Just as you cross the Jawahar Tunnel, after a few miles, lies the valley of Kashmir. From the mountain it looks serene, with vast plain of green land surrounded by highlands on all sides. As you spiral down the mountain and enter the plain, it turns all too familiar. A horde of Kashmiris(you instantly recognize them) almost threateningly surround you, eking you to buy cherries, a specialty of theirs.
Continuing towards Srinagar, several things stand out. Firstly, with no distinctive landscape in sight, it looks strangely similar. The farms divided into small patches, the potholed roads and the polluting traffic. Secondly, the greenery of the plants and trees is uncharacteristically vibrant. ‘Kashmir remains green throughout the year‘, my driver tells me. Then, if it is around the time classes get over in schools Â and you see students returning to their homes, the sheer number of more girls than boys amazes you. Lastly, as much as you try not to give importance to the army personnel, their continuously increasing frequency through the journey cannot go unnoticed.
Moving around Kashmir, visiting the customary go-to places and talking to the people there, the indifference to India is starkly visible. The night before, a 20yr old was shot near Srinagar protesting the visit of Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi. Yet the indifference is very much confined only till there, to India. It does not extend on to the people, Indians. The Kashmiris treat people very well and I was witness to more than a few instances where their conviviality was at display. Once I lost my way to the hotel, a gentleman in his forties himself lead me all the way to the hotel on his motorcycle.
I was also fortunate enough to be treated to the famed Kashmiri hospitality. My friend’s Mom, principal in a school nearby, made sure I had eaten half of all the food that was put on the table. A lot was put on the table. When I asked her about Kashmir, she said, ‘We love having people from outside here, it is not their mistake. All was well before the militancy. And then the army arrived.’
As I was leaving, ten meters from their house was a soldier gratuitously on high alert, stationed in a bunker made of sandbags. The bunker was surrounded heavily by barbed wires from all sides, so that no local could approach him. It was 10p.m. and the roads were deserted. The whole city had shut itself inside. But it was not asleep.
When all that is required is to make the Kashmiris feel inclusive and equal, the incidences like the bench-warming of Parvez Rusool in Zimbabwe and visa denial for Sufira, are counterproductive.