Srinagar refuses to be a place we mention in passing and move on. It’s a city that snags the imagination. Outstretched chinars clutch at the heart. Obscene tangles of barbed wire splice our serenity. Glimpses of children with rosy cheeks and haunted eyes lodge in the mind like splinters. As does the question that pops up alongside memories of snow-fed lakes and kabab-scented bustle: Will I ever visit Srinagar again? Three months ago, my answer would have been a no. Regretful but decisive.
I’d been lucky to visit Kashmir twice. Holidays snatched during interludes of peace. In 1978, my parents booked four berths on the Jammu-Tawi Superfast Express and then, four seats in a drunken bus that lurched up the mountains. We walked through meadows and saw snow for the first time. I assembled a scrapbook titled: Kashmir—The Happy Valley.