Some Things That Happened Once in Kashmir
Updated: Feb 19
Weird days in this tiny corner of the Himalayas
The electricity died mid-movie.
We sat in the dark awhile and somewhere along the line Nazir began talking about Kashmir, his complicated home, both heaven and war zone.
For decades, this cooly beautiful corner of the Himalayas has been an inadvertent outpost of the geopolitical hooliganism at the heart of India and Pakistan's general animosity. Skirmishes are routine, things are messy.
Alongside the tanks and endless war is Dal Lake, so vividly blue against the mountains it's almost painful to behold. Wild lotuses dot the landscape, bald eagles sightings are routine, and the people are so hauntingly attractive they appear to have stepped out of a magazine spread. There are intricately carved wooden houseboats, strands of jasmine, and dreamy, smoke-filled tea shops, all against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks. It is unlike anything you've ever seen.
Nazir talked on about politics and militants in the rambling style of someone with little interest in coherence or appearance. He told vivid stories of people appearing at his house at all hours of the day and night, demanding food and hiding. He spoke of militants at 12 and the army at 2, and the necessity of swearing allegiance to whoever was at your door with the AK. In Srinagar, there is an Islamic school teacher, now notorious, who regularly tortured and beat students in secret. Years later it became clear that he was teasing out the stronger boys, who later would be groomed to go to Pakistan and trained as militants.
Once, Nazir ran into an old school friend who was leaving that night to cross the border t0 "fight the good war." His friend made the jihad sound so noble and obvious that Nazir made plans to join him, along with 23 others. When he arrived at the bus station that evening, one of his brothers spotted him and dragged him home by the hair.
He was immediately sent to work in the city. Two days after he arrived in
Delhi, he heard that the bus he was supposed to be on with his schoolmates blew
up, leaving nothing to jihad but scrap metal and bits of clothing.
He spoke of allegiances, and counter allegiances, and said that once the
fight in Kashmir had been about freedom and righteousness more than politics and money. He reported with a factual resignation that the conflict here will never be resolved but just wind on indefinitely. There is such rich profit to be made by informants and counter-informants and intrigue; the Indian Army pays a month's salary for information about terrorists. There is good money to be made in reportage, and little to be made elsewhere. There are no good guys and bad guys.
Everyone he knows has been beaten by both the Indian Army and various
militants. Whatever side you’re on is the wrong side. He talked well into the
night about the conflict which has taken on a generational timbre, with no end in sight.
Eventually, as if empty and relieved, he stood up, shook out his poncho, brushed himself off, and announced: "But everything is nice now!"
It's so hard to tell the truth to the foreigners.