He was slowly moving down the road, not aware of his destination. People were lost and rushing aimlessly. He could only see chaos and confusion. Children and women were hunting for a place to hide themselves. It was impossible to differentiate between rich and poor. Cast and creed had no role to play and were rendered insignificant. He saw people distraught.
He saw everything submerged and finished in the waters. Tears welled up in his eyes and he, instantly, said to his colleague, “I don’t remember anything. Perhaps, I am seeing this place for the first time, but everything looks unpleasantly so familiar and close.” His colleague, who could decipher the pain and anguish in his eyes, at once replied, “Yes, of course! It looks somewhat familiar to me as well. We saw the same scenario during our last assignment.” Without responding to his colleague, he asked a pedestrian, “I want to go to Habba Kadal. Can you please guide me?”
Followed by his colleague, he directed the driver of his cab to take the route specified by the stranger to reach Habba Kadal. “Vimal Sir, why are we going to Habba Kadal? It is not included in our list of relief and rehabilitation operation areas,” his colleague questioned. Vimal gave a sneering smile and continued moving towards Habba Kadal.
Vimal was a doctor who was working with an international NGO that had deputed him and his group for medical assistance and relief to flood victims in Kashmir. Vimal was born and brought up in Habba Kadal before his family migrated outside the state.
Once he reached Habba Kadal, he could not recall and recognize anything remarkably, since he was just a school-going kid of the fifth standard when he left his home. He only remembered his best friend Zahid who was his next-door neighbor and classmate as well.
The families of Vimal and Zahid were very close to each other. Vimal remembered that he used to take his lunch at Zahid’s home after their return from school as Vimal’s mother was a working lady and used to come late in the evening. Vimal used to spend most of his time studying and playing at Zahid’s home.
Vimal looked melancholic and blue. As he walked down the lanes and bylanes of interiors of Habba Kadal, he felt being a part of the place. His colleague was surprised to watch Vimal’s rush of painful excitement. Before he could utter anything, Vimal thought loudly, “You might be surprised to see these stinky surface drains that flow through these narrow lanes on whose sides these old-styled houses are huddled. But believe me, I have reclaimed myself and my identity today, after twenty long years. Yes, I belong to this place, my land, my roots”. The colleague stood mute, taken aback.
Vimal got sight of an old, slightly renovated small grocery shop from where he and Zahid used to buy stuff like candies, chewing gums and biscuits for school refreshment.
Vimal approached the shop and with his entire thrill spoke up, “Samad Chacha, Samad Chacha! I am Vimal, Kedar Nath’s son. Do you remember me?” Samad Chacha was now too old to recognize anyone without his visual aid. With a keen glance, he looked at Vimal. After a protracted pause, Samad Chacha stood up slowly and neared Vimal, hugged him and said in a broken voice, “How can I forget you, dear? My body is decaying but my memories are in one piece. I always remember and cherish the times I spent with you and your family”.
Interrupting him, Vimal eagerly asked, “Where is Zahid, my friend, do you know?” Samad Chacha, surprised to know that Vimal still remembered his school buddy Zahid, replied, “Zahid…. he completed his engineering degree but he isn’t here now”. “Okay, has he shifted somewhere else for a job?” Vimal again questioned curiously. Without telling him anything, Samad Chacha told Vimal to visit Zahid’s house, just to comprehend that some four years ago, his best friend was ‘mistakenly’ killed in a shootout. Zahid’s mother had lost everything. She was in perpetual torment, enduring an irreparable loss that can’t be compensated.
Vimal was just nine years old when he left Kashmir. He was not even aware as to why and where was he being taken. He still can’t make out who was responsible for the circumstances that forced him to be displaced. He was feeling bad for the people of Kashmir, his compatriots, who had been rendered homeless by the devastating floods. He was truly empathizing with them for he had experienced the agony of being homeless.
Of course, Vimal cannot draw a comparison, for he knows that he lost both his identity and his home whilst his vulnerable fellow Kashmiri lost a home to be reconstructed eventually.
For Vimal, the question of lost identity is critical. For Zahid’s mother, the question of life is paramount. Houses can be rebuild. Roots can be revisited.
But life allows no re-take or re-make. And that remains the harsh setback for all Kashmiris who lost everything, while being here or outside! It puts a truly human face on all those narratives that push the undertones of judgmental minds on everything.