Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kashmir Homecoming

Raka Khashu -- whose first name means the moon -- lives in New Delhi. She is a young lady in her late twenties, having already charted a very promising career path to become a senior executive with an international company. She is one of the most wonderful people I know.

Raka is the daughter of Mr. Upendra Khashu and Mrs. Girija Khashu, two of Kashmir's celebrated cultural personalities. They are, and have been, popular radio presenters and theatre and television artistes -- though as you will read in the story here that I wrote two years ago, one got death threats from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and the other marriage proposals.

In March 1990, the Khashus -- Kashmiri Pandits -- had to rush out of their home after death threats, even as food was hot on the oven.

Raka's younger sister Nipunta, now a successful public relations executive but then just a three-year-old, had one simple question from her mother's arms as they scrambled out of their home into a paramilitary truck to take them to the airport -- to be thrown into an uncertain future.

"Where we are going, will I get batta (rice)?" the three-year-old asked.

Kashmiri Pandits love their rice.

They also love their homeland as much as their fellow Kashmiri Muslims who have gone through crushing oppression over the past two decades.

Raka went back to Kashmir recently for the first time, spending a week in Srinagar. She wrote me an account.

"This the story of my life..story of a home coming..YES..after nearly twenty years..
I belong to Kashmir..was born and brought up destiny would have it, I was kicked out of my nest – with just one threat call..left my home within one hour..not knowing where for..

Now after twenty years, I got an opportunity to "visit" my homeland..I am using the word visit – because that's what I have been reduced to being a 'visitor'.

The moment I touched the ground..I knew I was 'home' in the true sense of the word. Wading through a series of security checks, I managed to reach my locality – the place where I was born and brought up..Due to unavoidable circumstances, we had to sell our house..and here I was in front of the gate..didnt know if I would be a welcome..nevetheless decided to march ahead.

The warmth was still there. "Leela Cottage" as we had named it – was still the same..nothing had changed..

Fortunately, the lady remembered my family and I was ushered into the house with a hug..I was speechless with tears flowing down my cheeks.. I don't know why I was crying..crying because of being forced to leave my house..or because of seeing it again after so many years or because I knew that it was just a short visit and the moment I step will be over..

I climbed the stairs and there I was, a small five-year-old girl running up the stairs and then stumbling and falling ... a few cries and my grandmom running to help me and there -- my granddad coming out of the room to save his little one..guess what..these were all memories…all this had happened 23 years back..

Came out to the garden..and there I was running and playing in mud, playing..all in my thoughts…not to forget – I was helping my granddad clear up the driveway to help him park his car..all in my memories..which I had nurtured all these years and they will always be fresh in my mind..

And then, it was time to leave..yet again..I could not even relive my old days in entirety.

I wept and wept on the way back. Just could not stop myself.
The driver looked me in the rear view mirror, paused and then said: "Sorry, we made a mistake".
It is not only me who has suffered... its them as well (the Muslims)... I could see that in the eyes of my driver who was a local. Nothing will erase the pain. But this remark made me believe that there is some hope for my birth place and some day we will live in harmony again."


Rajesh Roshan said...

वह राका खासु हो या राका बानो सबकी वही कहानी है. जब इलाका जलता है तो न तो उससे खासु बच पाएँगी और न ही बानो. ये आग(आतंकवाद) की प्रकृति है.

अन्तिम चित्र बेहद बेहतरीन है. खुली आकाश में उड़ता पंछी.

राजेश रोशन

Anonymous said...

सत्य वचन . आग तो आग है लेकिन मीडिया ने जितनी सटीक आवाज़ गोधरा के लिए उठाई उसकी चवन्नी भर अगर कश्मीरी पंडितों के लिए उठाते तों -----

Aditya Raj Kaul said...

Thanks Neelesh for this exceptional piece. I just couldn't hold my tears. Though I haven't visited my homeland since I left immediately after my birth in 1990; my heart cries of homelessness and displacement.

Honestly, not many senior writers and journalists in India dare to write about the apathy and misery of the forgotten KP Community. I Thank you from the core of my heart for atleast mentioning us here.

I just can't write more. I share here a piece; that I wrote a month back on my 19th birthday and the 19th year of exile. Read it here -

nerd2world said...

Really touching! I was rendered speechless for a few moments after reading this. The emotions of Kashmiris are as varied as its beauty.

Anonymous said...

While reading this story tears were rolling down from my eyes as I remembered my home land and thought can I ever go back to such a beautiful place, take a fresh bath from the stream flowing through my village, eat fresh apples, wallnuts, cherry from the treas of my orchard. Will ever my mom be able to coock the fresh vegitables from the kitchen garden whose smell I could feel from a long distance. Wll I ever be able to play with the local friends (unfortunately some of them have been killed by terorists) with whom I have grown up. My hands are trimbling when these terorists didn't spare their own people then who are we. It is only f govt, wishs we can return back and be the part of shining Kashmir.

Anonymous said...

Nilesh .....Thanx .....and you know for what

Anonymous said...

Dear Nilesh,
Floodgates of memories were burst open - so many memories racing through my mind - so many similarities - so true! Thanks for helping me open that dark corner of my mind, which I had locked up.
Thank you.
Anil Kaul

Pooja Shali said...

Never before did I wipe my tears while reading a story on kashmir... and today i couldn't hold them back.

For sure, its been a pain for both the communities. But for the pandits, its been a pain they combined with peaceful resilience.

Can only thank you sir... You donot describe events, you describe emotions.

Pooja Shali

Pooja Shali said...

and... raka in your words.. are the words of a whole community which every single night thinks of its orchards n bedrooms, and temples and those lanes that they left while (yes) "even as food was hot on the oven". thank you to both neelesh and raka...

Pooja shali

Anonymous said...

i wept raka....your story was so you!

Aditya Raj Kaul said...

And, In this entire post...and my comment..I just forgot Raka. Thanks Raka for such moving words. As I said before, I just couldn't hold tears. I've no memories of Kashmir; but my heart and soul still lies there.

I remember how we had met on a red light signal in south delhi a few months back.

Thanks to you and Neelesh both..

Anonymous said...

Such is the pain of homecoming...and such is the pleasure

Nipunta's Blog said...


It’s indeed heartening to see the response this post has generated… clearly, time hasn’t exactly been a great healer for us Kashmiris. Raka’s post bought back memories of the place we once called our home; memories that now have been obliterated, some perhaps still thr but lifeless. Kashmir might now be a scattered community but I m sure our feelings resonate with that of Raka’s and that binds us together

Neelesh, thanks for initiating this post.


vikas pandey said...

Hi Neelesh,

Thanks for writing such a post.

Since you are writing more frequently, now I don't have any complain.


Unknown said...

for those of us who try to make "Kashmiri" memories without ever being able to grow up in Kashmir...thank you for sharing Raka's journey and putting a vision to the memories I can only wish I had or might have one day.

~very touching!

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Anonymous said...

Excellent write up...

(All photos by the author, except when credit mentioned otherwise)