In the rush of travelers at the train station. I move towards the old ticket vending machine to pass the queue at the counter. At the vending machine, there is only one person before me. He looks confused, “How does this work?” he turns towards me. I press the button on the machine for his station (which co-incidentally is mine as well), insert the coins (which he didn’t have) and voila, there’s a ticket. He gives me the money which I had paid in coins.
“Thank you bruh”
I wonder where his accent comes from. Bangladeshi, most likely.
He goes lost after we reach the platform. In the meanwhile, an Old Indian couple with their son keep looking at me. The usual staring game, talking loudly in Hindi or Urdu to see if there is a reaction on the other person. I didn’t react. Damn, I don’t want them to think I am an Indian. So I arched my eyebrow, making it look Persian or doing the long-face to look like Turkish. Being from Kashmir has its facial benefits. Well, they gave up. The train arrived and I quickly went to the farthest wagon possible away from them.
Looking at different faces inside the train, from so many countries and backgrounds. I scan for faces, guessing who is from where to myself. And my eyes fall on a guy who’s staring at me. I go “Indian” in my head. And I quickly turn around, it’s a bad day. A Malaysian guy is sleeping while standing on the steel platform that is between two wagons (is there a word for it?). His weight is making this screeching noise which is so irritating to hear.
As we near our destination, I remember that I took 80 cents more from this Bangladeshi accented guy. So I plan to run when we disembark on our station. The train stops, I run to see him. I find him and give him the money that I owed him. “No brother, I don’t need, you take” he says in broken English. “I am enough of a sinner already, at the judgement day I can’t afford to lose little goods that I have done for 80 cents that I owe you.” He smiles and asks me where I am from.
This question, “Where are you from?” I have been hearing this since I left Kashmir. It is a moment of pride when they ask me where I am from. Sometimes I ask them to guess, and they usually run circles around; Iran, Afghanistan or Turkey. Or I simply say, “Kashmir”. When I say I am from Kashmir, it is a political statement in itself. Here you are denying the Indian ‘Integral Part of India” rhetoric and also Pakistan’s “Kashmir is our Jugular vein”. Here you are stating, that Kashmir is independent, of the usual branding of India. Saying this in Kashmir might probably get you jailed. But I can say this with knowledge, that almost every Kashmiri who lives outside Kashmir or the sub-continent will always say, “I am from Kashmir”.
A “I am from Kashmir” answer is usually followed by a question. It can be of two types:-
a) Where is Kashmir? and then one draws geography on a hand or a coin. Having a smartphone helps. a lot.
b) India or Pakistan? this half-educated person knows the location. So you don’t have to give geography lesson.
Then comes back to the important part. Either one engages and educates them about Kashmir. Or bids adieu. But its by default, a Kashmiri will always be a Kashmiri wherever he would be. Even if he hasn’t been to Kashmir for years and years or sometimes for generations. Kashmir lives inside of us, dwelling in the blood which flows through our veins. You may take a Kashmiri out of Kashmir, but one cannot take Kashmir out of a Kashmiri.
So after educating a person or a group of people. There’s a sense of contentment more like an accomplishment. At least somebody now knows, What is Kashmir and what is going on there? One give them statistics, comparisons between the host country and Kashmir or to make the discussions short, draw parallels between Kashmir and Palestine. After this political education, if one has time, the paradise on earth part starts. Scenery of picturesque Kashmir (again smartphones help). It is followed by gasps and ‘wows’. And then the hospitable Kashmiri usually invites them to visit Kashmir explaining the costs of travel and expenses in Kashmir. And the last question before farewell, “Is it safe?”, smile and say “Yes it is safe for tourists” (not for natives) goes the inside voice.
You may have guessed what I replied to that fellow traveler. I asked where he was from. He paused and said, “Malaysia” in a heavy Bangladeshi accent. Thinking he didn’t like to be called from Bangladesh, I left. I didn’t want to engage in a political discussion about Bangladesh (this is also a common characteristic of a Kashmiri: in-depth geopolitical knowledge).
As I boarded another train to home (my second home). I kept wondering why did he reply that way. It took me home for an answer. Years and years ago, when the foreign Indian tourists started flocking during the lull period. Our family was in Shalimar garden, a magnificent marvel of Mughal Architecture overlooking the Dal Lake. My cousin took me along for a run to the top-level of the garden. As we ran, we saw a huge number of Indians walking up and down. I don’t know why and how, my cousin started talking to me in a made-up version of Mandarin. As if he was reading my mind. I didn’t want to talk in Urdu or Hindi, or even Kashmiri for they would think of us as native slaves. We talked made-up Mandarin, all they way up and down.
Or whenever Kashmiris meet, they’ll always talk in Kashmiri. However bad it sounds. I would prefer to talk in my broken pahari to my fellow compatriot than speak in the language ‘the other’ understands.
I got the answer.
Every time, somebody calls me an Indian (when he sees my passport). I feel ashamed. Ashamed of the fact that, I as an ‘Indian’ have been silent over the ongoing genocide of Kashmiris since 67 years. Denying them their right to be free, as my elected government doesn’t even care. I feel ashamed when somebody calls me an Indian, for there is a huge poverty in the country and nobody cares. They starve and starve, and I eat like a glutton. I feel ashamed when somebody calls me an Indian, for there is a rape/gang rape every 22 minutes. And those who rape these women are Indians too. I feel ashamed when somebody calls me an Indian, when I watch the destruction of tribal people in the heartland of India. And I keep silent. I feel ashamed when somebody calls me an Indian, when I don’t bother to Human right abuses in the North East. I feel ashamed that I am called an Indian.
Thank god, I am not an Indian. I am a Kashmiri and before being a Kashmiri. I am a human for I don’t watch and have silence when crimes happen anywhere in the world. Be it Syria, Palestine, Iraq or any other part of the world going through humanitarian crisis, Kashmiris take to the streets and express solidarity. However suppressed and brutalised our lives have been made, it has made us human. I hope we keep this, for long.