I grew up listening to stories of Kashmir at home. Words like Insurgency, militant occupation, the Hurriyat, Kargil, Nuclear tests, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif used to be buzzwords in conversations over coffee and dinner ever since I remember. They used to resonate in the drawing rooms of the houses I stayed in because Dad always took a keen interest in the happenings of that region .He used to be very vocal in discussions with his friends and relatives and for me Dad gradually became the symbol of the Great Indian Middle Class.
The Great Indian Middle Class (GIMC for purposes of this post) is the group that rules in India yet suffers the most. This group can unsettle politicians and cricketers alike. They are simple people, pay taxes regularly and more importantly stay away from ‘jhamelas’. In essence they follow the simple “Live and Let Live” policy in letter and spirit. And probably that’s why every time Dad heard of a bomb blast at Anantnag or Srinagar he would be a little disturbed. And this class can only think, talk, hope and pray that things be peaceful. They are found in the “Letters to the Editor”, on television chat shows and in drawing room discussions in homes like yours truly. And lemme also add they are the people who can rattle Indira Gandhi at her peak and more than two decades down the line allow her daughter-in-law to rule our nation when every opinion poll in the country thought otherwise.
Around 2000 Vikram Chandra (of NDTV) wrote a book called “The Srinagar Conspiracy” and we bought it. That made things easier for me to understand. The author had used a fictional plot to sketch Kashmir’s history and since then even I began to follow the saga called Kashmir in papers and news magazines. Soon I read my second book on Kashmir “A Soldier’s Diary”, an account of the Kargil War by Harinder Baweja, an India Today journalist and sooner than I realized I became the partner for Dad to discuss our country’s politicians tryst with Kashmir. I was glad at the promotion from a bystander to a participant in those discussions.
And then I left home in 2003 and whenever I went back home for a week or so we never found an opportunity to talk Kashmir. Things were relatively peaceful in the last couple of years compared to the tumultuous years before. However I and Dad did watch the results of the historic elections in J&K together and that was the last we spoke on Kashmir I guess.
And today a bus carrying 21 passengers from Srinagar and 29 passengers from Muzaffarabad set forth to Muzaffarabad and Srinagar respectively. The event was telecast live on all Indian news channels and since I had to work on my presentation I was at home fortunate enough to see the passengers from either side of the Loc across a Bridge painted in white at Salamabad. A truly momentous occasion cos for some for some of the passengers this was a trip after 57 years of separation. The two passengers from Pakistan who knelt and kissed the Indian soil symbolized the very fact that all this while this piece of land on the other side of the bridge had remained elusive for reasons unknown to themselves and their friends, relatives and acquaintances on either side of bone of contention called Line of Control.
Separation must have hurt some of those passengers. And when they heard of this bus service they would have thought - “You never know when either India or Pakistan would condemn each other and would call this off. Let’s book a ticket anyway. I might catch a glimpse of some of my nephews who have grown up to be grandfathers since I saw them last or (did I?)”
And so a handful of people on either side of the divide booked tickets and on our side we even had a hotel booked on the eve of the departure of bus for the tourists. And then some people for the cause of ‘freedom’ chose to bomb those very people whose cause they were purportedly furthering. Of course they thought in a minute would come the condemnation by India and the rebuttal by Pakistan and the engines of those two buses that were scheduled to leave the next morning at 11 from Srinagar and Muzaffarabad would remain cold forever.
So the Great India Middle Class again thought and talked and asked.
“Would the bus service go ahead?”
And a gentleman voted recently as the best parliamentarian ordered his men.
And a general from the other end reverberated. And so did his Deputy in between the border.
And the passengers on either side of the border said
And finally they arrived. They met their long lost brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, uncles and aunties and wives (Okie that’s a metaphor!) and they celebrated.
And the GIMC celebrated too by thinking, talking and writing to the editors.They don’t get enough reasons anyway to do all of that with a smile on their faces.
The last I heard from my sister was that Dad was on phone talking about it and watching every news channel of every fathomable regional language.