All ideas are immortalised in myths, none more so than love and heartbreak. The exchange of coy stares, the unseen aching of hearts, stolen touches that send shivers down the spine—the intensely personal but quotidian feelings transcend into everlast through the adroit ministrations of a bard in search of a corner of fame. Despite its troubled present, the civilisational faultline that passes through Kashmir’s verdant valleys and gurgling streams naturally presents the perfect setting for romance, yearning, separation and hope.
It begins in the 16th century and is still said to resonate in the Valley’s doleful air. As the story goes, the Mughals had annexed the independent kingdom of Kashmir and exiled the last king, Yousuf Shah Chak, to Bihar, leaving his beloved queen Habba Khatun wailing, wandering and singing mournfully, all alone across the Valley. In the wilderness she sings for her beloved, pleading for one glimpse, promising she would wait at the gates of Mount Harmukh. Yousuf never returns, but 500 years down the line, Kashmiris believe Habba’s songs still echo in the Valley. It is a story they live every day. In happy times and sad, Habba Khatun’s sensuous songs make both young and old emotional. With the never-ending conflict bringing tragedies to every doorstep, Habba’s lyrics of separation amplify their mourning.