A lot has happened in the last few years in the country, especially in Jammu and Kashmir. I am unable to let go of the image of it all happening in my backyard. My home which I used to think was free of all malice. My house, where things were not as complicated as elsewhere. My home, which I thought was the safest place in the world. People at my home, all of whom I used to think were humble, homely, simple people with simple worries in life. Like making sure their children get into good colleges and what to wear at the next nephew’s wedding. I don’t know why but I want to talk about my home today, and it’s people. Maybe it is abreaction of some sort.
Earlier this years, in Kootah village in Kathua District of Jammu, an eight-year-old girl was brutally raped and murdered. Later people and politicians from my state defended the accused. Rallies were taken out in support of the accused, and attempts were made to turn it into an issue for political gains. As a kid, I remember visiting there for various family functions, pujas, death rituals and get-togethers. As kids all of us cousins would relish going there because of the feeling of togetherness and because we would all ask our Baba Ji (my grandfather) for Rs 5 each and rush to the village market where we would buy various kind of churan packets, imli and cheap unwrapped orange sugar candies kept in those glass jars. Babaji always gave my sisters some extra money “my little sparrows are special” he’d say. It used to be all the more beautiful because of all the commotion of people in our rustic village home and because sometimes we got to sleep on the terrace where stars used to twinkle at us. Whenever someone asks me how Jammu is, I have a perpetual reply “It’s simple, pure, beautiful, everything is uncomplicated, and people are so humble and modest.”
Living away from home, that is so simple and beautiful, and facing hardship and chaotic lifestyle for mere survival you start realising the significance of simplicity in life. Whenever the world around me gets too much to take, and I cannot fathom cupidity, lack of sympathy, dirty politics around me, I close my eyes and think of my Home. That road in my village which leads to the market, the umpteen number of trees and mountains which appear snow studded on the horizon from the terrace of my home. It has almost become a ritual.
It’s not just the place my grandfather lives, his stories, his lessons and every little detail about his personality and social engagements defined Jammu as a place to me. Fakar Deen a hilarious, well-built Gujjar man was one of my father’s subordinates, who used to work at our home. He used to take care of me when I was young, and my mother and father went to their offices. He was also one of my first friends, and I remember playing cricket with him as a kid. On Eid, he would get us a Desi Murga (Country Chicken) which my grandfather would later dress in the backyard and cook it. It used to be a delicacy. My uncles would all come to our home and relish the chicken. They’re all simple people who go to their offices, love good music, enjoy a couple of drinks and well-cooked meat. They all love their wives and children more than anything in the world. They never lose their newspapers and hold their possessions and values dearly. Whenever I hear Kashmiri or Dogri, I immediately feel a breeze of the same simplicity of home. They all seem the same.
My Father like my grandfather used to, takes a lot of pride in the fact that there has hardly been a Hindu-Muslim riot in Jammu post-partition and how safe it is. I have learnt to do that too, growing up I barely knew the difference between various religions and differences between people of different faiths. Amid a lot of mantras and bhajans “Ishwar, Allah tero naam” was sung to me by my mother growing up. Whenever we crossed any Masjid, Mandir, Gurudwara or Church all of us had to join our hands and close our eyes for a moment, it was a ritual, and we had to do it.
Lately, I have been thinking about this folklore that all the children born in my part of the world have grown up hearing a countless number of times. “Jammu gets its name from a King named ‘Jambulochan’. According to legends, when he was travelling from Jammu, he saw a Tiger and a Deer drinking water together from the Tawi river. He was so awed by this scenario, that he decided to establish his empire here.” There can not be a single person back home who hasn’t heard this folklore from their elders. Or maybe I am wrong about everything. Or perhaps people have just forgotten the story now. Maybe it’s meaningless to them.
Recently, I tried closing my eyes to think of home and feel the same peace, but I couldn’t. It felt like a flood of guile and fanaticism was flooding my country and I was ignoring it by thinking of my home up north. But now the floodgates have been opened, and the ghostly waters have reached my house too. I now realise that these waters of hatred need to be contained. Otherwise, we’ll all lose our homes, the legacy, love and teachings of our elders. I don’t know how exactly we can do it. Maybe that simple gesture where we used to join our hands and close our eyes in front of every holy place of every religion, this simplest basic gesture is what we as a society need to revisit and realise who we’re and who we need to be. Maybe, we need to revisit the story of the tiger and the lamb on the shore of Chenab, so we can close our eyes and think of our home and feel tranquillity and not desolation in our hearts.