Snowflakes and Punctuation Marks

Arshid Malik

I was on my way back to Kashmir and the anticipation of a valley laced by snow hung to my senses like a cherry blossom to a tree. It had been a long time. Memories from my childhood eavesdropped on the silences that perturbed my thoughts as my vehicle hurtled along tipsy roads. We would go crazy when it snowed. Snowball fights dominated the show as we as children paid little heed to the eerie cold and the persistent yells of our parents commanding us to come back inside lest we should fall sick, catch a fever or something. We would sketch drawings in the sleets of snow and build snowmen. We manufactured our own ice-cream out of fresh snow – a reticent process involving collection of snow in a glass tumbler, mixing some sugar into it and keeping it out in the open overnight to deeply evolve as an ice-candy stick to be relished the next day. The ice-cream manufacturing was a secret process, kept from the adults, and shared by a handful who could afford to keep secrets. The entirety of the fun we had during winters comforted the bumps that the highway I was travelling had to offer, somehow intensifying the joy of it all. I was about to reach the snow-clad peaks of Kashmir when I was stopped for routine checking. My vehicle was frisked and it brought along another set of memories, painful and hideous. The nostalgia that ran up and down my spine was now melancholic. I was less sure about my upcoming rendezvous with my motherland. All the same, the sight of snow, just as we crossed the tunnel was welcoming in itself. It told its own stories. There were no more recollections but first person interjections with a swathing embraces with nature.

I was feeling good. And as I advanced towards Srinagar I met with hordes of people surfacing out of like nowhere yelling slogans of “freedom from India”. Pure rage reflected in the eyes of these people, mainly youngsters, who had enveloped the highway like a hailstorm. They warned the oncoming vehicles to stay in a single line and not to disrupt the protestors. There was a massive traffic jam because of the protests and there was no more snow. I was jolted out of my blissful rendezvous as a young man threatened to break the windshield of a vehicle rolling slowly next to mine as its driver attempted to make headway in the traffic mess. “We want freedom”, the protestors were shouting at the highest pitch they could afford. This is Kashmir, I began telling myself. It is no more about the snow and the fun that it begets, but about freedoms that have been denied to us. We were hardly aware that we were not free when as children we freely overrode the directives of our elders and made merry in the snow. The snow was as white as it could be and our surroundings spoke of a fairyland. Things had changed over time. The snow was no longer as white as it could be as spots of red ran across. Blood was on the streets, invisible in a very visible manner.

Kashmir and its innocence have been held captive for a long time now. No matter how hard we Kashmiri people try to assemble good hopes and unoffending rhetoric we cannot begin to belong to a time that is surrogate to a benign future. We are caught in our tracks, frozen in time. No matter what is the nature of exchange of ideas and talks between India and Pakistan we are kept captive from common discourse. The media, the civil society and the intelligentsia of the subcontinent and elsewhere talk about resolution of issues, a positive economically-laden attitude of the people sought beneficial to their betterment, a talk-it-out attitude and the rest of the specter without realizing the entirety of the time-bubble in which Kashmir and its people are caught. We are not able to retrace our steps and cannot move forward for the burdens of the past and the compromising tales of the future do not lead us anywhere but home to the fact that we have been denied what is objectively not even clear to us. The whole matter is so very translucent that even though a repair process claims to have unveiled itself but the conservatism of thought and culture negate its very existence.

My core beliefs as a Kashmiri are thwarted as my patience wears out with every passing day back in Kashmir. Who we are and what we do with our future is a thought-spell that binds me to a resonating incoherence. I am murkier than I ever could be and the signs of ageing are progressing over my actual years spent. I am confused and debatable. Am I the same man who harried across the plains to embrace the coziness of my land? Have I missed out on something or has something missed me, a bullet maybe. Should I be alive when I should be dead?

As memories of years spent as a kid braving the cold of the winters wrestle attempt to wrestle out the antiquity of the battles fought for keeping freedoms, I as a father reluctantly reflect on the poised future of my son. My kid who wants to go out and play with the snow is kept as the fears that resonated in the yells of my parents are now elevated to obtrude degrees as now it is not all about falling sick but falling prey to all the bad things in the world. The very threat to our existence, the monopoly of subjugation and endless marathons of intrigued disappearances has somehow magnified our signs of worrisomeness.

The K-question, as an abbreviated aberration of the future of all the people of Kashmir and their aspirations, is captive to a bevy of quotation marks and the snowflakes are plagued by a contagion of question-marks.

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