A Kashmiri in Exile

 

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A  man from Kashmir outside Jaipur, 2010

 

I have lived in India three times in my life and love to be there. 

The vastness of the subcontinent.  The variety of its flora and fauna.  Its immense sun.  Its immense rivers and rains, deserts,  both beautiful and danger-bearing.  Mountain ranges of the rarest heights.

The antiquity of her human history.

The sophistication, adaptability and embrace of her religions and spiritual practices.  Her music.  Dance.

The famous colours of India.

Her textiles with embellishment techniques for which there are no rivals.  

Her foods:  aromatic, sweet, savory; fragrances subtle or pungent. 

Her symmetric gardens.

The pride of her peoples in the future of India. 

The courtesy with which I was everywhere treated despite warnings that this would not be so. 

I love to be in India.  It is freedom and revelation and warmth all the way to the marrow of my bones.

 


I have been most affected, however, by none of these.

But by a serendipitous meeting I had with a man in a spectacular place:  old stables outside Jaipur.  One of its buildings has been converted into a shop selling embellished textiles in the many colours of India. 

 

 

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Garden, stables outside Jaipur, 2010

 

He invited me to stay awhile and drink some tea.  

Are you a native of Rajasthan? I asked. 

Guess, he said, where I am from. 

Kashmir, I thought and then, “I don’t know”, I said.  “Tell me, please.”

“Kashmir,” he said.

 

 

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Srinagar, Kashmir, 1946, gelatin silver print.  Henri Cartier-Bresson, French, 1908-2004.  On display at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia in the autumn of 2016

 

Followed the history of Kashmir since August 1947.

The violence.  The deaths.  The continuous state of siege and excuse to war.  The betrayals.  Fear.  The destruction of whole kin groups. The unfathomable dissipation of an entire culture.  Gardens tended for centuries gone to wrack and ruin. 

No end in sight.

And this in a spectacular landscape of still lakes protected by mountains of rare height.

Those of this man’s family who were not killed fled.  To other parts of India.  And mainly to the Middle East. 

He said that he would not return. He has no family in Kashmir to whom to return.  

 

 

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A  man from Kashmir outside Jaipur, 2010

 

This man lives in a sea of sadness.  The sadness which flushed out the word ‘Kashmir’ to the front of my mind when he asked me to guess his origins.

It has been 70 years of sadness now.

Despite his two cell phones, he does not live in our contemporary time where everything is broken up into bite-size pieces until the next text message or addiction of ‘breaking’ news.

He lives in a few weeks, become a paralyzing moment, in which his world was permanently broken for him and his family and for millions of others: August 1947.  

Nothing about India has displaced from my mind the memory of this man’s sorrow.

Nothing.  Not any wondrous thing of which I have other knowledge about this wondrous subcontinent.

 

 

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The state emblem of India on the iron gates of the approach to the seat of Government, New Delhi, 2010 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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