To Kashmir, a postcard on Eid, with Love | #EidAwayFromHomeEtti Bali
There was nothing extraordinary about this past Monday. It was Eid, but as with every year, this year, too, the celebrations were limited to certain pockets of the city. That is not say that it was not a public holiday. While praticing Muslims partook in the revelries, others enjoyed the long weekend.
But in a quiet corner in the heart of the Capital, nothing stirrs. Rains have just retreated and there is a stifling quality to the air. The air hangs heavy, as if the silence of centuries has been balled up in wool and shoved down people’s throats. It was Eid, but hardly any celebration. Festivities should have loomed large, but despair is writ large on people’s faces. Eyes full of longing, chests heavy with the burden of separation and anxious voices quivering with questions. Kashmiris in the city have gathered to observe the festival. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them are locals belonging to different economical and religious strata. Some have brought home-cooked food, others, cartons of fresh fruits and juices.
Retracing the events of the abrogation of Article 370 and how it unfolded in Srinagar, Nasir Lone, said, “I was in Kashmir when it all started. I was at home, when at 10.30 in the night, they snapped the internet. Later, I was on call with a friend at around 1.45 when the phone just died. I kept trying but the phone was not working. Next morning, we found out that the entire Valley was under curfew. Luckily, our television was working, so that’s how we got to know. There was a long pause. Nobody knew what to say. It’s like, when you lose someone, for the first few days you are in denial and shock. That is excatly how I felt.” Reaching out to people back home has been a challenge, and since his return to Delhi on the 6th, he has hardly had any contact. “There are strict restrictions. On Eid, people like to go out and pray together, but all that was not allowed,” Lone added. Emotions have been riding high, for him, as well as for others suffering the same fate. Sharing memories of celebrations at his home, he shared, “My mother would start waking me up pretty early. I usually wake up late so I would get annoyed, but now I miss that.”
As communication lines remain cut-off, people recall the last messages they received from their loved ones. Faiq Faizan, one of the members who helped organised the event, said, “We are not here to celebrate Eid, because there are not a lot of reasons to celebrate. We are here to observe Eid, without our loved ones, which is probably the worst kind of Eid we could have. Today, I realised the value of receving even a single message from your loved ones. The last message I received was from my grandmother who is in Srinagar and it said ‘They are closing down the communication lines. We don’t know how it’s going to be, how long it’s going to take. But we will be fine, you take care of yourself’.”
Qamar Choudhary, said, “Usually, Eid began with my mother calling me and wishing me. But today, no one called me. We are not here to talk about (article) 370, what’s constitutional, what’s unconstitutuional. Hum yahaan sirf yahaan isliye hain ki aaj Eid ka mauka hai, hum ghar pe baat nahi kar paayein hain. We have only request to the government, to please restore communication lines. Agar aap humein bataa sake ki humaare ghar pe kya chal raha hai. I am really thankful to the people who have come with food. Aap log yahaan pe humaare saath khade hain, we feel blessed.”
While festivals are about a shared joy, people at this gathering had little to celebrate. Zubair, said, “Aaj ek voh din hai jab insaan ki aankh se aansoo bhi nahi aa raha hai, andar se poora khatam ho chuka hai. I am a UPSC aspirant and had come here for coaching. My father is in the State police. But I have no information about my family. When I woke up today, there was no joy. I tried to fool myself into believing that everything was normal by calling up a few friends here. But I don’t have any reason to celebrate.”
By this time, food was already being laid out and people were requested to sit in lines, much like what happens in langar, where Sikhs serve food in the Gurudwara. Biryani, kebabs, halwa, jalebis, naans and an assortment of fruits were distributed. Sanobar Riyaz, a resident of Jasola, is carefully laying out a spread of delicacies, which includes sewaiyaan, shahi tukda and namkeen. She is here with her three daughters - Qurrat aged 7 years, Noor aged 4 years and Zeenat, 6 months. “Hum logo ka yeh motive hai ki sab log, chaahe kisi bhi religion ke ho, saare festivals mil ke manaayein,” she said.
Appetites satiated, they discussed the next line of action. Activist Sanjay Kak, said, “Sometimes, emotion is easy and in the days and weeks and years to come, this emotion has to be changed into understanding and turned into resolve. If our emotions and tears don’t translate into our understanding of what the people of Kashmir are undergoing, then our tears are wasted.”
As the afternoon progressed, I saw Nasir smiling from cheek to cheek. A sudden, but sure glint of unbounded happiness could be seen in his eyes. He was on call with a friend in Srinagar. Internet restrictions were lifted for some time, and he gave the phone to me, where his friend described the situation. “I came out to see my nana. Restrictions have been impsosed and people have been protesting. It’s very bad. It’s unlike Eid; nobody’s celebrating. This area is still better and we can venture out when we can, but downtown and Old City areas are shut entirely. I have relatives who came from there, and they told us that situation is really grim. After every three minutes you will be stopped by security personnel. Abhi toh kuch samajh nahi aa raha hai, 15 (August 15) tak toh aise hi rahega, uske baad pata nahi. Yesterday, it was still better as preparations for Eid were to be done, but today, restrictions have been imposed again. We can see and hear helicopters hovering here; it has been happening since morning,” said Sharaf.
The event is about to wrap up. A few feet behind us, someone starts reciting late poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Gulo’n mein rang bhare. Tears threaten once again, but the voices don’t stop. Poet Gauhar Raza, said, “Kya kabhi bhi kisi ne iss desh mein kalpana ki thi humaare ek hisse mein rehne vale logo ko Eid sadak pe manani padhegi. Kisi bhi desh ke liye isse zyada badkismati ki baat nahi ho sakti ki fetival ke din log sirf aansuo’n mein nahaayein ho. Jo 20-25 saal mein terrorists achieve nahi kar paaye, voh kar ke dikha diya hai humari sarkar ne. Terrorists Kashmir ke tukde tukde nahi kar paaye. Yaatra ko rokna, terrorists nahi kar paaye. Kyuki awaam saath tha. Yahaan par Kashmiri Pandit maujood hain, Dogra hain..Dilli ke log hain.Yeh jo solidarity hai, yeh hai asal Hindustan.”
In another corner of the NCR, a group of Kashmiri Pandits had organised a lunch for their Muslim friends who could not go home. Pankaj Dhar, one of the organisers, said, “We thought of doing this in order to build a bridge.We have been living in Delhi for the last 30 years and there have been times when we have not been able to contact people in Kashmir. So we are doing this as a goodwill gesture.” They hosted a lunch and served Kashmiri that had dishes like ristaa, Kashmiri rogan josh, tomato paneer and phirni. “We have gone through all this, so we know the pain. But after every pain, you have to see how to deal with the pain. These are healing measures,” he added.
Territories have dissolved, empires have fallen, but the resilience of the human spirit has never perished. Beyond policies, cutting across religious divides, these voices will echo, with a hope that no Diwali, Lohri, Christmas or another Eid, is ‘celebrated’ this way.