Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Paradise Paradox

I just returned from a trip to the state of Jammu & Kashmir. As advertised, it is the most beautiful place I've seen in my life, but then again, I haven’t visited those many places to give a good comparative opinion. Anyhow, it’s very green, very cool, and absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. Well, at least rural Kashmir is. I say this because the urban areas are not what one expects. Perhaps some people do, but not all tourists who visit Kashmir for the first time expect military and paramilitary personnel manning posts every 20 feet along every road on Srinagar. It’s very disconcerting and makes one feel rather insecure, to say the least. Ironic, isn't it? There is indeed a reason for all that security there and I’m not saying that there shouldn't be; all I’m saying is that it doesn't go too well with the scenery.

It isn't just me, I think. It’s just human thinking that doesn't allow scenic and natural beauty to go right along with guns and grenades. What do you think? Would you like to see a beautiful valley with mountains and a river… and wait… tanks and guns and barbed wire? How paradoxical it is to see the beauty of God’s hand and the twisted violence of humanity in one place, almost welded together by the force of situation.

If you are a well traveled person, you can clearly see the difference between God’s two homes: Kerela, God’s own Country and Kashmir, Paradise on Earth.

In Kerela, it’s just beauty - pure, unadulterated beauty, albeit one with less English and no Hindi, but beauty nonetheless. At the same time, Kashmir has been ruined by conflict, hate, presence of the (clearly despised) CRPF and lack of proper infrastructure development. It is not only saddening to see the state of this place, but it is also a matter of great concern, for whatever the reasons, Guns & Roses cannot go together (yes, wordplay intended).

Since we’re on the topic, let me bring up another familiar discussion, that of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). At times when I wasn't going around sight-seeing, I took the opportunity to talk to a number of people from different walks of life, about this situation. A lot of them were uncomfortable talking about this but a few people quite vocal about their thoughts, though they spoke about them in a roundabout manner. But that is justified, since we Indians are not unfamiliar to people being thrown in jail for speaking their minds. Well, about their thoughts, I’ll give you a dialogue I had with a horse rider in Gulmarg, here is what he said:

Rider: “Kahan se aaye ho?”
Me: “Gujarat se.”
Rider: “Oho, kem cho, majaama cho!” chuckles at his awesomeness. “Aap khushnaseeb ho ke aap                    aa sakte ho free mein Jannat (Kashmir) dekhne, goro (foreigners) ko toh visa lena padta hai!"
Me: “Haan bilkul.”
Rider: (To other rider) “Inshallah, jald hi hindustaniyon ko bhi visa lena padega.”

These words came as a complete shock to me. It was only later that I realized that a lot of people harboured the same feelings and a lot of hate towards the military stationed in their state. Another quick fact: PoK is known as Azaad Kashmir in the local tongue and I heard it being used many times in conversation.

I wish I could've stayed for some time more to understand the sentiments of the people and to get a feel of the real situation but since that was not possible, I returned; in a very disturbed and intrigued frame of mind.

Note: By this post, I do not mean to say in any way that the people of Kashmir are not patriots, neither am I trying to question their loyalty. I’m also not trying to defame the Indian army. I've just noted down what I observed and these are my personal views on the matter. Please also note that I’m not trying to incite hatred against any person, city, state, country or religion.