Tanveer has a personal story to tell that holds a promise for the future that all Kashmiris can share
(Mr. Tanveer Ahmad, 36, was born in Gurutta, Tehsil Sensa, in the Kotli district of Azad Kashmir. He received his school education in Luton, Bedfordshire, U.K., and completed his college education from Dunstable College and the Thames Valley University, where he received his B.A. Honors in Economics. He has done various professional courses relating to financial markets and IT. His personal interest are diverse covering sports, reading, music, travel, adventure and food.)
Stifling the spirit: my naani and 61 years of anguish
I am a 36-year-old British Mirpuri. Three years and three months ago, I came to Pakistan with the sole intention of taking my naani, my maternal grandmother, across the Line of Control to meet her family on the other side of Kashmir.
She was born into a Hindu-Brahman-Saasan family in the early 1930’s, on the Pakistani-administered side of Kashmir, not far from what is described as the Line of Control (LoC). The communal frenzy and folly that was August 1947 in the Punjab was replicated in Kashmir by October 1947. My naani’s life changed for ever.
Misplaced from her fleeing family, destitution was quickly evident, dishonour imminent and death almost certain. What transpired as a rescue mission by my naana, maternal grandfather, led to her having to convert from the faith of her forefathers, marry a stranger in a strange environment, bear children, rear grand-children, even great-grand-children and engage in almost 61 years of constant extemporisation to combat the persistent estrangement she endured. Her background was literally a closed chapter, sealed and suppressed. Not too unlike the border that has un-naturally divided Kashmir.
My naani had probably accepted her predicament as fate as soon as she had entered my naana’s house, way back in October 1947. I, however, have increasingly felt otherwise. I’ve always considered this to be part of a perverse political drama. Lack of imagination by the rulers accompanied denial of creative expression for the ruled. Improvising a constructive alternative has been my self-imposed mission for the past three years and three months.
I had learnt of her story in 1988, while I was visiting my grandparents in Mirpur. News had filtered through the 70 kilometres or so of mountainous terrain that her mother had passed away. We listened to a cassette recording of her kid brother’s forlorn attempt at getting a Pakistani visa a few years earlier.
A year later, after my GCSEs, I took a year off to explore my “origins.” I visited my naani’s family in Rajouri, in Indian-administered Kashmir in December 1989. Three days was all I got with them — my father had accompanied me to India and being a staunch, orthodox Muslim, couldn’t prolong the prospect of spending too much time with non-Muslims. The emotions of my naani’s siblings and their offspring etched a permanent impression on my impressionable mind. I promised them that I would reunite them with their sister.
Travelling from India to Pakistan and relaying my adventure to all and sundry had a mildly sensational effect on the local population. Forty-two years of jingoism was momentarily set aside and human emotion was purposefully reflected on. This cut little ice with my naana though. He remained rigid and paranoid over the idea of my naani visiting her siblings, fearing she may never return.
The 1990’s raced past, conflict in the region easily overshadowing all else. Nevertheless, I made an attempt in 1993 when I tried to insist on my naani accompanying me to India. Eventually, after a month of unsuccessful insistence, I crossed the Wagah-Attari border by myself. The lonesome figure that I was, instead of venturing north to visit her family, I decided to ride my sorrow and angst by proceeding south to Bombay and Goa. The mere idea of meeting them without naani was unbearable.
Life carried on but the emotional baggage increased. Naani’s kid brother’s death in February 2004 proved to be the final shock that I was willing to passively endure. It wasn’t until March 2005 that we were informed of this tragedy. A subsequent emotional verbal exchange between me and my naana secured his long-sought acquiescence for my naani to visit her family.
18th April 2005: I arrive in Pakistan. The three of us apply together for an Indian visa at Islamabad. That was the advice the Indian visa officer in London gave me after getting over his disbelief that I could be related to both a Muslim and a Hindu family. We waited in vain. The Indian High Commission told us they were waiting for a No Objection Certificate to my visa application from the High Commission in London. The Indian visa delay prompted my naana to revert back to his original stance of not allowing my naani to travel. In effect, the Indian government had inadvertently done him a favour as he wasn’t overly keen in the first place.
October 2005: In the wake of the earthquake, I apply by myself for a cross-LoC permit under the impression that people would be allowed to travel in a matter of weeks if not days.
February 2008: My cross-LoC permit has finally come through! I visit my naani’s family and there is mutual elation. I witness the fourth death anniversary of my naani’s kid brother, Master Sita Ram Sharma. He, along with his parents had lived in constant anxiety over their sister and daughter respectively. They all died in vain.
Anyway, meeting my naani’s remaining two siblings after 19 years evoked a sense of mutual revival of hope. I explain my naana’s intransigence and they eventually manage to convince him to apply for a cross-LoC permit so that he and my naani can visit them. My naani’s heart condition has become such that travelling via Wagah-Attari or Lahore-Delhi would be almost impossible.
March 2008: I return to this side of Kashmir and promptly make applications for cross-LoC permits for myself and my naani and naana. Four months later, the applications are still being processed … on this side.
Before 2005, my naana was the main obstacle between my naani and her family. Now it’s the merry relationship between India and Pakistan. My naani is 78 years old. Please help me reunite her with her family, separated for over 60 years by a distance not much more than 60 kilometres.