Holy Warriors Don’t Fear Heights

Down below a road that cuts through the steep mountain sides from Pahalgam to Chandanwari, and which becomes a pony route onward to the Amarnath cave, I lay on the verdant carpet of the Betaab Valley, under the shade of willows, watching convoys of pilgrims move toward their destination. My family was strolling about in the beautiful river valley, which is surrounded by pine dotted mountains on all sides.

I waved at the convoy in greeting. The convoy moved on. I forgot about it, as my gaze soon fixed on a kingfisher watching patiently into the depths of fast flowing river below, from its willow perch. The river was full of unwary fish. The kingfisher had a feast waiting for it. A number of times it was about to swoop down into the chilly water, and pick a small silvery fish in his beak. But it waited. It wanted to get the best one, and I wanted to cheer for it when it finally got its lunch.

Sounds from far distracted me. I looked up into the mountains again. The convoy had stopped. Flocks of people, who looked like ants from the distance, were coming out from the vehicles. They opened their flies, and pointed their nozzles in the direction of the valley. A pose of men and women poured their anger out from that great height. It could never reach the river, however hard they might have tried; I was relieved to think. I hoped my family was not witnessing this spectacle. I turned back to see; they were far ahead, entranced by a real waterfall.

I saw some pilgrims point toward me. They called out to me. I responded with a wave. The kingfisher plunged itself into the water, and came out without a catch, and then hurriedly flew back to its perch. Its blue feathers had small droplets of water on them.

I heard sounds of chanting coming from the convoy: “Bam Bam Bole”. I was amused. I realized they were urging me to say the chants with them. I clapped. I had no energy left in me after a sumptuous lunch, to shout back the chants. Then started a flurry of abuses: ‘Maaderchod bol, Bam Bam Bole”. I got up, and turned away from them. I caught up with my family. They were totally unaware of what was going on.

On the drive back home, we passed many more pilgrim convoys. Pious soldiers of the nation. The real soldiers made sure they did not have to stop anywhere, while we were stopped a number of times to let them pass. Young slogan shouters were on top of the buses, while the older pilgrims sported smiles at the discomfort slogan shouters were causing in the villages through which their convoys passed. At every village and town on the way, they raised their voices. I believe they were not paid to do all this. Nationalism comes free, you don’t have to people to buy it; they had true love for India, their motherland, under attack from the ungrateful Kashmiris in this land of Baba Amarnath and Vaishno Devi. Not all showed their middle-fingers to old men carrying sacks of grass on the way; and Kashmiris show the middle-finger in a different way, so they would not have understood Indian nationalists anyway.

My father asked my mother to look the other way every time we passed a pilgrim vehicle. She did it dutifully. After sometime even my dad was forced to look away. I was angry, and wished I had my friends with me instead of my parents: we would at least shout back when soldiers weren’t watching, and show them our fingers.

Pahalgam is no longer the fun it used to be.

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9 thoughts on “Holy Warriors Don’t Fear Heights

  1. Boy,You write amazingly well. Believe me it is after a very long while that I chanced across a compatriot who has a fertile imagination and can be so poetically beautiful.I am Sameer, 26. I’ve a blog but it is kinda eclectic. I’ll be glad to be in touch.LuvSameer A Bhatsameerbhat.blogspot.com

  2. My friend suggested your blog. I just wanted to tell you that the lunatic fringe that raids the high peaks of Kashmir annually (I think with Govt encouragement)doesn’t represent me or the huge Indian citizenry. I empathize with the kashmir cause.PriyaBloomberg, New Delhi

  3. We are all complicit in crimes committed by the countries we live in. They are committed in our name; in our “interest”. It is no longer possible to individualise guilt and innocence. Who shall be held responsible for the murder of the Kashmiris: The soldier who just pulled the trigger, or the common Indian who failed to protest everytime a Kashmiri was killed. But I understand what you say.

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  5. aren’t we all criminals then? ‘We’ – the Indians — kill kashmiris. ‘You’ -Kashmiris– kill (or alternatively have killed) kashmiri pandits, kashmiri muslims (who dnt align themselves with the seperation brigade) and random people in Jammu and Ladakh. Whose right in killing whom then? or is anyone right in killing another?another thing i always wanted to ask a fervent kashmiri nationalist (like yourself) is what makes Kashmir and hence Kashmiris so different from the Union of India, which may i remind you is not a monolithic, homogenous state. So many cultures, religions and languages have fused together to form a nation even if with its fair share of weaknesses and limitations. But show me a nation/country/political unit that is perfect. So what makes kashmiris different from the other people of the subcontinet who decided to be part of India? And who should secular, non-partisan Indians support? The Kashmiris who want sovereignty or the Kashmiris who want to merge with Pakistan (Azaad Kashmir style or otherwise) or the Kashmiris who want to remain with India. And how many people actually make up all these categories and how many Kashmiris have we ignored who just want peace and a normal life, not ideological battles? Taking a high moral ground is remarkably easy.. just as you have done, Mr. author. If ‘we’ Indians have Kashmiri blood on our hands for not standing up against such tyranny.. then ‘you’ Kashmiris are equally responsible for all the Kashmiris killed by non-Indian combatants and subsequently, all the regualar Indians (in India minus Kashmir) who have been killed by people claiming to be Kashmiri freedom fighters (which kind i’m not entirely sure – the ones wanting sovereignty or the ones wanting freedom for Pakistan to swoop down). i dont see any Kashmiri standing up against that side of the bloodbath. Or is this morality preaching jaunt entirely one-sided? Dont you see the benefits of a multi-cultural collective entity? Yes, religious minorities are regrettably targetted occassionally here but the same religious minorities (and not just Muslims) also fare rather well in this country. Besides, you too are among a select minority who preaches Kashmiri nationalism and (arcane) leftist ideals in the Indian capital. Besides the many limitations of this country, it does have some silver linings such as political freedom (of speech and activism), a relatively free media and an active civil society that ensures you can air your views even if you dnt like the Indian state. and lastly mr. Author.. say, you do see (and Insha’Allah i really hope you do) that day of Kashmiri independence who, may i dare ask, then will form that kashmiri nation? Will you be willing to divide J&K along ethno-religious lines and carve out a nation consisting just of the valley? Or are the nationalist brethren going to invoke a divine right over Jammu and Ladakh? and what should become of those natives who do not want to remain in a new Kashmiri homeland and alternatively with India or Pakistan? will ‘we’, sorry ‘you’ have to resort to majoritarianism?i hope you do find some time to answer my queries that are entirely a result of following Kashmir closely and befriending many Kashmiris.signed..a non-state man (an Indian if you insist but i wud insist otherwise)

  6. Indian Constitution, a few changes here and there, is a great document for its people. If actualized India could provide an ideal for many similarly diverse countries. I recognize, as much as you do, India’s diversity. That is where you and I part ways. You describe India as “a nation”. One nation. Is it really true? Since when did India become one nation? Indian nation, if it really exists, stretches down from Sutlej in the North, and west of Sikkim. In North East, in Kashmir, in Punjab (and you might think that it is over in Punjab), politically-conscious communities have imagined themselves into nations, in contra-distinction to India. This is actually what makes Kashmir and India similar, and not different. India is constructing a history of shared past, imposing a modern day cartographic imagination on an amorphous past; “Discovering India” as Nehru put it, ironically; he should have called it “Inventing India” instead. Kashmiris too are imagining themselves into a nation. People at home talk of Indians and Kashmiris, they talk of “Qaum”. My grandfather calls Kashmiris a “Zaleel Qaum”, but a Qaum nevertheless. I am not a nationalist. Far from it, I abhor the concept. I am just a student trying to understand what makes people bond with each other, what circumstances make them share each other’s pain and anguish, why are people ready to die and suffer for a “collective”. What makes a death turn into a “martyrdom”? Most Kashmiris instead of becoming a showpiece at the Dilli Haat, or just a tableau on Raj Path on India’s Republic Day, decided rather to fight to survive as a nation. To imagine a freedom; a freedom which is a much deeper engagement than we here living in India can even fathom. I don’t tell people to say or do anything. I don’t preach. But I also can’t be an apologist for a state which, without confirming the will of Kashmiris, and thus very every undemocratically, continues to occupy Kashmir. I am no political leader. No bureaucrat. I am not in the business of dividing countries, or drawing lines and borders. My claim to Kashmir is only one sustained by a memory of my childhood. I always felt Kashmir was home. It was my own. But not exclusively mine. I am Kashmiri because I was born there. I spoke with, and understood, my neighbours and friends. It was the centre of my little world. It was my world. Something naturally tugged at my heart if a Kashmiri was killed by army; I don’t know why I would get angry. And something sinister in me disliked the Indian army present everywhere. I am no nationalist, it came naturally. It comes naturally after some time. We were all beaten into it. Well if you don’t think that Kashmiris are not standing upto the “bloodbath” on “that side”, there are two possibilities: One, the bloodbath is actually not happening; or, Kashmiris feel closer to ‘that side’ than your side. Call it hypocrisy. Call Kashmiris swine. But that is how it is. Don’t expect them to be septic-cleansed of all evil. You are right about “silver lining in this country”: there is some liberalism, some tolerance; there is also a civil society, and some fresh air. I wonder, as you should too sometimes, why it isn’t there in Kashmir. What necessitates a huge army presence in Kashmir that undermines the emergence of any civil society? No free debate, or airing of views, can take place in the shade of arms. Democracy laughs a cynical laugh when it is asked to perform with men in uniform ready to shoot. Kashmir is not simple. It takes disabusing ourselves of set categories and prejudiced notions. It takes decolonization of mind, in Wa’Thiongo’s terms to even to begin to see. Then you would realise your media is not free. It is only free to lie.

  7. Well, this is good. We are at least communicating rather than shooting at each other.India, my friend, is a nation-state. One nation state. Wherein, the state is a political and geographical entity and the nation is a cultural and ethnic entity. Although in India’s case, the cultural and ethnic identity is a big melting pot. India after all is only a geographical expression coined by the colonisers. yes, india and indians have a shared history but more importantly they came together to form a single political unit to be a stronger entity. Otherwise the hundreds of small (spiritual, linguistic or cultural) nations would have fallen into deep pits. A collective here gives more security than a thousand different nations fighting each other constantly. ‘We’ (only used to differentiate us ‘Indians’ from the Kashmiris.. just as the author would wish) are not ‘the people’, Nazi Germany style. We are only the people of the Union of India. India has no pretence of being a successor to a spiritual nation of the past. That’s the prerogative of the fascist hindu nationalists, who by the way do not represent me or millions of other Indians just like Osama and his mental brigade do not represent muslims worldwide. Again, we aren’t a perfect big nation. But then, we didn’t need a cultural revolution and all its accompanying brutalities to form a single unit. Nor did we organise a big ‘thanksgiving’ feast and then annhilate all the natives to take their land. ‘We’ here are the natives.. trying to live together so that we don’t have to be suspicious of each other. Even then we are suspicious of each other.. but a nation state is an ongoing project and we are only 60 years into it.Besides, isn’t Kashmir a collective too? Jammu and Kashmir (and Ladakh) and if you stretch it across the LoC, the tribal northern areas too. I dnt see much homogeneity there either and neither much respect among the separatist ilk for differing views.I think you didn’t understand my reference to the “bloodbath”. And the possibilities you hint at are poorly imagined. There is ample proof of kashmiris being involved in terror incidents in India. Now, if you don’t want to believe me or accept this coz its coming from an Indian (and India) then I can do little about it. But perhaps that would also reflect on your mentality. Besides, this is no indictment of all kashmiris. However, it does strike me each time a kashmiri cries hoarse about Indian security forces (and rightly so i would imagine) but doesn’t have a word to say about their brethren who kill other innocent people in the name of Kashmir or even Kashmiriyat. Odd, don’t you think? Oh sorry, you did say it’s not odd.It troubles me when you keep making baseless statements like ‘most kashmiris.. decided rather to fight to survive as a nation’… which most Kashmiris are you talking about mate? And which nation? Kashmir valley minus Jammu and Ladakh or the whole of it. I don’t see them. I could show you many Kashmiris who are not part of this fight. Why are you and a select bunch of sovereignty seekers claiming to be talking for all Kashmiris just like Praveen Togadia and VHP claims to be talking for all Hindus. Besides, there are many factions among those who are fighting the Indian state and I asked you this the last time.. which side does an Indian democrat support?This is no alibi for the actions of the Indian security forces or the way the Indian government has acted in the state. Which has been appalling for most part of it. This is only to show you that there is enough wrong within Kashmir that has got nothing to do with India. I suggest Kashmir get its house in order before anything else.Also, if a people really want to be free and independent and be a separate nation, nothing much can stop them. And history is a proof of that. There are many ways of achieving that. Civil disobedience, strike and political opposition to name a few. These are means of shaming an ‘occupying’ power, which is not isolated from world opinion. These are tactics which India (a nation you so abhor but still live in) used to shame Great Britain. I suggest all Kashmiri sovereignty seekers come back home and start a movement like this if they really want to become free. Curiously, most of this lot is always found away from the valley and in safe havens of India and the west while preaching or talking about sovereignty and freedom. If you have moved away then stop running your mouth.. for you have chosen yourself and your own petty materialistic existence over Kashmiriyat and Kashmiri freedom. After all, several generations of different kinds of Indians had to sacrifice their lives, ambitions and careers to achieve freedom and independence. Practice what you preach or at least stand by what you believe.May the force be with you!God speed.

  8. Kashmiri struggle for freedom is not new, and has not always been violent. If Kashmiris had a choice, I promise you, they would never have taken to armed struggle. For more than forty years Kashmiris and their leaders requested that India fulfil the promise that it made to them in 1947. To follow what the world community appealed it to do. Indian government cared little. In past two decades Kashmiris have lost the most, and not India. It was pregiven that it would be akin to a proverbial suicide to fight India’s might. But what made Kashmiris do it anyway? What made Kashmiris invite more suffering than they already had by launching an armed movement? These are questions we have to ask. And answers don’t come in the lazy text books on international terrorism or Islam. For Islam, as you would know, existed in Kashmir even before 1989. Terrorism, too, is not any new. Its history dates back to the biblical times. I find it entertaining to hear that instead of forcefully questioning the legitimacy of Indian rule in Kashmir, you instead demand, in a hectoring voice, “get their house in order” behaviour from Kashmiris. Why should Kashmiris be under the obligation to follow standards you feel are comfortable for you? Instead of asking for decent behaviour from Indian Forces, you want Gandhi to be emulated in Kashmir. Gandhi was a great man. Mahatma. On Kashmir, though, he suspended his ideals. I wont go into the argument that his method was practicable because he was pitted against a warring Britain. A declining Great Power with no desire to rule India any longer. A less cruel occupier than India. On Kashmir India sits like an elephant on a rat, crushing it, breaking its back. Refusing to get down. As the rat is trying hard to pull itself free, the elephant says the rat has to show good behaviour before the elephant can get down. Rat cries, eyes filled with tears, that if he gives up his struggle he will die under the elephant’s immense burden. And then didn’t the rat remain silent and behave responsibly for more than forty years before.

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