“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Pervez provides a close-up view of the great Janam Ashtami festival at the Khir Bhawani, Tulmulla where throngs of internally displaced Kashmir Pandits reacquaint themselves with resident Muslims

(Mr. Pervez Majeed Lone, 35, was born in Ashpora, a hamlet located in Handwara Tehsil in the Kupwara District. His primary schooling took place in government schools in his hometown, and he finished his higher secondary education from the Government Higher Secondary School, Kupwara. He graduated from the University of Kashmir as a Continuing Education student with Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature as major subjects. In 2004, he completed his Master’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Kashmir. He has worked in various local Urdu journals (Chattan, Pukar) and the Radio Kashmir (Sheharbeen) before joining the Sahara Time, a weekly national news magazine from the Sahara Group. He is passionate about the Urdu language and poetry, and loves to listen to music, read English literature and traveling.)

Amity Still There

A frail Kamlavati takes small, slow steps as her son Veerji Bindroo holds her hand guiding towards the shrine. After twenty years, Kamlavati, 80, visits the Mata Khir Bhawani temple, one of the most revered shrines of Kashmiri Pandits. Overwhelmed by emotions, she gazes at the Chinar trees abundant in the temple complex. “Ye bounae shehjar chum ravmout (I am bereft of the cool shade of Chinars)” the old lady gushes in Kashmiri with a tone filled with agony caused due to two-decade separation from her birthplace.

Kamlavati lived in Syed Kareem locality of North Kashmir’s Baramulla town. Like other Pandit families, she too had to leave her home in the tumultuous year of 1990. The Bindroo family, which lived in the picturesque locale, on the banks of Jehlum river were forced by the explosive situation to live a tormenting homeless life in exile in the tropical Jammu. Though the family is settled now with their own house in Janipur area, but the pangs of loosing the native land are embedded in them.

For the first time after they left their home in Baramulla, Kamlavati visited Kashmir alongwith her son and grandson to pay obeisance at the Khir Bhawani temple on the occasion of annual festival . “This visit is a real pilgrimage for us, not only because of the mela Khir Bhawani but also to see our beloved motherland,” said Veerji, assistant executive engineer with the Public Works Department. When asked about their return, Veerji poses a counter question. “Though the situation has improved but still an unseen fear surrounds us; otherwise who will not want to return his very own home!” On the other hand Kamlavati exudes the hope of old generation of Kashmiri Pandits, who see an end to their traumatizing wait. “I am sure we will come back and live peacefully with our Muslim neighbours as we have been since long,” she asserts. Her grandson Naveen Bindroo, 20, symbolises the trauma of sorts the young generation of Kashmiri Pandits have witnessed.

These generations, who was young children at the time of Pandits’ migration or were born after that, is living life of like a split personality. Their parents want them to be brought up as typical Kashmiris-with Kashmiri as their first language and Kashmiri culture in their lifestyle. But in Jammu, Delhi and elsewhere in India, the children are exposed to varied cultures. With this identity struggle within the families, the Kashmiri Pandits are face to face with numerous challenges of survival. The gleam of being at his birthplace was visible on Naveen’s face, who was just six months old when his family left their home. “Do you want to come back and live here?” Naveen, who studies engineering in Mumbai, replies in Kashmiri with a heavy Hindi accent. “I want but it is difficult. I am pursuing education outside Kashmir and all my friends are there (in Jammu and Mumbai).”

In fact this is the dilemma of Pandits. They do want to return but they say here they have to begin their lives afresh! The festivals like the one of Khir Bhawani clearly shows that despite all the bad things that happened around mass exodus of Pandits, the relations and trust among Pandits and Muslims is intact. On the eve of mela Khir Bhawani in Tulmulla, 26 kms northeast of Srinagar in district Ganderbal, the local Muslims as well as those from other areas of Valley were at the temple to meet their erstwhile Pandit neighbours. Emotional scenes were witnessed as Muslims and ‘guest’ Pandits, who arrived from various parts of country and abroad, hugged and kissed each other, while as some were seen crying.

Many Pandits had arrived days before the festival and stayed with their Muslim friends and neighbours. The locals had set up stalls where free services like drinking water were being provided to devotees. Youth had volunteered to assist and guide the pilgrims in performing rituals at the temple. Ghulam Hassan Mir a local, who was serving drinking water at one of the stalls, set up by Public Welfare Committee, Tulmulla said, “I am extremely happy to serve my Pandit brothers. There were had lots of Pandits in my village and we were living a harmonious life. Their separation is a personal tragedy to me.”

Sabir Ayub, a local journalist and social worker of Tulmulla said that the inhabitants of Tulmulla and adjacent villages were preparing weeks before the festival to greet the Pandit pilgrims. “For us, this is a sort of reunion with our Pandit compatriots, though sadly it is brief,” he remarks. Since their exodus in 1990, this was their biggest congregation at the shrine. And what makes their pilgrimage beautiful is the warmth and love showered by Muslims. “I am very emotional; I miss my friends and neighbours. Many of them had come to meet me here,” said C K Koul who lived in Shalla Kadal Srinagar. Koul’s young daughter Prakirti is born in Jammu and this was her first visit to Kashmir. “Papa told me we lived here. I like this place. Its cool here while as there is very hot in Jammu,” said Prakirti in broken Kashmiri.

The Koul family, who lives in Bhodi, Jammu visit Kashmir for Khir Bhawani festival, like most other Pandit families do. While lighting diyas and offering milk and kheer at the Goddess Ragnya’s temple, Pandits prayed for their homecoming and peace to their motherland. “The enthusiasm, with which our Muslim brothers received us, is a proof that the two communities have no problems with each other. It is just damned politics which is responsible for our separation and also a hindrance in our return,” gushes Deepak Kumar who lived in Habba Kadal, one of the largest localities of Pandits in Srinagar. As the Muslims and Pandits greeted and talked to each other in and around the temple complex, the Muslim shrine of Baba Haider, barely 100mtrs away from the Khir Bhawani temple stood testimony of Pandit-Muslim harmony and amity in Kashmir. (Sahara Time)