The difficulty of being away from Kashmir lies in the constant state of alienation. Cultural, linguistic, political and to some degree even existential alienation, because one who is denied his right to an identity has to continuously prove it. We not only have to evidence our identity but the existence of an entire nation and the struggle which defines it. We have to carry an entire country and when your country is under occupation from not just one, but three occupiers, carrying her on your shoulders is heavy. If you’re Kashmiri you know this.
The constant friction between the states of the South-Asian subcontinent and the Indo-Pak blanket that does everything but keep you warm, means your Kashmir is a sweater, and your nation is still a Led Zepplin song. So when they ask you, “Where are you from?” And you reply “Kashmir.” They say “Oh, so you’re Pakistani.” “No, I’m Kashmiri.” “Oh, so you’re Indian.” “No, I’m Kashmiri, my land is occupied by three countries and…” You know the script, I know you do.
But better still, if you’re an “Azad” Kashmiri, then “Well, you’re not Kashmiri at all, are you?” It’s not like you existed in central Asia long before Pakistan as an idea was ever conceived. Or that half of your family is on the other side of the line of control. Or that your entire existential history and your cultural identity have been assimilated into this larger national identity of a neighbouring state. Meaning you have to forget that your brother on the other side is your brother. That, that occupation doesn’t concern you. You just have to deal with it. Right?
But I must beg to differ. My brother, will always be my brother.
Because when my eyes first met those of a Kashmiri who grew up on the other side of the Line of Control, we looked at each other with eyes that knew. It meant that when this destined collision finally happened, the exchange was powerful. It eradicated all of the alienation and the need to prove ourselves that comes with being a million miles from home. Though bhaiya asked me of course, “Why do you Pahari people but sugar in your Nun Chai.” I wish I had an answer, we just do sometimes, but we totally salt our lassi and our yoghurt too.
That conversation is comfortable; maybe it’s comfortable because I am me and not another “Azad” Kashmiri. I don’t know. Maybe because when San’aa Sultan twitter rants about dismantling every Line of Control, not just the one in our lands but the ones in our minds too, her bhaiya reads it. Then he quotes it back to her in conversation over a Subway at the Global Peace and Unity Conference. There are no Lines of Control here, there is a page and we are both on the same page.
It is beautiful when two hands of the same body can work together to lift a weight that a nation is bearing. We must understand that. If we cannot understand the differences that over six decades have imprinted upon a people that was halved, and then subjected to two different forms of occupation, and somehow come to terms with the idea that though our problems are different, our future is one. We can’t move ahead. We need to move ahead.
What I’m trying to say is that the only way through which proving our identity externally will become easier is, is if we Kashmiri’s are content with our internal identity. That is the identity which defines us when we are in the company of one another and I speak of this as a bilateral conversation that transcends any barriers between us. I speak of this in terms of unity. But we mustn’t stop at conversation. Nor between my bhaiya and I. There is an entire generation that requires this change to occur. Somehow we must facilitate it.
So when we say the Jhelum flows through our veins because she too, is crimson, we say this in unison. When I tell my brother that I carry the mountains in the pleats of my shalwar so that our geography is evident, he will smile. And I will hear the cries of our people resonating in his footsteps because somehow, we are both homeward bound.
You see the last 48 hours, in the presence of my brother from Srinagar, were 48 hours we spent in Kashmir. In the same Kashmir, one Kashmir, because in a presence that feels like home, home is never far. And our home is of course, one.
One that must beat within us, for all to hear.
For my Bhaiya, Aamir Wani and our home, Kashmir.