A Garden Destroyed

Mohit Sapru Posted On :
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The beast of oppression and its after effects are not limited to certain geographic location. It has been rampant worldwide and since time immemorial. Here is a very nice narration of how it happened to the land I call "home". It's a glimpse into the lives of a people who were once a force to reckon with and now for the seventh time and hopefully the last time (after it happened in Dec1990 - read The Exodus of Kashmiri Hindus) have been driven away from their "home" and orphaned to be reduced to such a trickle that in the next 50yrs or so will leave no trace of ever having existed. So much for having called Kashmir our home for the last 5000yrs.

The regret I will always have is to never be able to show my children the land of their ancestors and that which is a source of their origin and identity.

Desolation of a Garden ©️Vinayak Razdan - https://searchkashmir.org/

There was not much snow that winter. By the time Herath got over, Katij would start arriving in cities and towns, building its mud nests under the window awnings, attic rafters, exposed wooden beams of crumbling old houses, in barns and rooftop sheds, underneath the ancient sounding bridges that creaked as you walked over them, and below the bow of houseboats that lined the Jhelum. A Barn Swallow is a species of bird that prefers living with man, building its house next to his, inside his dwelling. This bird trusts Man, when Man builds a city, the bird moves in with him. It has done so for many millennia. Katij’s yearly migration to Kashmir is probably as old as the arrival of man in this fabled earthly garden. Katij’s arrival in valley was the only migration that took place in 1990. What happened with Pandits was something else. This was the year I turned eight. What I witnessed that year, I didn’t fully understand. The misery that filled people that year told me I was seeing something that I should remember. That I should never forget.

My memories of the house are sticky like the smell of deodar and sweet like the smell of water on mud husk wall, alive like hooves of a beast breaking the floor, frightening like the neighing sound of horses in dead, dark nights. Families had a common kitchen till 70s. As the families grew, kitchens were separated, three newer basic structures comprising kitchen, hall and few bedrooms were setup. The kitchens still didn’t have running water, and although by 80s the gas stove had arrived, the traditional “Daan” wood fired oven still had a corner in the old house’s Thokur Kuth, the kitchen-cum-God room where Herath or Shivratri would be ritually celebrated every year.

In 1990, we left Kashmir a day after the day of Herath, we left on the day of Salaam. We boarded the bus early morning on the 23rd of February.

“When did we leave?” I still ask my grandmother. “Allah Ho Akbar Yelli gov” she replies. To her the date of leaving and the reason for leaving is the same: When the calls of Allah’s greatness were raised.

For those early years in Jammu, we never discussed these things. Even if it came up in conversations, the matter was discussed like an accident victim would describe his injury minutes after getting hit by a car: that is hurt, that they were hit. Only after hours, only while healing, does the victim go into the details of his injury and the nature of the incident, how it happened. In 1990, neighbourhood was rife with rumors of an old lady from our house offering water to the soldiers. For years my grandmother denied the charge, as if the charge mattered. It was only 25 years later that she accepts that she used to ask the soldiers if they needed anything. “It was out of humanity,” she says with a sense of guilt. As if she was the reason why the family was forced to leave. My grandmother does not know history. She studied till class 5 and then in post-Kabali raid Kashmir, was married off at the age of twelve. Many other girls in the valley were hastily married in the initial years of Independence. It was the after-effect of horror tales born in the 47-48 Kashmir war. My grandmother recalls this much about the conflict and its relation to her life story. She remembers the night of Allah-hu-Akbar of 1990.

I read history. In July 1931 riots, an incident took place in Karfali Mohalla, the place where my grandmother was born. The incident is recorded in the official riot report compiled by the Royal court. A Muslim witness, a Mirza, claims at around half past ten in night he heard the Pandits raise the cry of Nara-i-Takbir. He claimed the Hindus proceeded to make the claim that Muslims were looting them and burning the houses. He claims the Military (under foreign mediator, British Regent) came and found the claim to be false, they left scolding the Pandits.

Isn’t that still the claim? That the mosques issued no threats, Pandits made it up, that they unduly panicked, that they engineered their own exodus.

In 1931, in the mayhem unleashed on Pandits of Vicharnag, gongs were rung to gather the mobs, it was an open invitation to looting and plunder. Mosques were used to make the call for Jihad. All of it is in the riot report quoting eyewitnesses. I had no distinct memory of the night of 19th January 1990. All the nights of that winter were the same. House a shadow, “Blackout”, sometimes lit by candle and sometimes by the blue haze of a B&W television. We all huddled together, all sleeping in the same room, ears on alert, distant cracking of gunshots.

It took me 25 years to reconstruct the memory. It took my parents 25 years to open up and share their experience. They did it over the years, in bits and pieces.

Conflict arrived home one late afternoon in July 1988. “Munni ji bachey baal baal!” (Munni ji [mother] survived by a whisker), grandmother recalls. That day Mother came home with her chappals in hand. She was near the site of the blast at Telegraph office. Hearing the blast, she had taken off her chappals, expecting violent crowds on the main road, walked through bylanes to reach home taking routes and shortcuts my grandfather had taught her. We made Taher, the yellow rice to appease the Goddess who protects one from unforeseen evils. A lot of taher was made those days. Mother was a teacher in a village schools and she would commute daily in local bus. Once due to hartal, she was stuck in a Shia village. She took shelter in the house of a farmer where she sat a few hours looking at all the farming tools wondering if a woman could be killed using them. The whole year were “incidents”, mobs and shutdowns. By the time 1989 arrived, people had gotten used to it, this too became normal. A distant relative was killed by a spade. The official reports said the killer was insane, that it was a case of mistaken identity, that the reason for killing was something else. Soon enough, the killings started on a different scale. There were tales of masked men in gumboots carrying Russian guns returning home. Srinagar, ever the city of rumors, was drowning in rumours. When the first of the National Conference leader was assassinated, guns were handed over to NC workers for self defence. The story goes that the guns were soon “lost” and ended up with “Militants”. The national dailies that arrived in the city late in the evening, still called them Militants, the term terrorist was not yet in currency. It was 1989, the term Mujahid was only used by our neighbours.

Who were our neighbours? There was the horse cart family that lived in half the house and then behind us was the family that cleaned it’s jajeer water, spittoons and night soil into our backyard. Both these households were so close to our house, we could hear each other. At night we could hear the wheezing of the horses and in day we could hear the curses. Our houses were porous, when my sister was born, someone among the neighbours yelled, “Jaan Gos Billas Zaay Koor!” (Good that Billu had a daughter ) There were prayers too, my father recalls that on the night of Milad un Nabi, someone in the house behind us would sing all night in slow sonorous voice with a twang songs celebrating the birth of his prophet. Next to that house lived henna red haired Moghul of hollow cheeks and small kohl eyes. Abandoned by her husband, she made her living spinning cotton on a wheel. She had three sons and Posha was the daughter, her youngest. She had her mother’s eyes, just a bit squinty. In the neighbourhood she was nicknamed “Batte-Posh”, Pandit’s flower, for Posha grew up in our house. She remembers being taught crochet by my aunt, Veena. Sh remembers being forced to study, she remembers being asked to sing the “Jana Ganna Manna”. She was closest to Sahaba ji, one of my uncles, cousin of my father. Their houses were next to each other. When Mogul wanted to expand her first floor courtyard, he let her, even though it now expanded right into our land.

Towards the first week of January, Sahaba cousin uncle and Veena aunt were packed off and sent to Jammu for safety. They were the first to leave. It was Posha who brought in the news that Sahaba was on the Hitlist. Sahaba worked for the state cement factory, was active in Labor Union, most of his close friends were people who were in MUF (Muslim United Front), men went on to be the leaders for JKLF. What was the charge on him? He had briefly joined the state police force. His father-in-law was in Jail department. Being the only son of her mother and dead father, Sahaba soon left the job. The charge was he was “Special officer”. Posha by now was part of the juloos, the crowds that would come out on the streets screaming “Aazadi”. The schools were shut in around October, a month early for winter. Many such juloos I witnessed. Many a times I wanted to join them, the exhilaration was infectious. Many a times the crowds outside would scream “‘Hum kya Chahte?” Many a times, while mother taught me additions and subtractions in the highest room in the house, much to her chargin, I would run to a window and scream back, “Aazadi!”

Posha too was learning calculations. She knew people. Invisible people who now claimed to be true voice of Kashmiris. Posha claimed that there were charges against her too, serious charges like, “You eat with Pandits”. She passed the message that “Mujahids” don’t want to shoot the wrong person, but mistakes could always happen. The message was clear. Veena Didi was victim of another message, this one was not privately conveyed but broadcast publicly though newspapers. Muslim and Non-Muslim women were asked to put on their religious markers: Burqa, Bindi. The “Mujahids” were again being fair, they didn’t want to target the wrong person. This message too was clearly understood by those it was meant for. Veena Didi was working in microbiology department of the Soura hospital. She was the first woman in our family to go outside the state for studying. She would fight with her younger brother over her right to watch a movie in Broadway Cinema hall. Now, Kashmir demanded she turn up for job decked like a Hindu bride.

I watched Veena Didi spend all previous summer making Amla-Shikakai concoction, soaking her hair in it for hours. Applying rice gruel and even raw eggs. She was preparing for her Spring wedding. All the preparation had been done. Shopping, house painting, new curtains, setting up rows of mud oven in the yard under the Fig tree for cooking feasts in big tin pots. House was getting an update, a new bathroom was built, in it we would finally have a geyser, they were working on an engineering solution to get the shower also to work. A sintex tank, perhaps even a motor. New galvanized tin sheets were purchased to replace the old rusty ones in roof. All of this work was meant to be over by winter. The violence froze in the winter.

Yet, Veena’s hair grew on hartal days of winter and now touched the silver anklets of her feet. Then the message arrived along with clear signs of times to come. There were acid attacks on some working women, Hindu and Muslim.

Message meant that even if Shivratri was approaching, Veena and Sahaba Nanu had to leave for safety of Jammu. On the way, their bus rolled down a gorge, many were injured, some died. News reached home: Sahaba Nanu had chipped a front teeth, Veena had a minor head injury, doctors had snipped her hair a bit to bandage the wound. Rest they were all fine. More Taher was prepared. It was as if the Gods had taken an extra liking for taher that year. In the coming weeks, their love for valley was going to demand more than just yellow rice from them, it was going to make demands on their life.

Kashmiri Muslims also make Taher, it is just that their yellow rice has fried onion in it, thus ritually different than Pandits, but same in essence, tabruk, a blessing. In these times they too needed blessings. A few weeks later the first person to die in our neighbourhood was Posha’s elder brother who ran a knick-knack cart outside our main door. A simple man whose life’s objective each day it seemed was just to make kids laugh. That’s probably why everyone called him a “mout”, a madman, a species that once flourished in Kashmir, every neighbourhood had one. This “mout” would often give kids sugar coated multi-colored sauf packets for free. I spent a lot of time sitting outside our gate, eyeing toys, awaiting new ones. I wasn’t at the gate the day he died in cross fire, caught between guns of Mujahids and soldiers. Of her two remaining brothers, one was already a Mujahid, he too would be dead in a few months. The one remaining brother was to teach Posha how to ride a scooty two decades later.

It took me two decades to realize that Posha, the messenger of 90s was just about sixteen at the time, just a few years older than my eldest cousin. I had questions for Posha, now a lab assistant in a government school, married to a grade three government employee who in winters would sell Kashmiri goods like Kullu Shawl in cities as far off as Bangalore. Her beautiful two kids, a boy and a girl were in a Zakir Naik run private institution. I asked Posha in which standard was she at the time. She was in fifth standard on account of having joined the schooling quite late after much coercion. She was such a central powerful figure in our memories of 1990, I did think she be older. Just sixteen and yet she held sway over the fate of our family in 1990.

Years later, in our house in Jammu, Posha was telling Sahaba Nanu how Jagmohan had engineered the whole thing. She was banned from the house for a few years, but she keeps coming, old bonds remain and get tugged. She visits and tells us of other girls of the neighbourhood, her cousins who grew up in our house. She tells us of Billi, the little girl who used to climb the grape creepers. Billi died of Breast cancer a few years ago even as a Pandit doctor couldn’t save her and probably over charged. She confesses Mother’s dressing table is with her. “Look, everyone was taking stuff. I assumed you be happy at least the dressing table is with me!” Mother has hated her ever since their first meeting. At the wedding, when Posha first saw my Mother, she couldn’t help but exclaim, “Billu Bhaiya, ye ha krihin!” (Brother Billu, she is dark skinned!) Father in embarrassment gagged her mouth before she could utter more and handed his wrist watch to her as a bribe. “She herself is dark like a watul!”, mother would often say.

Mother was not with me on the night of 19th January. A grand-aunt of hers had passed away a few days ago. Mother was at Chanpora at her sister’s place. She had taken my sister along. This was probably the last time she travelled alone in Kashmir. Why she took my sister and not me? Probably because my sister was two years younger and easier to manage. I would not easily agree to leave the house. They tell me even when I was a toddler, everytime I returned from matamaal, I would straightaway head for my favorite spot near a window, sit under it and run my fingers over the familiar cracks in the walls, assuring myself that I was really home. Funeral had become all the more tragic affair because the city was again under curfew and there was no simple way to reach the dead. Those who could reach had walked all the way to Barzulla, after crossing the winter dried bed of Doodhganga river on foot, they had used inner routes that none of their progenies would know or own in exile. Mother skipped the visit.

What does my mother remember?

When the loudspeakers started baying for blood on 19th, my sister wouldn’t stop crying. The mosque was very close to their house, I still remember the day crowds had gathered in the grounds around it after a lightning had struck it. Now the loudspeakers thundered, “Death to Kafirs!” Possibly the crowds were gathering in the grounds. Those inside the house were on the edge. Chanapore was a new locality, filled by people who had moved in here after selling off their older properties as the families were growing, the neighbors were new, there were no old ties between them. “Rivers of Blood shall flow! Justice awaits!”, the tape running in the mosque promised in Hindustani. On it went, it seemed for hours that stretched like eternity. My Massi a single woman was raising two teenage kids in the house. Two women, three children and an old grandmother, all locked themselves up inside a room and awaited justice. My sister never had a sense of propriety, she started crying. They tried to pacify here, it was of no use, once she starts there is no end. Afraid that there were mobs outside on prowl, Massi stuffed Parle-G biscuits inside her mouth to shut her up.

It was the same all over the city for Kashmiri Pandit women. How? I know in Jawahar Nagar, a girl who is now married to one of my cousins, was shut by her parents inside a storeroom under a staircase to keep her safe. I know in Indira Nagar, a girl, now my aunt, was shut in an attic.

“What happened in Chattabal that night?,” I ask my father and his brothers.

19th January was a Friday. It was well past the dinner time when local mosque started blaring taped messages over the loudspeaker asking the faithful to rise against the unfaithful, to declare war on the infidels and free themselves forever, free, like gods always wanted them to be. The unfaithful us were watching the Friday night English movie on Doordarshan. Ironically, as if Kashmir exists in a cruel predetermined universe, they were watching Escape From Sobibor (1987), a telefilm on a group of Polish Jews escaping from an extermination camp. Heeding the call of faith, ignoring the curfew orders, people started to gather in the streets chanting slogans of god, war and freedom. My father and uncles went outside to check, but only after locking everyone else inside the house. All our Muslim neighbours were there. The crowd was walking towards the nearby tongachowk. Walking at the fringe ends of the crowd, my father and uncles reached the spot to witness the hujoom, a sea of men. They saw a bonfire of tyres and around it people screaming their lungs out at the invisible enemy. This went on for sometime. Then people started heading back home. After most of the people had disappeared, an armored van arrived on the scene with local state police in tow. Father and his brother knew what it meant and headed for the house, while running, they tried to warn the others. A man from the neighbourhood refused to budge, he had three daughters, he was convinced they were coming for his daughter. There were few others like him. Next day, a firefighter truck arrived spraying water to remove the blood stains from the roads.

My grandfather went for the funeral against the advice of the children. People gave speeches about war to bring lasting peace. Revenge, so that every martyr’s soul finds passage to the final home. My grandfather never spoke in detail about his experience at thefuneral. On being reminded of it, as if embarrassed, as if he had committed a crime, grandfather would touch his ears and say, “Trahi! Trahi! (Save! Save! The things I heard!).” I ask the women, my aunts and grand-aunts, people locked inside the house about that night of 19th in Chattabal. The screaming started about 10:30 at night. They remember the film was about some sort of revolution. People and candle lit march. Perhaps about some Russian revolution. For a moment they thought the slogans were coming from the TV. It took them some time to be alarmed. They thought a mob was preparing to loot and kill. While they were still gathering their wits, there was hard knocking on the main door. The walls and doors of the house were no longer respected. It was as if they didn’t exist. Only weeks ago, ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border police) had jumped over the wall at night, forced us all to line up against the wall and asked us why we were sending light signals from the house. It took us some time to explain that there was a hole in one of our high windows, what they had seen was a game of shadows and candle. Not convinced they asked my father if he knew how many bullets an AK-47 fires in a second. They wanted to know if we were hiding militants. Our only defense was that we were Hindu. A local policeman had intervened on our behalf explaining that these men were not to be questioned. We were let off. That night I remember clearly. It is the 19th January I don’t remember. Maybe I was asleep. I wasn’t allowed to stay up for late night english movie nights.

Wife of my father’s elder cousin, a woman I grew up calling Aunty Mummy narrated the ordeal. It was the neighbour knocking on the gate, Posha was also there, inviting “Baaji, Come join us!”. There was going to be a protest march. They wanted our participation. It was more a proof of loyalty being demanded. A defense was being created. It was a demand masked as a request. A denial of such request could have all kinds of repercussions if we planned to live in Kashmir. Who would want to be labelled backstabbing Indian agent in such times. Kashmiris, all of us, keep such scores for very long time, decades, centuries, passing them on in our genes. The score of this denial may be asked to settle a century later. After all Kashmiri Pandits were still answering for the events of the 1930s and 40s. So, off went the men on their adventure in the street outside wearing their winter jackets. Before leaving all the women were gathered in the store room, in the store was an almirah, and behind the almirah a window that opened in the Muslim house behind us. They were instructed to jump outside if there was any danger. “After all these neighbours saved us in 47!”, they surmised. After the men locked them from outside and left, it was in darkness that the futility of the plan dawned on women. This store room was on the first floor. Even if they survived the jump somehow, none of them would be able to run and escape. They started uttering in silent whispers “indrakshi namsa devi” while the loudspeaker continued to squeal. This was the room I was in even though I have no memory of it. I probably slept through it all.

I remember the day the decision to leave was taken a few days later. I remember I was happy when I heard we were all going to Jammu. I had been to Jammu the previous year during a school break. I thought it was going to be another vacation. Taking that decision, locked inside a room, two generations of Razdans fought each other. Children were not allowed in. I could hear the load sounds coming out of the room, it seemed like everyone was angry and unhappy. I tried to listen in, climbed a window to get a peek, the room was curtained. I was told later that the elders were not ready to move, they thought it was justanother phase in Kashmir that too shall pass, the young tried to convince them that the ground beneath their feet didn’t exist, that the world they had inhibited had already turned to ash.

We were leaving Kashmir, that was certain. The only question that remained was, when.

The city was under constant curfew for fifteen to twenty day. There was no way to even inform the relatives, we had no phone. The children still played in the yard, men played cards all day while women were busy serving them tea and snacks. On the surface everything seemed normal, we kept up with the appearances, trying hard not to alarm the neighbours. If anyone had a score to settle, we did not want them to know now was the time.

The only risk taken in the calculations done in that room was that we were going to leave after performing the Shivratri rituals. Elders were prepared to die for that. They prayed to Gods to grant them only this much time. Elders also decreed that younger ones will be the first to leave. Elders will stay on for some more time, they had seen enough seasons, if the situation got better, perhaps we would all be together again in Kashmir in a month or so. There was no curfew from 5 to 8 in the morning. That was our window. A day after Shivratri, on the morning of Salaam, on 23rd February, Gull Touth, the neighbourhood Muslim Tongawalla arrived at our gate just before the sun’s first ray bent over the Zabarwan mountain range to enter the valley. Many a times at odd hours he had ferried pregnant women and sickly children to hospital, often he had ferried crying housewives to their mothers. This day he ferried us to Lal Chowk Ghanta Ghar. I don’t know what he thought was going on. We got into the first video coach bus going out of the city. I was overjoyed as this was my first ride in a video coach. It felt like the vacation fun had already started. Curtains were drawn on the windows, the movie they played that day was Namak Halaa, or was it Naseeb, the memory is divided. My joy was short lived as TV was switched off when we reached Qazi Gund, some women had started crying loudly and a few men were pleading that they all be left alone in silence. In silence we crossed the tunnel named Jawahar, after a Kashmiri Pandit. In the bus were: my mother, my sister, my father, an uncle and I.

On reaching Jammu, father left us the next day to head back for Srinagar. I would see him again only after about two months. Srinagar was under a curfew like never enforced before. Even the bylane and inner walkways were off limits to the public. In Jammu we camped in a rooftop store-room of a relative. There was no way for us to know their well-being. This relative was a former KAS officer, they had a phone. Sometime news would arrive. Terrible news. There had been another killing. A pandit had been shot in his room, another had been shot in the toilet, a man was shot grappling his assailant, a pandit was shot in the street outside his house. A relative, a young man with kids my age had been killed. I remember those days, I prayed to Gods, “Please, let no one in my family die. I promise to worship you for the rest of my life.” I made this promise to all the gods I knew. By the time Jammu summer arrived, all of us were reunited. Storeroom was our new address that whole year. It took me decades to ask my father how he left Kashmir.

“I reached Karan Chowk at about 9 P.M. The Auto-driver refused to take me further. I had to walk thirty minutes to reach home. There were bunkers every few yards, and not a soul in sight. I told myself if a shot rings out anywhere, there will be cross-firing and that will be it. I must have walked that path a thousand times in my life, many a times after a late night movie show but never in life had I experienced that unexplainable fear. Those thirty minutes were the worst. This curfew went on for about two months. Some neighbours did come looking for Sahaba. They assured, ‘We are just making sure no wrong man is targeted.’ A pandit in the neighbourhood was picked to have his throat slit. Some Muslim neighbours pleaded for the man, gave good remarks about his character and the man survived. One day while the milkman was handing over the milk to your uncle over the side wall of the house, the spot where pomegranate tree grew, there was a burst of AK-47 directed at the house. It was the last warning. We were looking for a way to escape. But, there was not enough money in the house. By April, there was let up in curfew hours. On 13th April, I collected two months of salary, Rs. 1900 from the bank. That’s how I remember the date we left. We now had the money but we still needed a transport. There were trunks that we needed to take along, afterall there was going to be a wedding in the family. A few days later your grandfather spotted a truck in the neighbourhood, it was a truck from Punjab delivering cattle to the local slaughterhouse. We struck a deal with the Sikh driver. He agreed to load us in his truck for Rs. 900. I know all this from the expense diary I was maintaining at the time. We left on the morning of 16th April.”

“Your grandmother and I sat in the front.” Aunty Mummy remembers like it happened yesterday. “At Pantha Chowk, a group of Army men stopped the truck. Finding us inside, they found the men at the back sitting on trunks, surrounded by animal filth. An officer asked us not to leave, he promised they will protect us. Tears started rolling down our eyes. We told them they were issuing our death warrant by asking us to stay. That they did not know what it was like to live in this Kashmir. The officer relented and let us pass.”

Father remembers one more thing, “At Qazigund, around nine, we saw a man with briefcase standing by the road, signing vehicles to stop. It was a Pandit man we could tell, probably making his escape to be with his family outside. He escaped along with us. An unknown man. That is how we lived and survived.”

No one in my family died that year but perhaps a part of them got left behind. I remember the day grandfather broke the television in anger. He threw a metal jug at the screen. It happened one evening when the grownups were having some discussion in our rooftop storeroom refuge. I could hear grandfather’s raised voice and the glass breaking, followed by a long winding sound of metal ringing on the floor. The discussion ended. There was no television that day. I wondered what they must have been discussing in the room. I never found out. I guess they were not happy on the roof. It was a silent night. A horrible thought took root in my mind. What if it really was a sad situation? What if it was a permanent state? What if we never return to Kashmir? I hadn’t met any of my cousins during this entire time. Everyone had stopped visiting each other. I wondered if they too were living like this. What would happen to my treasure trove that I had buried in Kashmir before leaving? Before leaving, in a far off corner of the courtyard I had dug a hole in the ground and buried inside it my precious things for safekeeping: a small wooden black horse, a plastic wound up Jeeptoy with a missing roof, half a magnet, some tips of broken pens, some empty casings of sketch color pens, a dead silvery lighter belonging to a dead granduncle, some bright colored glass marbles and a piece of a blade of a hand saw. What would happen to them? There were more…my precious belonging: a hot-wheels car, one EverReady cell, bottle caps, a shard of green colored glass, plastic whistles collected from sauf packets, two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle…that were once part of Taj Mahal. Counting my treasures I went to sleep. Next morning, father made me carry our broken 14-inch television to a repair shop to have its tube replaced. It survived. We survived. The show continued. Veena Didi got married a few months later.

A few years ago when I met the woman I was going to marry, I asked her where she was in 1990. “Delhi,” she answers. When I ask for more details, all I get is, “we had some relatives there, after a few months in Jammu, we were in Delhi.” I keep prodding for many months. There is more to her story, like many others of my generation, she is embarrassed to say that her family from Baramulla was for the first few months living in a farmer’s farm shed at the outskirts of Jammu, near the airport. What does she remember from that year: “A brick once fell from the roof. We made Taher.”

I tell her about the place where I was born. I tell her, “It was once a beautiful Garden. A place named Bagh-i-Sundar Bala Chattabal.” I ask her to tell me about the Garden in which she was born.