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Revisiting my homeland

Revisiting my homeland

Publication: Greater Kashmir
Date: August 4, 2011
URL: http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2011/Aug/4/revisiting-my-homeland-17.asp

What An Experience It Has Been For Me To Smell The Fragrance Of My Motherland After Two Decades of Separation,Writes Indu Raina

There have been many instances of sporadic conflicts in the past but in January 1990, an uprising in Kashmir led to the killing of Kashimiri Pandits resulting in mass migration of the community from the valley. We too had to vacate our home and since then, I always had a nostalgic feeling of my past and a great craving to visit my birth place.

With this aim in mind, I visited the valley last summer after twenty years. During this period almost everything had undergone a tremendous change and the whole scenario appeared unfamiliar to me even to the extent of recognizing the place where I had spent a pretty long part of my life. Though the whole surrounding wore a new look yet the age-old Maple tree still stood magnanimously witnessing the change over decades. No doubt, the cement pavement around it, where my father would often spend his evenings, had suffered total wear and tear due to the vagaries of weather. This landmark led me to my ancestral house. I recognized the crisscross wooden paneling. Yes, this is my home, I assured myself. Peeping through the fence, I got a glimpse of the kitchen garden where my mother used to bask in the sun. As I ventured to open the gate, my whole body shivered perhaps due to fear. In the process, my hand got struck in the hinges and it bled profusely. However, I knocked at the door. "Yes, who are you? What do you want"? Asked a frail old lady. Standing silently, I showed her my hand.

"Oh! You need first aid, come inside". She said. As I followed her. I forgot my hand altogether and began to reconnect the lost threads of the days gone by. More so when I saw the familiar things like huge mirror covering the wall, which my grandfather had imported from abroad in his hey days and also the rocking chair of my father. It seemed as if the time in between had melted away and I was back in my home. I felt a lump in my throat and wanted to cry. My hostess got confused at my strange behaviour. "How did you hurt your hand? Who are you? What brought you here"? These were the questions I was supposed to reply.
"This is my home". Soon I corrected myself and said "No, not -now, but once it used to be. My grandfather built it and since then we had been living here. It was January, 1990. When tsunami like turmoil engulfed the entire valley and a Muslim well wisher in our neighbourhood advised us to leave immediately for safety. There was a great commotion. To avoid anyone's attention, we decided to leave everything behind. We simply locked the house and walked out.

It was a heart-rending scene. At midnight our terrorized family, leaving behind hearth and home and the souls of our ancestors moving on with faltering steps on the deserted street, we looked behind again and again at the still structure, till the dim light on the terrace got out of sight. Mickey, our pet dog followed us a long way, sensing something wrong had befallen to the family. After a while, a truck carrying chicks happened to pass by. We requested the driver to carry us along. We boarded it for a destination not known to us. There was complete silence during the whole journey but each one of us was deeply engrossed in finding solutions to forthcoming problems. In the wee hours of the morning we reached the plains. No doubt we did feel a fresh air of security but a tough struggle for basic needs, food and shelter put our patience to test. However, we were provided with torn out tents for our rehabilitation in a make shift camp.
Living in such tents at 43° C, confronting snakes and scorpions and withstanding rains and the wind was too hard to bear for a delicate and ease loving people like us. Many a time, the wind blew out pegs of our tents, and the rain would wash away our belongings. We were a big colony of migrants dwelling in close vicinity. People would fight over their turns to fill water.

All this made our life miserable. My parents could not compromise with such a way of living and consequently, it affected their health. Father became a somnambulist. In his sleep, he would kick and abuse who so ever was nearby, mistaking him for a militant. He would also look for his glasses and other personal belongings on the imaginary shelves of his home.

This was probably the onset of Alzheimer disease he lived with for the remaining short span of life. Time moved on and dislocation acted as termite hollowing the physical and mental health of my parents. Mother grew a tendency of always lamenting over the past and soon suffered a stroke, plunged into deep coma and ultimately passed away. Her absence gave us a big jolt. Parting from home, was still tolerable but living without her was just unbearable. Father never came out of this trauma and we could feel his deep anguish & pain. He started living in seclusion. Our effort to keep him at bay from depression turned out futile. One morning, he woke up confused and shaken. He asked "Whose house is this? What are we doing here? Let us go home". He would go back in to time zone by five decades when he was young and working. He would call his imaginary staff members. Give them directions, attend meetings, suspend defaulters and ward the efficient.

In his hallucination, he would also talk to my mother. On asking as to why he would talk to a person who was not alive, he would get angry and say "Why do you speak like that? She is sitting by my side right now". Gradually the number of such imaginary persons swelled and so continued the inaudible and in cohesive talk with them. Upon asking whom he was talking to when there was no one around, he would retort saying "Why can't you see these patients, blood oozing from their foreheads. Bring a glass of water for them at least". I once handed over a fruit bowl to offer to his imaginary guests. He stood near his bed with the bowl for a moment and soon forgot the matter. The intensity of the problem grew alarming day by day. We knew it but helplessly had to yield to the doctor's opinion who said that there was no cure for such disease except prayers. We left no stone unturned but all in vain. His condition deteriorated day by day. At one point of time, his mathematical calculations were so accurate and fast but now he would miss the count from one to ten. Days would somehow pass but nights were real nightmares. On one of such nights, no sooner I had dozed off than I heard a painful cry and found my father pointing towards his mouth. He appeared to be in great pain. "What happened"? I asked patting his shoulders. He said that he had swallowed his wrist watch. "No, it cannot be. How is that possible". I assured him but he was very nervous. He put finger in his mouth and might have scratched his tongue as blood drops fell out scaring me awfully. I quickly moved the sheet and the pillow; lo and behold, a shimmering object fell down. I heaved a sign of relief and showed him his wrist watch.

He would often pack his bag, put on his shoes and set out to go home. One night when everybody was fast asleep. I intuitionally woke up and found him with bag hung on his shoulders, and silently pushing 'the tent door open. I said aloud "wait, father, where are you going at the dead of the night"? "I am going home. I will board the bus" he said. With tears in his eyes, like a child he again pleaded "Let me go home". I pacified him saying "We all shall go home tomorrow morning. Let there be dawn first. We shall have to wait a little more." I consoled him. He believed me and lay down in the bed.

That was the most undisturbed night for everybody. He did not sleep that night but kept his eyes open for the dawn to come. When it dawned and the golden rays of the sun peeped through the tent. I found my father with eyes wide open looking composed and serene. He had already boarded the bus for his eternal home."

As I finished my tale, the old lady wiped her eyes, hugged me assuring that this is still my home. She took me to our prayer room. I was astonished to find our religious symbol "OM" still glittering on the wall. "See, I too offer my Nimaz in this room. After all, God is one", she said.

Holding my hand, we came outside and bid goodbye to each other perhaps never to meet again, Soon it started raining. As I walked on the road, I kept on looking back again and again at the frail old lady and the house as if I was leaving my childhood behind for ever!

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