There is a place where three months begin to feel like years, years which amount to more decades than have been lived. A place where there are bonds that stretch beyond all logic and reason. A place beyond occupation and lines of control. Of course this place is not terminal four of Heathrow airport but that too is an important piece of the puzzle.
You see three months ago I met Aamir bhaiya at the Global Peace and Unity Conference in London. Bhaiya is from Srinagar, Indian Occupied Kashmir and I from Kotli, Azad Kashmir. Only moments after we first met there was a sort of peace between the two of us, the kind of peace that resides between old friends. You know the way that we feel amongst people who smell like our home. Maybe we both understood then the gravity of this meeting. The blessing of diaspora. The way that this room was able to hold two halves of a nation in a way no canvas or map of our globe has for decades.
There was a country between us, one that transcended all lines of control. A place we may possibly have loved more than we would ever grow to love another. And there is only one such place. Only one such land, trapped in hell though her earth carries traces of paradise itself. Only our Kashmir. And we could kid ourselves into believing that the nature of our meeting was not political, but when our very existence is a political statement then how could it not have been?
So as occurs between Kashmiris, politics became the bread and butter of our conversation. Whatever cards were placed on the table the undertone was the kind which exists between two children of an occupied nation. A bittersweet taste of reality doused in hope, so much so, that change was almost at our fingertips. Change is at our fingertips, it doesn’t take a genius to realise this.
The secret lies in the exchange between story and Subway (or whatever it takes to get you talking). When two Kashmiris meet, there is an automatic switch from English to mother tongue. But owing to the rich cultural diversity of our land bhaiya and I speak two different tongues, Kashmiri and Pahari. So what does one do next? There is no way English can capture this collision, so you improvise. Bhaiya talks Kashmiri and I answer in Pahari until we’re both talking in an amalgam of something which is neither, but both at the same time. Something raw and beautiful; that it would bring joy to carry and be painful to part with. (You know a place like that, right?)
The exchange continues some time later over Rajma chaaval, you see our favourite food is the same. We sit over a rug like it is the Dastarkhwaan and eat with our hands, like this is home. In a way you can only do with Kashmiris and we talk about Wazwaan; Kashmiri hospitality; the dishes that we’d eat from at home; the way our families would insist that we ate until we burst. The differences and similarities in culture. The jokes about sugar in nun chai and the realisation that we share more similarities than differences. And I only touch the tip of an iceburg.
We met three times, in three months. Five days overlapping two years during my first few months in a city that is now attached to memories. Memories whose strings are tangled across continents to the place where my bhaiya is heading. A place closer to home because somehow Tower Bridge is now a synonym for Safa Kadal and only the contrast of my pheran against pavement can tug at the heart, the way that smell tugs at memory. This evening bhaiya carries in his suitcase a piece of my paternal village, a place it is unlikely he will ever touch, to his home in a part of our country that I may never be able to see. And anybody with half a brain will have realised by now that this not about me and bhaiya, but about our home.
It is about a country crossed with concertina wire and the heart’s of a nation that they tried to colonise. Because as Muhammad Faysal always tells me “Today’s friendships are tomorrows unity.” So why is it that we do not use these collisions and the tools that we have, both in Diaspora and at home, to build bridges and to taste something that falls off the tongue like unity? It is more possible now than ever before.
I realised this today, at terminal four of Heathrow airport where bhaiya and I exchanged more teary goodbyes in the space of a half hour than I could count. It was my first time seeing somebody off as they headed to Srinagar. For me this was symbolic both personally and politically.
Because though my country was crossed with concertina wire, my mind was not colonised. I am a Kashmiri.
Maybe one day, these will be the thoughts that construct the bridges we so desperately need to build in order to love this country back into one. To love the land we hold most dear to our hearts into freedom, because without unity this dream is intangible.
And bhaiya when you read this, know that there is no such thing as goodbye, if and when Allah wills we will surely meet again. My dua is for it to be in a home that is one. Aamen.