As an Indian Army Officer, I was not educated on the beauty of the land but on the contours of terror
I have been to Kashmir. No, not as a tourist. I have lived there. I have worked there.
I was part of the heavy military instrument of the Indian State in the paradise.
As a 21-year-old, with the might of one of the biggest militaries in the world pinned on my shoulders, its determination manifested in the rifle in my hand, I have roamed the towns and villages with authority that none of the people whose land it was would have dared to.
Ironically, as a citizen of Nepal, serving in the Indian Army, I was a bundle of contradictions myself.
When I led a group of armed men through a tense Kashmiri neighborhood, I could not help but recall the state I was in as a teenager, back home in Nepal, angry and frustrated because of the curfew imposed in my hometown, from six in the evening to six in the morning, every day, for years.
When the Maoist insurgency was at its peak, I was a teenager. I have been frisked, violated, insulted; made to do pushups and squats just because I asked the policeman at the check post to repeat his instructions when I did not properly hear.
There were regular visits to our houses—by police in uniform, by police without uniform, by a secret police who everyone knew was a secret police; also from unknown people with weapons prominently hidden under wraps, meant to be seen and feared, demanding food, shelter, and money.
I was angry, very angry. I was angry at the then mysterious figure of Prachanda, whose only one picture in combat fatigues was public at that time. I was angry at the ideologue Dr Baburam Bhattarai—legendary Nepal topper (Board First) and a PhD from JNU—who was the brain behind the movement.
I was angry at the people who marched in my town with weapons held high, after they blew away the local bank and the police station.
I was also angry at the policeman who frisked me, dragged me by my arm, threw my bag scattering away all my stuff on the floor and pinned me down to the ground and poked the back of my neck with a pointed object. It was cold and heavy. A chill ran down my spine.
My anger blew. I was angry at the government. At the state, which had ignored so many people for so many years that they were ready to fight, and kill and die.
Also, I was angry at myself. Without knowing the reason, without a target, the anger was building up and building pressure and engulfing me.
I had options to flee. I fled.
When I looked at a beautiful Kashmiri child, who approached me with an innocent admiration and a genuine query, “You must be Kashmiri, are you a Kashmiri?” I was fumbling for an answer.
I would have liked to tell him—“Yes, I am.” I would have loved to say—“Yes, we are. We are all Kashmiris. We are all heaven dwellers.”
I would have wanted him to know—“We are here for you. We are your men.”
I would have wanted to give him a smile, a nudge, pinch his cheeks, ruffle his hair a bit and say, “Yes, I am a Kashmiri. And I love Kashmir. And you.”
But I did not. Because I did not. I did not love Kashmir. And I did not love that child. I was not a Kashmiri. I was not even an Indian.
And I was not a tourist.
Kashmir for me was a duty. An assignment, an arduous task that had to be fulfilled to my utmost capability and most importantly, survived. I did not pack a camera, few romantic novels and Faiz and Gulzar’s poetry books before stepping into the heaven.
I was trained to kill, and armed for it. My literature was bloody. As a preparation, I was not educated on the beauty the land was but on the contours of terror that prevailed within the landscape.
I did not go through accounts of romantic union in the scenic backdrops, but brainstormed over hundreds of case studies of bloody and fatal encounters in the terrain.
For me Kashmir was not to be appreciated, but assessed, analyzed and acted upon, and survived.
For me the innocent child was not that innocent.
The images of children carrying messages, supplies and even weapons, read in the extensive case studies, immediately cropped up in my mind.
Even before noticing his sparkling beautiful blue eyes, pink apple-like cheeks, and loveliest smile, I had to scan through his whole body to know what was hidden.
Images of children blowing themselves up in front of security forces flashed before me even before I could comprehend the emotions in his voice.
Even before I could think of extending my hand to ruffle his hair, the grip on the AK tightened automatically and my trigger finger was alert.
No, my friend, I am not a Kashmiri. I could not be one. I was not expected to be one. Therefore, I was not educated to be one. I was not trained to be one.
And I do not love you and your Kashmir. I could not. I was not expected to. I was not educated to. I was not trained to.
I was fumbling for an answer. I did not reply.
The child’s mother came running, lifted him up and dragged him away hurriedly, slouching a bit, without even looking at me.
Today, that child must be the same age as Burhan Wani, the young and handsome militant commander who was killed in July in an encounter with the Indian Army. And, I think, India still doesn’t love him. And that is, probably, the reason why Kashmir burns.