We met the other day at your school and spending those ten minutes with you changed a lot for me. I felt I owe you an apology and hence I write to you.
Before landing in Srinagar – J&K, I like most other people from India came with my baggage about what I thought of “Kashmir”. I was also excited about the Dal lake, shikaras, phirnis and unabashedly voyeuristic about wanting to know more about the conflict. When I exited the airport, I saw a sign reading “Welcome to Paradise on Earth” and right under that was a soldier with a gun. I was uncomfortable to see the army presence, I was even more uncomfortable to acknowledge that the fundamental right of freedom of movement is curtailed and most importantly I was acutely aware of how different my India is and how I had no business discussing how this part of the world should be “India” as well.
I am embarrassed to tell you that reading a couple of books and editorials I thought I understood what your daily life looks like. Nothing prepared me Kausra, to live sharing the surroundings you grow up with each day. Waking up listening to gunshots of the army doing target practice or being stopped for checking in the middle of the road or even that flurry of panic, thinking of sudden firing that is happening 1 km away from where we stood – Kausra, I do not know how you do it.
Your school teachers tell me how girls in your village are not confident, very quiet and not participative in class. Your school principal congenially told me about how girls are generally reticent. The boys in your class overcompensated for your silence. You looked down with your head bowed when I asked you a question. I accepted your silence for your shyness. But when you stood up and shared what you thought in a shaky yet confident voice, I saw some bit of myself in you.
I do not think you are shy or “under-confident” or reticent. I do not want to make any more assumptions on your behalf. But if my three days can leave me without words to describe what I am feeling, I empathise how speechless you must feel seeing what you see day in and day out. If I were you, I would bow my head down too. It is just easier to find answers within than look outside to spell it out for everyone else.
I am sorry Kausra for being one of those many strangers who trapeze into your life thinking you should open up and start “sharing” your life story. It is again the same mistake of thinking that you are waiting for this amazing miracle from outside to save you. It is absolute bullshit and you caught me on that one. You owe me nothing.
I hope you and I can become friends some day. I think we would hit it off quite well – I saw you snigger about my haircut to the girl beside you. I would have done the exact same thing! 🙂