Shikara: A story that has left a lot in me unsettling!

I recently got a chance to watch Shikara: The untold story of Kashmiri Pandits, and I must say, being a Kashmiri Muslim who was born post exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, I had to write about it – to somehow put to rest the volcano of thoughts that this story stirred in my head.

First time since its occurrence – 30 years ago, the unheard and rather silenced narrative of Kashmir, the story of Kashmiri Pandits, has been presented as a motion picture. I was skeptical to watch this movie; to be honest, I was afraid. To list a few of my fears: Will this movie portray the communal harmony that prevailed in Kashmir or will it be a bigotry of hate and lies? Will this movie touch upon the kryptonite of brutal atrocities that has engulfed Kashmir over last 70 years or will it brush away those facts? I must say, the story has subtly answered my every doubt – by showing nothing but the truth – in a subtle language of love.  The misery of Kashmiri Pandits is a clot that haunts Kashmir and every Kashmiri till date.  Putting out this narrative was thus much needed and at the same time the need to tell this tale without any concoction was equally important. And, I must say, it has been done aptly.

Starting with the review of the movie: Set in the backdrop of late 80’s and early 90’s, Shikara is a poetic take on the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from their home – beloved valley of Kashmir. Directed by Mr. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, starring Aadil Khan and Sadia, Shikara is a lament tearing your heart, note after note. Bringing raw, subtle and vulnerable emotions with precision on the screen speaks volumes about the direction and acting. But one thing that has kept me hooked to this movie is its powerful poetry and screenplay. If you haven’t watched this movie, go ahead and watch it. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Love letter to Kashmir:

While I was working in Delhi, I often found myself writing and longing for Kashmir; if I may share a line:

“Oh! my beloved land of misery, my heart yearns for you…

I never wanted to leave you, never, ever…”

Now imagine what a person who was forced to leave his home must be going through for all these years…?

If summed up, Shikara is a love letter that a Kashmiri Pandit would write to his long-lost beloved home, Kashmir. And what a person writes to his lost beloved after decades of separation?  He shares his tales of yearning, misery, longing, fear that overtook him, agony and love he had for her all along. He will ask his beloved how she has been, and if I may go ahead and write that he will also shed a tear to see the miseries of his beloved, too – the only part which hasn’t been given much importance in the movie; but if you see keenly, you may find the art of subtle nuance even touching that point, too, somehow.

There is a powerful scene in the movie – where Shiv Dhar, played by Aadil Khan narrates an absolutely heartbreaking poem, “Ae wadi shehzadi, bolo kaisi ho?” (Oh! my valley, my princess, how have you been?), composed by Irshad Kamil, on his return to Kashmir after 21 years of his exodus; which, I would say carries the essence of this “love letter to Kashmir”.

When home is no longer your safe haven:

There’s a famous Kashmiri saying by Sheikh-ul-Alam (RA) – “Gare wandai ghare sasa, bareh nyerhai ne zah.”

(Oh, home! I can offer you 1000 homes, and just won’t leave your doors.)

The only thing that is keeping us safe from the ongoing pandemic these days is our home. Imagine how bad things would have been back in days that the only option left with Kashmiri Pandits was to leave their homes and a life lived in it behind! This breaks my heart. Was it really tough for the then government in-charge to provide security to these people? Or was facilitating their exodus an easy option available to them? Why hasn’t anything been done over these years to bring them back? Every local Kashmiri – Muslim, Sikh and Pandits who still stays here – wants their Kashmiri Pandit brothers to come back to valley and live with them – just like it was back in time. After all who has been benefited with this exodus?  With Pandits being displaced in a land far away from home and local Kashmiri continuing to fall prey to human rights violations, last 30 years has used Kashmiri – Muslim, Sikh and Pandit as a cannon fodder ensuring that Kashmir continues to remain a burning paradise.

What does the future hold for Kashmiri Pandits:

As the movie ends, a sneak peek into the abandoned, burnt houses of Kashmiri Pandits, which are locally referred as “Batte Makan”  – with a Kashmiri Song “Dilbar Lagyo” in the backdrop – just leaves you doomed.

It’s sad that the new generation of Kashmiri Pandits – born post exodus – have no belongingness with Kashmir. The people who left in their youth are the last surviving lineage of Kashmiri Pandits carrying the essence of Kashmiryat. Hence, the need to establish some meaningful measures to ensure their arrival to valley is necessary.

Love from a Kashmiri Muslim:

I know many Kashmiri Pandits; many of whom are just like my family. I have heard personal accounts of how bad the situation was in Kashmir during 90s. Kashmir Pandits did not die just of bullets only, many died of snake or scorpio bites in refugee tents, while many simply died in longing for Kashmir. It shakes my belief to even think about what all we as a community have undergone for all these years, but the only thing that I have a resolute belief in is the undying love and Kashmiryat that bonds the sons of Kashmir – Muslim, Sikh and Pandit together.

Things in Kashmir have been bad – without doubt; but getting through it together will be easy. If I may quote something from my book: The Crimson Curse – Autumn and Unrequited Love, “It’s better to perish where one is born. No matter how miserable the situation at home is, embracing death of hopes at home is always less painful.”

Shuja Tasleem  is a  writer