Kashmir – an emotion. A word which when you hear, you are immediately reminded of two things – breathtaking landscapes and heartbreaking violence.
Before the 90s, Kashmir was one of the most leading tourist attractions in the Indian subcontinent. In addition to the beautiful landscapes, mighty glaciers, milky streams and turquoise lakes, it is the people from this place who from centuries have attracted visitors from almost every region of the world.
I consider myself lucky to have been born and raised in Kashmir. While growing up, I became aware of the challenges that we Kashmiris had to face and eventually – to live with. With time I learnt that people had multiple interests when it came to Kashmir. What disturbed me even more was how Kashmir and its people were portrayed in the media. This was not the Kashmir I knew, this was not even correct. This was something I always wanted to change.
Shortage of opportunities and constantly tense conditions in Kashmir made me leave the valley like most of my friends did after school. I left Kashmir for my higher studies and went to England.
But when I was in the university, far from here, my love for Kashmir grew more. I realised I needed to do something for the land that has given birth to me. It was in London, when I was working, that I decided to quit and return to Kashmir. The sole idea behind this decision was to make a change in the hearts of people about the situation in Kashmir, to spread awareness. I knew how certain media outlets had tarnished Kashmir and many people simply believed what they fed them.
That is what I wanted to focus on. I wanted people to understand. I wanted to bring sense and empathy, logic and reasoning – opposed to what the media has shown. Although there were people already working for a similar goal but they only focused on the political realm.
My idea was to show Kashmir as it is, leaving politics aside. I wanted people to visit Kashmir so that they can see for themselves – the Kashmir that is beautiful, yet burnt. Due to the recent situation, tourism has dropped down extremely which has led to just 3% hotel occupancy and fall of the economy sector. It has been a hard time for the valley, but hope has always caressed the land.
Through my stories I have been trying to show the side of Kashmir that often goes unnoticed, which is of peace, love and warmth. Kashmir is mesmerizing. It’s not only a place where valleys submerge in the arms of rivers and lakes; it is an emotion, a beautiful state of mind- Firdaus.
Kashmir is where hospitality means sleeping on empty stomach but making sure the guests are fed with Wazwan. It is where strings of Santoor and Rabab resonate, while red cheeked children in Pherans still play Hukus Bukus & Hatti Hatti in the narrow lanes of villages and cities.
I have had friends come over to the valley whom I hosted at my home and when they bid farewell, all they had to say was – “It felt like home, we’re sure to come back.” It always fills my heart with joy. I wish more people visit Kashmir and experience this ethereal kind of feeling which stays forever in the back of one’s mind.