when he was frisked for a security check. He muttered swear words and swerved the vehicle with anger raging in his eyes. For any discerning tourist, mistrust between the locals and the army was palpable. The sales girl at an emporium was equally cold and clinical. While I marveled at her peaches and cream complexion she rebuffed me. “Don't open the shawl if you don't want to buy.”

Despite opting for ballot over bullet, the situation in the valley is beyond occasional tourists. It is beyond a complex law and order problem. It is beyond a pesky violent neighbor. It is beyond political apathy. I don’t know when the Dal will sing, 'Deewana Hua Badal'.What I know is that still waters run deep. Serene but scenic, they don't sing anymore.

62 comments:

  1. It's so sad... It's ultimately the people who suffer under all the troubles waters of politics and decades of violence...It's not something we can fathom really...

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    1. We keep hearing about it on television but it hits when we see the reality.

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  2. Such a sad plight, really ! So much beauty, yet people are always looking over their backs and over someone else's shoulders fearing for their lives - unable to appreciate that serenity that the peaceful waters can bring. Lovely post Alka.

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    1. Sad is the word Sid. So much potential....human, natural....all wasted on the altar of selfish political ambitions.

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  3. It truly is sad. A Sad silence that doesnt suit the beauty of the place. And the people are so humble. Its just sad. :(

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  4. Sad situation indeed. Hope the valley and its people (including the ones who are now refugees in their own country, Kashmiri Pandits) will see some much needed love, attention and new beginnings, new hopes soon. The situation has been made terrible because of politics and politicians who are only interested in themselves and not the people. Beautiful nostalgic type of post, Alka!

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    1. Thank you Beloo. Selfish political ambitions are playing havoc in different parts of the world.

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  5. I could imagine even the faces of Farhan or the old man. I wish the waters could sing too :( lovely post. I want to visit Kashmir but am scared of seeing all this too :(
    Btw this post reminded me a shammi kapoor's post I wrote long back :)

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    1. Go visit Afshan. It's truly Jannat. Jannat that needs lots of love.

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  6. Absolutely beautiful writing Alka! I haven't been to Kashmir for a very long time but am tempted more by your realistic blogpost than by others rapturous descriptions.

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    1. Thank you Kalpana. Do visit, it's beautiful.

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  7. A pall of gloom has descended on the valley since it came in the grip of violence. A sad situation! While the rest of the world capitalizes on small attractions we are still unable to get a handful of people to world class natural beauties due prevailing situation. Thanks Alka, for taking me down the memory lane :)

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    1. Selfish political ambitions are playing havoc in different parts of the world Rahul. Unfortunate reality.

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  8. Absolutely beautiful writing Alka! I haven't been to Kashmir for a very long time but am tempted more by your realistic blogpost than by others rapturous descriptions.

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  9. Beautiful post which clearly brings out the stark contrasts between nature's beauty and man-made violence in the valley

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  10. Still waters do run deep and the situation in the valley is definitely that. There's so much water that's flown under the bridge, that it requires a great deal of collective effort by the nation to heal it. By highlighting you day to day experiences and talks with the people, you have said so much.

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    1. Thank you Asha. The reality is heartbreaking. But the place is breathtaking.

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  11. From a distance we only hear about the violence going on there but your post enables a glimpse of what the common man suffers.

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  12. In my opinion, the crown of the nation needs a stronger spinal chord. I must have been the heaven on earth, it must still have that magnificence in it, despite the coldness. It doesn't sing, because people have a tendency to snatch away the beautiful flower from the soils it sprung from, to make it their own. Heaven is worth fighting for, and ironically, must never have been either attainable, or deserving a fight.

    Regards,
    Blasphemous Aesthete

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    1. True, the crown needs to be strong. Sadly the situation is heartbreaking but the place is breathtaking. Selfish political ambitions are creating havoc in different parts of the world.

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  13. We visited Kashmir when I was in 2nd year of college. You could feel the simmering discontent even then. Anantnag was already Islamad and Indian tourists were creatures that had to be tolerated. I don't have too many good memories of that place.

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    1. The place looks stuck in a time warp. Yes, we saw a new mall and a few latest cars on the roads but that's it.

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  14. I visited Kashmir way back in the 80s when it was still beautiful and devoid of militancy. The situation is so complicated now. If you haven't yet, do read Curfewed Night; it had saddened and shocked me :/.

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    1. I haven't Rachna, though I have heard about it.

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  15. I read your piece early in the morning, on my phone. There is such deep sadness in your words. There is so much pain. I wish there comes a decisive solution to this issue. It is not fair to have the most beautiful place on earth steeped in such bitterness.

    May God save us!

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    1. I felt that sadness Dagny. It's breathtaking but heartbreaking.

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  16. really painful to read this. Such a beautiful place in the world is kept in bitterness because of the dirty politicians. Let's hope times will change

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    1. Hope is a beautiful word. Lets hope, yes.

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  17. So sad Alka. Got reminded of that piem that goes like zamin ast or something. Beauty is a curse indeed

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    1. Unfortunate. Thank you for visiting Jaish. I haven't been regular but it's a pleasure to see you here.

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  18. Sad sad .. BUt

    the point is and this is my grief with the Govt of india.. Punjab had a terrorist problem , It was solved with force WHY cant it be solved in KAshmir... IF the govt wants things can be sorted. The problem is our Govt is not interested in solving the matters.

    we can send our army to die in sri lanka over someone else's war but we cant figure out what to do in our own nation ...

    I went to kashmir in 1986 on a school trip it was beautiful or maybe I was too young o understand the problems it was facing..

    no wonder there is distrust between people and govt, why should they trust them, heck I dont trust the govt. .. I wonder when someone will genuinely want ot sort out the issues ..

    Bikram's

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    1. I don't know Bikram. It is so complicated. Years of neglect and selfish political interests have messed it up badly.

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  19. A very poignant piece Alka.. sometimes I wonder what it must be like for the locals there, it is easy for us to do armchair political analysis and all that but only they will know what they go through... your piece proved just that

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    1. Seeta, I never felt so strongly about it until I visited the valley. Watching news on television becomes robotic. Sometimes. But when you see the place and fall in love, you realize how heartbreaking it actually is!

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  20. Kashmir always stays in my dreams like what we saw in old Hindi movies. The lakes, the flowers, the valleys. I wish it remained like that forever. If our govt really wants to do something, it can always do. So sad.....It won't be a wonder if people migrate from there and the place becomes deserted.

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    1. You said it Prudhvi, it was in my dreams. But visiting the place shattered my dream. Breathtaking but heartbreaking.

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  21. I went to Kashmir when I was a child. The valley was peaceful then, the people warm and friendly. I remember being stunned by the incredible natural beauty around me. I don't think I will ever go back now, I just want to preserve the memories of the beautiful Kashmir that I saw !

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    1. I studied at the Presentation Convent(junior school) once Ruch. My dad was posted in Jammu so it was emotional for me.

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  22. There's so much more than the beauty of Kashmir and you expressed it really well. My friends posted in Kashmir tell equally sad tale. They fear to bring the family to stay with them in the units. I wish the Dal Lake would sing again ... just like it did in the movie.

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    1. Rajlakshmi, they showed me the place where Jab Tak Hai Jaan was shot recently. The place was deserted. Beautiful of course.

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  23. Sad, very sad. Not feeling good after reading this. Didn't know the fact about Shammi Kapoor's ashes.

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    1. Yeah, the Shikara owner told me. His son immersed the ashes in the lake.

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  24. That is so very sad! Kya se kya ho gaya...just because of politics!

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  25. Beautiful post Alka. Feels like the strong undercurrents to a seemingly peaceful river.

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    1. You put it so beautifully Ghata. And so glad to see you here.

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  26. Shammi Kapoor must turning his grave.
    Being serious,we must expect two realities.
    A....we will never deliver on Kashmir.
    B...Pakistan will never deliver on terror.
    Ultimately,it is the man on the street who suffers.
    Beautiful valley has seen enough damage

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    1. I would like to be optimistic, hope things improve from here.

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  27. Such a deep sad post Alka! Indeed, the silent Dal lake - caused an eerie emptiness in me! Will everything be alright ever again? Doubts creep in me!

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    1. Decades of mess will need several more decades. Hope things improve.

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  28. It's sad how the people are at the receiving end and hope an inclusive approach will be practiced. Fingers crossed, Alka::)

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    1. Sad, indeed. Thank you Vishal for sharing.

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  29. Oh dear! I felt very, very sad to read this. I think we have lost the Kashmiris through our obduracy and shortsightedness.
    Your writing was impeccable with just the right amount of distanced emotion. Just like the valley, one could say.

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  30. I didn't wish to convey sadness but the undercurrent came across.
    Thank you Rickie, always a pleasure to see you here.

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  31. I visited Srinagar about a year and a half back and thankfully there were a lot of tourists that time. (December). Almost every local resident we came across told us that they wanted to situation to be under control so that more tourists can come and they can have a better life style. We felt really bad for complaining about the lack of comforts when they were finding it difficult to make their ends meet.

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  32. I have Srinagar on my list but somehow haven't gathered the emotional stability to visit it. I know my mind will become numb seeing those images. Life is hell there for no fault of the people and still we talk about mainstreaming the whole of India. You have written it very beautifully Alka. It has stirred the emotions.

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  33. I went there as a pre-teen and those pictures still bring back wonderful memories. These days the news showcase the fear of the public as terror continues to envelop the beautiful valley.

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  34. Sigh!!!! Kashmir is a paradise lost. Wonder if situations would ever improve. Life must be tough for the locals out there. And the cold nature of the people surely is attributed to the continuous strikes and curfews. Lovely post alka.

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  35. Sigh!!!! Kashmir is a paradise lost. Wonder if situations would ever improve. Life must be tough for the locals out there. And the cold nature of the people surely is attributed to the continuous strikes and curfews. Lovely post alka.

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