Mir liyaqat Nazir
Uthkar to aagaye hain teri bazam se magar
Kuch dil hi jaanta hai kis dil se aayen hai
(Faiz Ahamad Faiz)
(I left while the gathering
Was still young
The lamp was lit
Yet the moth was denied
The kiss of love
Only my heart understands
The verses of sorrow
Engraved on the heart
As I came home)
Reflections: Ruminated during a period of self imposed academic exile at the University of Pune’s hostel 5 in the Indian state of Maharashtra. At last coerced to writing after a more than six month long complete creative drought and that too in such precarious circumstances, when the struggle for a hostel room has tested the limits of my patience and tolerance. Sought refuge in the room of a fellow Kashmiri where every moment is a mixture of delight and anger, joy and anguish, liberation and captivity. Every passing hour I ponder on how freedom and proprietorship are among the most supreme blessings bestowed to a man by the almighty.
A word on Pune first: By and large Pune is a better city for living and education because of its moderate temperature, highest job rate and the largest chain of inter disciplinary modern colleges leading to the moniker ‘the oxford of India’. It is one of the premier cities in Maharashtra after Mumbai and Nagpur; the multicultural and multi ethnic diversity have earmarked it on the national radar as the fastest growing cosmopolitan city. The nonstop construction, effective infrastructure, growing automotive sector and the establishment of IT parks and the educational institutes along with two reputed Universities have certainly brought it national as well as international recognition with in no time. Pune’s proximity to Mumbai, key location and the availability of talent produced every year by the various centres of learning made it most visited place in the Maharashtra. This city is a home of almost three and half million people and is divided into four administrative bodies apart from the main Pune municipal committee.
My acquaintance with the city is only two years old. I alighted here to pursue my research and am currently engaged in seeking the ultimate destiny of a doctoral from the University of Pune. I found it no different from its descriptions which place it next to Bangalore as one of the premier study centres in India. During my sojourn I have come across a dozen or so Kashmiri students enrolled in the different courses but the majority is research scholars; the corresponding number at graduate and post graduate level is considerably low. There is not one cause which explains why Kashmiri students give Pune a cold shoulder as compared to Bangalore and North India where they are found in large numbers. The primary reason as Marx points out is the economical base of every society on which super structures like judiciary, state etc are built. To survive and sustain when pitted against soaring prices of eatables articles and high rental charges (if you are living outside the campus you have to pay one and half month rent as brokerage) notwithstanding rent being outside the budget of students from lower middle class families. But if the student has a fellowship or scholarship then he need not worry much.
A problem faced frequently by the likes of me and other Kashmiri students is food. The typical spicy Mahrashtrian and South Indian food cooked in coconut oil tastes bland. To taste North Indian food or Non veg food you must go out and search. The silver lining in the cloud, however, is an international environment both inside and outside the campus that helps improve the communicative skills. Here either you have to learn local language or speak broken English/Hindi for communication purpose. Marathi is not only the official language but the language of transaction. It is immensely difficult to converse as opposed to cities like Mumbai or Nagpur where people converse in Hindi.
One more deterrent is the tormenting journey from the foot hills of Himalaya to the Deccan plateau – an approx 2000 kms. The train journey by the sluggish Jhelum Express is an absolute nightmare as the schedule is thrown to the winds while the train halts at every God forsaken station. The misery increases manifold after crossing Punjab as the three day journey spills into four.
However, the darkest hour is followed by the dawn. The student population ensures a reasonable tolerance to cultural and political diversity. This makes Pune a safe sanctuary for Kashmiri students. Unlike other cities, students usually don’t suffer harassment and suspicion on the pretext of security concerns. The shady vast campus of varsity and a significant presence of international students especially from Middle East ensure a platform for interaction and exchange of ideas that is not possible at home.
The funny thing however is that Kashmiris are often mistaken for Arabs or Iranian because of our similar religion, skin and colour. Often I yearn to remark: Yes we are foreigners without passports! One promised day with the grace of Almighty the desires shall find fulfillment. But whenever any news related to any untoward incident happens at home in which innocent civilians are killed in cold blood make us gloomy and sad. Whenever asked about my identity with a heavy heart I instantly associate myself with a region where violence, suppression and constant subjugation have submerged every part and corner into perennial mourning and lamentations. There seems to be no end to the cycle of innocent killings till the aspirations of people are not fulfilled.
Often during discussions the media fed prejudices and myths about Kashmir come to fore. You try and set the record straight only to encounter either disbelief or plain denial. Both leave you fuming as you struggle to remove the layers of falsity that cloak the truth. As such I have never faced any well defined hostile behaviour on account of my ethnicity like a friend of ours had to face. Annoyed at persistent reminders of his ‘terrorist status’, he tried to vent his anger on a paper tri colour embedded on the wall. The ensuing hullabaloo and his prolonged social ostracization sent shivers down my spine. At such moments you wonder: how long shall home suffer the reign of tyranny? However I am optimistic, to quote Faiz:
Lambi hai gham ki raat
Magar meray dil raat hi tau hai
(The night braided by sorrow
Indeed stretches out to an eternity
Yet madcap heart! Take solace
Soon dawn shall be ushered in all its finery)
– Author is a Ph.D Scholar, Deptt of English, at University of Pune.