Zaitoona Naaz, whose parents are from Dalgate, Srinagar has six siblings, two brothers and four sisters, five of them settled in Karachi and one in Rawalpindi.
Their father, a businessman dealing with Kashmiri Shawls, had moved to Pakistan around 1965 with his whole family. Only his two elder brothers were born then. “The conditions between India and Pakistan were not this bad. It was only after the war of 1971 that things took a bad shape and he decided not to return to Kashmir.”
It is for the first time Zaitoona and her children have been to Kashmir. Till now they had only heard of it in stories.
It is only Asadullah and Phraicha begum whom they knew as they had once visited them in Pakistan. With the rest of the family they were connected through telephones only. “We couldn’t and still cannot make calls to Pakistan as it is not allowed in Kashmir. It is only they who used to call us once in a while,” says Asadullah.
Zaitoona looks worried, probably because it is now she who has got disconnected from her siblings. Her parents have passed away.
Zonia, Shabir’s eldest daughter and her siblings had heard stories about their father’s parents and siblings, they say. “Papa used to talk about his childhood, his family, friends, and relatives and, of course, about the beauty of Kashmir” says Zonia.
And about the political circumstances of Kashmir they say they only have read some of it in books. “Yes, we have learnt notes about Kashmir and its conflict. It was asked in our exams,” Zonia says.
They make passing references to the 2008 and 2010 unrest. “In those two years we used to hear about the unstable conditions in here, mostly from our elders,” Zonia adds. “Batmaloo is considered to be one of the volatile places in here, is that so?” she asks in a lighter note and smiles.
Zonia has four sisters, Uzma, Mahnoor, Insha and Falak. All of them have moved out of their birth places to Kashmir exclusively on their father’s desire.
Shabir has been looking for opportunities of moving out of Pakistan since long, he says. “No matter how settled we were in Pakistan. I came back because I feared if I die what will happen to these six women in there,” says Shabir. “I can die in peace now”.
He in Pakistan had established a small business of his own and was running a hardware shop. After coming back to Kashmir he is doing the same but here it is his family business and not his independent venture like it was in Pakistan.
Shabir who initially was settled in Muzzafarabad had to move to Karachi after 2005 earthquake. His brother-in-laws were already settled in Karachi.
Apart from adjusting in Kashmir’s life style and weather, Zaitoona and her daughters look quite disturbed with the government establishment.
“I am new to this place, to this system, to their norms. I do not understand if the government provided us with the option of coming back, what have they thought of our education?” Zonia asks.
Zaitoona says she is ready to compromise with anything and everything but not with her children’s education. “I would compromise with their studies if I knew they weren’t good enough but all of them have been brilliant students. I can’t see them wasting their talent,” she says.
Six months have gone by and two of them, Zonia and Uzma, aren’t still settled in any education institution and the other one, Mahnoor, had to waste her two years and join the class which she has already passed in Pakistan.
“We haven’t spent much on making property. Whatever we had we spent that on their education and none of them have ever disappointed us. It is really painful to see them sitting at home doing nothing,” says Zaitoona.
Zonia had qualified the Entrance Test last year in Pakistan. She had joined a medical college in Karachi, ‘Karachi Medical and Dental College’ and was about to appear in the final exams of first year MBBS when her father told her they were leaving Pakistan.
Zonia has come over to Kashmir on a long leave from her college; she has not yet taken an official discharge from there keeping an option open for herself. But Shabir says all the options of Pakistan are closed now forever.