Heritage that affirms ones faith in ancestral culture becomes pain in exile, writes Mahesh Kaul
(Mr. Mahesh Kaul, 29, was born in Ghat Jogi Lankar, Rainawari, Srinagar. He completed his Master’s degree in Tourism Management (MTM) and is now pursuing Ph.D. degree at the Centre for Hospitality and Tourism Management (CHTM) of the University of Jammu. His doctoral dissertation topic is, “Marketing Strategies for Promoting Heritage Tourism in Jammu Region.” He is a member of PATH-Preserve Art Treasure and Heritage.)
After 18 years I had an opportunity to visit my homeland Kashmir on October 22. It was a good feeling perhaps a bad too. To put it straight it was a mixed feeling for a Kashmiri Pandit who was made to flee his homeland in early 90’s .I had arrived in valley for an interview for the post of lecturer in the Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute, located in the posh and aristocratic Polo view area adjacent to the Residency Road.
To appear in the interview was an excuse to have a glimpse of my homeland which I had to flee with my community, en masse in 1990. I was a child of 10 years at that time and had to leave my ancestral home located in Ghat Jogi Lanker in Rainawari suburb. The more the years of exile passed the pain of separation multiplied in my heart that always prompted me to keep fresh my memories of ancestral house and the homeland. Exile taught me one thing clearly, the more the time of exile passes the more is the passion to safeguard the culture, heritage and roots.
I had in my heart of hearts a desire to visit my house in Rainawari. I wanted to visit it the day I arrived in Kashmir on October 22 but I could not do that as the sun had already set behind the mountains of the sordid valley that is waiting for its natives to return. October 23 proved to be a busy day as the whole day was spent in the interview formalities. On October 24, I could not resist my temptation to have glimpse of my three storied ancestral house at Rainawari (historically known as Rajanvatika or Ranvor in Rajatarangini).Even the Bandh call given by Hurriyat Conference could not stop me in my hotel room.
I entered the lanes and by lanes of my Mohalla and had a never ending look at my house where I was born. I wanted to hug my house but it felt too big to be held in my embrace as if it wanted its inmates to occupy it with open arms. I went near the main entrance of the house and bowed my head with due respect as in front of a temple. I picked a handful of dust from the doorsteps and smeared it on my forehead. I imagined my ancestors looking from skies and joining me in my act of reverence.
My heart was heavy and yes, I was angry. My anger was against the political crooks that have kept the Kashmir problem alive and have used it to persecute the minorities. I wanted to ask them a question why was I made to leave my homeland and made to study in one room rented pigeon hole in Jammu when I had three storied ancestral house in my homeland at my disposal? I felt this pain should create an urge in all my community members to return?
Another question haunted me. Lot of water has flowed down the Vitasta river. A whole new generation of Kashmiri Pandit youth has come up in exile like me, their hearts are heavy and angry. So on what ground should they return back? Kashmiri Pandits want to return but on their own conditions. So that they are not made a scape goat again, they want to live with dignity in a new political dispensation, where they are not made to flee again. They want a political solution that takes into account their pain and exclusion from the canvas of their homeland. I found that the ground is not even politically suitable for their return. The scars are deep and they want a political share in the politics of Kashmir that restores their dignity that was made to suffer by the elements who wanted to hurt them psychologically for being intellectually superior race.
Being a student of heritage tourism, I learnt a new definition of heritage on my visit to the land of my ancestors. From now on heritage for me is pain that reinforces ones faith in ancestral culture if you are in exile from your homeland.