I am no believer in “Love at first Sight” but Kashmir certainly makes a compelling case for it.
The moment the plane hit an air pocket jolting me out of my nap – I looked out the tiny aircraft window and there was a catch in my throat. Snow capped peaks towering over the horizon.. Acres of green clad countryside like the whole state is wearing one large Cashmere shawl… Streams cutting through rocks like giant silvery knives… if the sight leaves you unaffected – you must have a heart of stone.
But then begins the tragedy.
Look carefully and you’ll see that the snow capped peaks have dark tears running down their faces.
And with good reason.
Kashmir is that unfortunate woman who is being pimped out by her own sons to the highest bidder.
They probably don’t want to.
But they do it nonetheless.
She is that gloriously beautiful woman who must satisfy the demeaning demands of a million men to fill the empty bellies of the sons she has borne.
Her pimps are vicious because even as they peddle her they resent the men who hire their beloved motherland. They are somewhere shamed deep within that they must resort to this wickedness. Because wickedness it is.
Spurious saffron shoved into the face of every tourist. Soaking wet unwashed overcoats being hired out to desperate vacationers. Brawls erupting over the mildest of provocation between the sons of the land while the mother looks on in silent desperation. A 1000 people herded through a suffocatingly narrow passage like sheep from a corral on to a truck – for the Gondola ride to 14000 feet.
The popular spots of Kashmir do not allow for tourism for those who enjoy the luxuries of tourism. The pimps will ensure that it will be a quickie. You will be in and out before you even catch a proper glimpse of who the hell you screwed ( or screwed you).
And then there are her offspring like Shaukat who owns a houseboat on the beautiful but scarred Dal lake who is outraged but helpless. He speaks in unflattering tones of his fellow Kashmiris (especially travel agents) and he doesn’t spare himself. In flawless English he calls this whole generation “Bastards” who carelessly are squandering the natural wealth of this state all the while giving tourists a less than honest experience. He speaks of travel companies bundling holidayers into houseboats late at night only to have them check out early the next morning so that they can tick the next spot off their crammed list. He says with real feeling ” How can you expect to experience a 2 crore worth heritage houseboat on the Dal lake if you only came here to sleep one night?” He speaks with passion about the failure to clean the lake and the leaking sewage lines running through the water rendering it filthy. There may be more people like him but like him they are all just sitting on their reeking houseboats watching the magnificent Dal Lake suffer the same ignominious fate as the many other less famous lakes of India.
But every so now and then you will reach a clearing – and see kashmir when she is not aware that you are watching her… and you will see that she hasn’t yet lost her innocence completely… that she has a melancholy expression but her eyes are bright and shiny and hopeful… and you will have that view to yourself for all of 10 seconds. And you will experience a possessiveness you never thought yourself capable of. You will resent wholeheartedly the arrival of another person and you will want to cover her up and take her home to protect her.
And you will want to sing her the words of a Norah Jones song
Come away with me in the night
Come away with me
And I will write you a song
Come away with me on a bus
Come away where they can’t tempt us
With their lies
I want to walk with you
On a cloudy day
In fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high
So won’t you try to come
Come away with me and we’ll kiss
On a mountaintop
Come away with me
And I’ll never stop loving you
When the hordes arrive and you have lost that private moment and it gets too much – look skywards.
Not at a careful angle.
Completely turn your face towards the sky so that all the earth is obliterated. And if you are truly fortunate and it happens to be snowing you will see tiny glistening snowflakes spiraling down in the shape of an inverted funnel…. and the snowflakes will camouflage your tears….and you will forgive every evil that this place has been forced to stoop to.
And just like that – the fresh soft snow will cover the dirty runny mud underneath and the slate will be wiped clean.