23 Winters In Review

It’s not yet November, but I can’t wait more for December (birthday months are usually special). Over 23 Winters ago, I was offered a cake to be made in a pressure cooker considering all the shops were on curfew. For multiple reasons, that’s the only birthday gift I refused that year. This year, I would like to get sooner to my near 4 week holiday. I would like to be home. And more importantly, I’d like a reset in everything. I’m feeling impatient to go through the drudgery of November.

This year brought me Riyu, love in the times of trains and fern buses, a new online space right here, a new academic badge, a movement to Munich in my own little baby apartment- where I miss the notion of home and my Chai loving friends more than ever before. In many ways, the last couple of years in yet another city where my language skills do not match expectations, I have motivated me to be more friendly- rather understand friends over the inherent cynicism I grew up viewing the relationship with.

23 winters in review someplace else finding home

My parents often said, family is far more important than friends. And didn’t just mean the four of us kids, mom and dad family, but extended family. In her first standard- maybe even kindergarten, my little joint-family-obsessed sister, made some enormous calculations to come up with some 15 brothers and 20 sisters or so, when the question said- how many siblings do you have? It was a running joke with us for a long time. Our parents (nicknamed Ram-Sita by a fancy neighbour) have always been kind and open about the concept of complete devotion to family. And family means everyone far and wide. However, both of them were a little skeptical with the idea of friends. As a school kid and a teen, I do not remember many sleep overs at friends’ or cycling trips with friends, a few came over, but we never really indulged much. I remember being “scolded” heavily once when I went “walking” around the block with a couple of girls in the neighbourhood. They were not friends, but even if they were, both my parents did not see the “need”. Things improved with my sister bringing plenty friends home as she grew up. But for me it was rather alien, also because my friends were in another city where I studied.

Many years later, when I did get my friends home, things were  fine and now my mom’s even been asking about them, most naturally. She wants them around in December and all the nice things you imagine moms to be indulging in.

Things in my childhood were not easy. My parents had Muslim friends in the valley and because of the general silence by the majority and the direct involvement by many, they felt cheated. They did not see loyalty or anyone’s attempt to stop the fear mechanism and blackouts by the majority community ultimately leading to leaving homes. Most of the investments of the family had gone in building a home and staying together. Our house had three floors, a huge rose garden, and a kitchen garden with tomatoes and a few other delicacies in the backyard. Our house didn’t have a protective wall, but a lining of evergreen bushes around it.Playing with friends was considered normal and everything was trashed soon enough. My personal feeling is that it was for the good- meaning we got a lot more opportunities as kids, but it was not for free, like others in my school. People got opportunities because they worked hard for them. We got opportunities we paid for by losing home. My notion of what home is, has flickered since.

The key concern my parents had as a kid was of hyper safety. They were scared if something should happen to us. There was low trust in friends in general and the focus on family being more important. Although to their credit, they never brought any feelings of revenge or extrapolated anything more than what they had felt. They allowed us to have our own experiences. We did not grow up into hardcore Muslim hating individuals. Nor did we grow up into Kashmiri Muslim haters. We did have trust issues though- with everyone. As most children of conflict do.

Yesterday Tim Cook wrote that piece, ever so delicately mentioning himself as a part of a “minority” and I sighed. I agree that nothing should depend on whether you’re minority or majority. But I do feel that sometimes we are driven into believing that the entire narrative belongs to what the majority says. Like someone on Twitter said the other day, we create echo chambers and believe in things that have the strength of numbers behind them. A thousand likes, so it must be good. We tend to simplify and generalize like that.

A minority narrative is often laid to rest as unimportant. People are most tempted to say, ok let’s move on. I do not know what Rajesh Jala has fully shown in this movie or if I agree with the ethos of what he’s trying to convey. But I have had multiple occasions where I’ve felt like that torn white polythene bag in thin air feeling a sense of acute loss at being unable to name a home. My dad has refused to go to Srinagar all these 23 winters even though we’ve had opportunities. In my stopover flight via Srinagar, I have gone to the door of the aircraft to discover how the air, not far from Peerbagh, felt and smelt.