Of Goodbyes

Arshid Malik

I am a very social person. I love to have people around me all the time. I bond with people very quickly besides I do not have any set criteria for the “sort” of people I should meet and befriend. That is why my friend circle consists of down-to-earth simpletons, thick-skinned “rowdies” as also ones who prefer intellect over everything else. I am easygoing with each character set and have somehow developed an attitude that settles in anywhere and with anyone. I guess I am always generous, compassionate and cleverly naïve too. Owing to these traits of mine I grow intimate with people within what could be called a very short span of time by average standards. Well, I must also confess that my behavioural traits do cause me a lot of hurt also, especially when it comes to “goodbyes”. Goodbyes are very disturbing for me even though I have come a long way when as a kid I would almost drown myself in tears while bidding adieu to a friend, relative or any other known associate. I have come a long way because I do not cry like a child but it hurts just as much. Talking of goodbyes, I recall an episode in my life when I did not even get a chance to say goodbye to a lot of people who were very close to my heart and soul. It was a terrible time.

I was studying in the 8th standard in a school run by Kashmiri Pandits when armed insurgency made a sudden appearance in Kashmir. Everyone was not taken by surprise, I guess, but as far as I know my closest of kin and friends and their families had not anticipated such a turn of events. There were bomb blasts, incidents of exchange of fire between the army and the militants in the Valley, owing to which a lot of people lost their lives. There were some predisposed killings by militant groups as well as the Indian security forces. A shadow of fear had befallen the wondrous land of Kashmir valley and somehow no one felt safe. This is when there was some talk about some Pandit families leaving Kashmir for good. And soon an exodus of a good chunk of the population of Kashmir, the Pandits, started leaving the Valley. I recall that I was in bed when I heard some shushed noises coming from outside. I woke up and ran downstairs to my parent’s room. My mother and father were not there. I noticed that the main door to the house was open and my parents were talking out on the street to some people in a hush-hush manner. I put my head together and headed out on the street to find hordes of people, Kashmiri Pandits, carrying beddings, attaches and gunny sacks. The rattling noises that came from the gunny sacks made me realize that there were cooking utensils inside them. I asked my father what was happening and while he was trying to convince our next door Pandit neighbours that they were safe and should not leave, I got the point. The whole community of Pandits from our locality was pushing up ahead to Jammu and beyond. A very close friend of mine, a Pandit boy named Deepu (short for Deepak) who was a few years elder to me, was standing at the end of the lane and when he caught the sight of me, he turned his head away and walked ahead. Old people were being carried by young men. It all felt like the sight of a caravan moving through a desert except that it was not actually a caravan moving through a desert, but a large group of “disheartened and disillusioned” people, leaving their home and hearth behind and travelling to “foreign lands”. First impressions and talk going around that very period which reached us kids and youngsters bespoke of conspiracies and even though I have delved deep into the truths and untruths about the reasons behind the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and soon enough these conspiracy theories developed tales of its own where sincerity, going by my levels of comprehension, was always found lacking. I am not going into that debate now, as the point of concern here for me is the pain and psychological tumult that both the communities, the Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmir Pandits, went through. This very pain exuded in the form of tears that rolled down the cheeks of womenfolk and children of both the communities on that saddening night of the exodus, and the men, they were just putting up a brave face.

A few days later after the exodus of the Pandits the obscure reality of those unuttered goodbyes dawned on me. I had not even been able to say goodbye to my best buddy. I recalled how he had turned his face away from me and the possible reasons behind this churned my mind upside down, day and night. I was not able to fathom why he had turned away from me. He was my best friend. Was it anger or was it the fear of saying goodbye. As days turned into months I attempted to find the truth but soon enough I was too busy lamenting the loss of men, women, children and all of those whom I had never known or seen. Yet again the thought of those unsaid goodbyes taunted me. Was it my fault? Was I the aggressor? Or was I a mere meddler in the high rise politics of India and Pakistan?

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Every day that has gone by, since the few short-lived nights of the exodus of the Pandits, something has been weighing me down. My heart sinks in the evenings, evenings which remind me of those cherished moments I had spent with my Pandit friends. It was a great loss for me and I want to apologize to the whole community of Pandits now living in different parts of the world for any harm I have caused them. Seemingly, I stood nowhere as a kid when the Pandits left Kashmir yet I was a part of the community which by many has been directly held responsible for the exodus of the Pandits from Kashmir. I live with the pain of this thought all the time.

“Home” has always stood for a sacred sanctuary for the people of Kashmir and staying away from this sanctuary culturally signifies up-rootedness and discomfort. I have been away from my home for a long time now and do definitely understand how it feels. It is sickening. The Pandit community has somehow managed to build houses right across India but I figure those are not “homes” for they never got to say goodbye. The thought of this is far more sickening and I wish I could turn back time.

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