Arjan Dev Majboor

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Exile was a big jolt for me

By Arjun Dev Majboor

Exile was a big jolt to me as a writer. I had premonitions about it and had penned the poem 'Neagrai' sometime before my community's displacement.

'Neagrai' is related to possible displacement, 'Neagrai' personifies a Kashmiri Pandit in the poem. In this I have tried to portray how Kashmiri Pandit was getting destabilised in Kashmir and what was in store for him.

Originally, this poem was written in Kashmiri and has been translated now into Hindi and English. There is another pre-migration poem 'Samay' (Time), which indicates how situation was turning hostile to Kashmiri Pandits. The poem was later on translated into Hindi by Prof. C.L. Sapru. This poem was written in a specific context. Communalization was fast gripping the mind of Kashmiris. 'Nai Duniya' was publishing vitriolic material to deepen the communal schism.

As a politically aware writer I would often talk to the members of my community about the fast changing situation, where nobody was resisting the retrograde forces.

Even secular elements amongst the majority community were getting communalized, though some of them couldn't comprehend the deeper forces at work.

Gradually, I came to know about elements raising donations and sending Kashmiri Youth across for training in subversion.

In December 1989 as the government was found wanting in providing protection to the Pandit minority I was suggested to leave Zainapora Kashmir, for the time being by late Moti Lal Saqi as conditions were not good.

In November 1989 I had an occasion to meet Muslim biradari of my village in Zainapora. Snowfall had already taken place. The occasion was the condolence function of a villager, belonging to the majority community. The villagers asked about my assessment of the situation.

I replied," Hard times are coming for all of us. If you feel by forcing Kashmiri Pandits out from Kashmir you will get Pakistan you tell us frankly so that we can go elsewhere". The Villagers said that they were not for Pakistan. However, I could not restrain from warning them "If the gun comes in the peaceful state, it will not leave anybody untouched. It will torment you as well as us". Some boys from Zainapora too went across to Pakistan. I have no further details about the impact of militancy in Zainapora.

My family already had a house at Udhampur. It was December 1989. There was extreme fear and insecurity among Kashmiri Pandits. Anantnag and Bijbehara reeled under curfew. I contacted a taxi driver from Bijbehara. He was known to me and gave me an assurance that he would come to Zainapora after four days. Meanwhile, I packed some of my books and few clothes. When I asked my family members to prepare for going to Jammu they thought I was joking.

No migration had taken place from Zainapora as yet.

The taxi driver dropped in one evening and gave one hour to get ready. He had to visit a Pandit family in another village in similar connection.

My daughter Kiran had given birth to a baby recently. We were keen to take her out because of unreliable medical facilities.

She had journeyed from Fatehpur to Zainapora, partly on foot and partly by Tonga, for many days motorized transport had virtually come to halt. The driver had fixed Rs 600 as fare for three of us-myself, my wife and daughter.

The driver had to pick up another passenger-a non Pandit from Bijbehara.

It was at 9 PM we left Zainapora. As the Taxi prepared to leave I looked towards my house, the compound and then starry sky with sorrow.

I had a feeling that this was going to be my last glimpse of my home and Zainapora, the village where many generations of mine had lived in freedom without any fear.

At 1:30 AM we reached Ramban. The Army Officer, guarding the bridge asked the driver to halt. A thorough search of the vehicle was conducted. I was asked where were we heading for. I replied "Udhampur".

With no further questions we were asked to go. The taxi broke down at Batote. A car mechanic was called for correcting the fault. It was at 4 0' Clock in the morning we touched Udhampur.

1st Visit:

Twelve years later I got an opportunity to revisit the land which was my own, belonged to me and treasured my ethos, my culture, my civilisation but had been snatched from me. It was 2001. The occasion was a Culture Meet. 14 Kashmiri Pandit writers had to receive awards for their work. Some came from Delhi- Makhan Lal Bekas, Pran Nath Jalali, Pran Kishore; while others came from Jammu. The award-giving ceremony took place in Tagore Hall. Pran Kishore released my book Tehqiq. There were other programmes as well-cultural programmes, Mushaira etc. I strongly pleaded for acceptance of Devnagri as alternate script for Kashmiri and argued that it was necessary for those who could not learn Nastaliq. Only few of the writers resident in Kashmir talked about our displacement.

Kashmir had changed beyond imagination. I and my writer colleagues had gone in a taxi. We saw people in thousands coming out of mosques. Religiosity was on increase. Ladies looked pale due to stress. While passing through Anantnag along the highway i.e. new shopping complexes and massive buildings had come up, leaving little free space in between. Architecture too had undergone change. We saw many new brick-kilns in paddy land along Vessu- Khanabal stretch that had come up to meet the increased demand.

We were housed at Tourist Reception Centre and visited Tulmulla and Vicharnag. Rehman Rahi, the well-known writer welcomed us at his house in Vicharnag. He narrated some stories about militancy. Then he took us to the famous historic temple in the locality. The guards allowed us in. The Pandit mohalla looked devastated. Not a single Pandit house was intact, the damaged houses presented an ugly look. Vicharnag, which used to be a major centre for Kashmiri Pandits now looked like a locality smitten by ghosts.

IInd visit:

A year later I had to preside over a mushaira organised by Radio Kashmir at Srinagar. Director AIR Mr. Zia was extremely cordial and lavish in his hospitality, attending to arrangements even in minutest details.

This time we had opportunity to visit the interior of the city- Maharaja Bazar, Batmaloo, Karan Nagar and Habbakadal. Tea shops were not in good order, little attention was paid to cleanliness. We were astonished to see that beef was being sold openly at Batmaloo.

This was a departure from early times. Batmaloo looked more of a big market than a bus stand. Shops and markets had come up everywhere, at many places there was encroachment even on the main roads.

'Hogads' (Dried fish) and 'Nadrus' (Lotus stalks) brought me to Habbakadal. Visiting old Habbakadal bridge was deeply nostalgic for me.

My thoughts went back to the years before our displacement when I used to spend hours conversing with my friends and relations at the historic bridge. In those lovely times the area reflected much life.

The Vitasta waters with reflection of lights on it from the houses on the two banks used to present a majestic, charming sight. All this had come to an end. I could hardly spot a Pandit-male or female here in a place which used to be the hub of Kashmiri Pandit community.

There was no life now. Only few people were seen moving on the bridge quietly. Houses looked deserted, burnt and in ruins. The famous painter Late Bansi Parimu used to live here at Safriyar. His house had been demolished to make way for a new Habbakadal bridge.

We also went to Nai Sarak area. People lacked usual joviality and conversed little with strangers and others. People did recognise us as Pandits.

Exile Poems:

Padasmayik, (Footprints of Time), written in Kavya style, was published by me in 1992.

Violence and killings pained me, cultural loss haunted me. In this long poem two characters- Sangur (male) and Sangarmal (female) interact. Through them I relate Kashmir's history-from early times to the times of displacement.

The first chapter starts with portrayal of beginning of displacement and the situation in the immediate aftermath.

I have drawn a scene where shops are closed and the shopkeepers have left Kashmir, with black moon having risen over Kashmir. The poem is divided into nine Sargas and runs into 64 pages.

Tyol (Pangs)

This came out in 1995, and bears deep imprint of Kalidas on me. His style, use of similes and vocabulary have impressed me a great deal. I had also privilege to do Kashmiri rendering of his 'Meghdoot' in 'Obre Schech'. In place of cloud I substitute Swan as messenger. Speaking metaphorically the Swan (Raj Hans) is invested with powers to sift truth from falsehood. I ask the Swan to go to Kashmir to help me know what was going on there. And I promise to raise decorative arches for him when he would come back. The Swan is provided topo-graphic details to visit different places in time and history. The bird is asked to get message from megaliths- (Shahmar Pal) e.g. Gufkral to help Kashmiris come out of the mess. I request the Swan to visit my house in Zainapora. Finally, the Swan reaches a deserted village, buried under snow. A recently- born baby had been abandoned by some one there.

The baby expresses desire to talk to Swan. The latter enquires the baby about the identity of his parents and the circumstances of abandonment. The Swan asks the baby', who are such merciless parents which have abandoned you in this state? Who will cradle and sing lullby songs to you? Who will bring you up? I am pained to see you in this state". The baby states," I too am fed with the situation in this land. Take me somewhere where the abominable snowman will rear me up and eagles will bring sweet fruit for me".

The poem exudes charm and reflects nostalgia about the place and the old ethos. The poem that runs into 36 pages, has 8 line stanzas in verses (Total 96 verses).

Impact of Exile:

Kashmir is in my blood. In my writings I have raised questions why we were forced into exile? why fundamentalists are slaughtering people? Why people are being killed without any justification? I strongly miss beauty and nature of Kashmir. The delinking of our rituals and culture from its natural soil also pains me. As writers we have lost the atmosphere for writing. We have to write in a milieu where Kashmir is missing. There is no readership/ sale for our books. The Jammu press has been quite positive. Over twenty articles have been published on me.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

           

 

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