On certain nights when the sky is awash with magh moon light, I experience a flight over placid turquoise lakes. I am light as the long legged white bird; my flight and white feathers reflect on the surface of the lake as the decaying lotus leaves define the separation of the dimensions.
I often carry myself over the bright soiled grassy slopes of hills of my valley and chance upon solitary travelers.
I saw three wise men on their tricycles sitting hunched and concentrating hard to maneuver the toboggan like tricycles. The road seemed to be the one on the Pir Panjal range separating Jammu from Kashmir. I must have traveled on this high road many times when the harsh winter of Kashmir froze the lakes and the air smelled of burnt chinar leaves. On other occasions when returning from harsh dusty plains one crossed the Jawahar tunnel to face a white wall of snow on the other side of the tunnel. It was home.
The three bearded men looked up to see me a swooning bird or a human? I think they were as confounded as I am when I take to skies on these magh days. We Kashmiri’s can be quite superstitious as we are quite used to people dancing to music we can’t hear. I swooned on one of the wise men on the toboggan-tricycle and he seemed to have lost an eye to chicken pox. I stopped him abruptly as the other too riders too stopped suddenly as far away from us as possible. I asked him an abrupt question: Are you a Kashmiri, Maharaj! (Toh chee mahara kaishur? – the question pre-supposes that the other person is a Kashmiri Pandit). The wise bearded man opened his bad eye, it wasn’t bad. It reminded me of the one legged birds, who seem to be cheating your senses by standing on one leg and playing lame! The wise man was somehow afraid.
I asked him frankly if he was a Kashmiri Muslim, to which his cryptic answer was: Maini vaise us’ne saathe! (I wasn’t born under the right stars!). His answer reflected the deep intercultural threads that run across two communities, fear of a large flying human and the guilt of a closed eye.
I let him go. Not yet.
I caught up and asked him his thoughts about our tahreek and music. We talked for some time till the sun dipped over the rolling hills of Pampore, our saffron fields. I must have been a long conversation as we seemed to be quite near to Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir. We discussed the lack of music in our lives for last decade and I argued that we had lost music even before that. Even our martial slogans were weak kneed and apologetic in verve. Inquilab zindabad is not a Kashmiri slogan, it couldn’t make our rose cheeked men to put their hands over burning light to swear of swaraj and azaadi. We missed our poets during our tahreek. A “Ya muoth Ya Kasheer” could have fired our men to revolt against every adversary, against Indian soldiers and against alien Islamic Jihaadees from Sudan and Afghanistan. I discussed with the wise man about where our Tahreek got hijacked and we were left with keeping a good eye closed.
Yesterday, I picked a few dusted musical shreds from the loot and plunder of last one and half decades of violence in Kashmir. Three young lads and three shy girls have formed a band and have churned out a harmless, folksy “Sweetie Sweetie Dray duty”! They have put it up on youtube and it seems to be very popular. A fine arts teacher based in Srinagar has been talking of “washing his fingers dipped in the scarlet lake”. He has managed to record pieces by fast vanishing generation on Bands their musical instruments like “sur nai” and "dhoul". It seems our music, dance and maybe our rich culture is undergoing a thawing and rediscovery. I have met a couple of Kashmiri Pandit musicians playing rabaab and organizing "bach nagme" at Kashmiri weddings. We are picking up the pieces and moving on.