As I leisurely browsed through a collection of poetry, my imagination was inadvertently captured by this particular piece. It seemed to ring a bell, remind me of something - it was a glaring simile to Kashmir; Kashmir as we see it today.
Growing up in a household dominated by Kashmir affairs, I always had a latent fascination for Kashmir; what it would be like - the picturesque serenity of the Dal, the hustle at the Hazrat Bal, the towering peaks blanched by a glistening white, the vast lush broken only by rivers and streams with sparkling waters gushing on its beds - these were but a few images that conjured up in my mind. My fascination being latent, in keeping with my background, to proceed beyond a subdued desire would only mean inviting trouble.
However, with the turn of events or a tryst with destiny, I landed in Kashmir. Kashmir, the land designated to be "heaven on earth'' is truly in keeping with the grandeur accorded to it. The scene witnessed at the Dal especially in the wee hours, when it would be attired in its pristine glory, leaves one breathless; the horizon viewed from the top of Shankar Acharya with its chequered greenery is a marvel in itself; the boulevarded roads swirling between meadows and fields in the countryside are an experience in their own right.
One sight which bears complete enthrallment - and I'm sure no beholder can remain untouched by it - is a view on the way to Gulmarg just above Tangmarg. The scene sweeps you off your feet, the layers of lush and snowcapped mountains drowned in mist, hugging below a vast spread vale tinged in a plethora of greens with white streaks of shimmering water running through its heart - it is certainly one of the most captivating scenes in the world.
Despite such abundance of beauty and aesthetic lure, a gloom abounds. Vibrancy and vitality, intrinsic to such loveliness, are found lacking. Instead, a pall prevails as if a widow in grief. What is it that has turned Kashmir - darling of every poet, desire of any aesthete - into such a lustreless, prosaic presence? It is not nature alone that stands ravished; the Kashmiri people, very essence of this beauty, have been ravaged. They have been purged of their personality and reduced to being worn-out, intimidated scapegoats.
These past 12 years have taken a heavy toll on the lives of Kashmiris and set the clock ticking backwards; and as always it is the common man who has had to bear the brunt, his already underprivileged life devoid of the negligible, if any, semblance it held to life. The initial conviction and commitment with which the movement was started and hailed, has long faded away; the preliminary vision hazed out only to be replaced by a drive of self-aggrandisement and money-amassing.
Sadly, everything here comes with a price-tag and the few voices of sanity that emerge are conveniently scuttled. It is time the leaders transcended mere platitudes and polemics and delivered. Their political work and handling of situations indicate a puerile approach; their moves and responses betray lack of comprehension.
Every stunt having a lifespan and a bluff limit, the Kashmiri leaders bluff has been called. India commencing upon a new game-plan, by inviting Gen. Musharraf for talks, has hardly left any room for the Kashmiris. Also, with Pakistan tacitly agreeing on the non-inclusion of the Hurriyat in the parleys, and India firm on not allowing a meeting between Gen. Musharraf and the Hurriyat leaders, Kashmiris, along with the APHC leadership, have been marginalised.
Though in the long term Kashmiris will have to be reckoned with for a lasting solution, their ability to assert themselves as equals and lend weightage to their say in the final rounds of decision-making has been considerably eroded. Their obstinate stances have left them politically irrelevant, at least for now. The repercussions of Gen. Musharraf's visit are yet to be felt. Maybe if the leadership shows some prudence and poise it may be able to reclaim some of its lost eminence.
Gen. Musharraf's proposed visit marks a new phase and is a stark departure from New Delhi's traditional stand on Kashmir. But there should be no naive expectations. The process that follows should bear in mind the intricate nature of the issue and the external and internal pressures on both sides. One factor which weighs heavily on this process is the unbridled onslaught of the jehadi groups.
These groups are not only creating a menace to India but are also detrimental to Pakistan. They are fanning sectarianism in the country and abetting fundamentalism by chanelling finances from the huge amounts collected each year as the Kashmir Chanda. They have grown into a powerful lobby with a capacity to sabotage any decision-making or policy not to their liking. Pakistan is slowly slipping into the grip of an extremist closed society reminiscent of the fearful communist days of the dreaded knock at the door.
Now is the opportunity more than ever to set aside acquired obduracies and exhibit a combination of statesmanship and stature. No doubt tough decisions will have to be taken and painful compromises made, but that is the only way; it is only en route that peace as an outcome can result, and the region and its people get back their lost glory, the gaiety of their winds and the frolic of their waters.
(This article first appeared in The Hindu of June 13, 2001 and is reproduced here with explicit permission from them and the writer)