“Welcome. You must have been waiting for a very long time, I believe,” she said to me. She walked towards me in the lounge, where I had been waiting for her.
“Not at all,” I replied, as I got up to shake hands with her. “In fact, for a minute I thought that I was late, for I do not wear a watch. My name is Rohit.”
“I know that, Mr. Mattoo had informed me previously. I am Laaleshwari Kaul. I was looking forward to meeting you. How is your documentary shooting going on?”
“Fairly well,” I spoke, as I walked along with her into the hospital, as she led me towards the infirmary. “How are you today?”
“Just as usual,” she spoke, as we went past one ward after the other. The day was very normal. “Boy,” I said, “It’s a bit chilly today.”
“You think so? I thought the weather was better than last week. It was really hot,” she smiled, as we closed in on the infirmary, which seemed a nice, warm and cozy building made of wood and stone. “Here is the infirmary. Do you want to go and have some tea first in my office?”
I nodded in agreement, as we headed straight towards her office, and she ordered some tea, while we began to talk.
“So, how come you are still in Srinagar, Ms. Kaul? I mean, when all the Pandits were being pushed out of the Valley, what made you stay back? Did you not fear for your life?” I asked, as we sipped the tea that had come in.
“Well, it is difficult for me to state the reasons. There were threats against my family as well. My father, in fact, was shot dead a couple of years prior to the mass exodus of the Pandits by JKLF men; what is ironic is that the very people who shot him dead are today pretending to be moderate separatists of the Valley. I do not want to indulge into any useless political talk; that is not meant for me. I am a psychiatrist; my job is to look after people who are suffering from mental disorders arising due to various reasons in this state. I can only talk about my patients and what is wrong with them.”
The tone was non-committal and asked me indirectly to talk about the things we intended to, not which made little sense in this climate of obfuscation and confusion, and where only bitterness and frustration ringed in the air; where anger was both the cause and the effect of all problems. I quickly rescinded my ideas, and gulped down tea. “So, what is the general profile of your patients?”
“Oh, there are numerous. Some are primarily suffering from some disorders, wherein they keep having recurring nightmares. Others are suffering from depression due to the trauma of missing or encountered husbands. Then there is also the case of women who have been severe victims of sexual abuse as children, and also of domestic violence. Also, there are patients suffering from amnesia arising due to shocks that they received.”
I was hearing what Laaleshwari was saying, and wondered as to what had been achieved with all the meaningless violence in this land that God had created with a lot of care and passion. Somewhere, it is said that humanity invites against itself due to its actions. But why should the target be the people who were not at fault? Why are the women and children the victims always, while the bloodshed continues unabated? Why do people love to incite passions, while conveniently ignoring the same when they become a spent force, and leave them to fend for themselves, while they sit in their plush homes, having hot tea and discussing ways to brew storms in their teacups?
“And how do the families of patients treat you?” I asked, “I hope I am not getting very personal with that question.”
“No you are not,” she responded with a smile and a puzzled look accompanying each other on her face. “You do not have to apologize for transgress that you have not committed. Of course, it is rare to see families of the victims, you see. It is considered a stigma to be a patient with mental ailments still in this country…”
“You mean to say in Kashmir?”
“I mean in the whole of India, Mr. Rohit,” she corrected me politely, “and so these people rarely get any visitors. And those that do are usually to upset to interact with me.”
“But you must have had some interaction that is particularly memorable to you,” I insisted, while picking up my tea, which had been served.
“Actually there is one. It involved this woman named Ayesha, whose brother was an ardent worker for the People’s Conference. Apparently, when he got to know that I was the head here, he had refused to admit her sister here in the asylum. In fact, I was threatened to leave the Valley altogether,” she spoke in an off-hand manner, which took me by surprise. However, the tone suggested that it was something that happened too often with her.
“And then? What happened then?” I probed on, curious to know the outcome of the incident.
“Do you know Mr. Rohit, what significance does the name Laaleshwari hold for the true Kashmiri?” she posed the question in front of me. I nodded, and said that I researched about the spirit of Kashmiriyat, and what it meant to the local Kashmiris.
“Its good to meet a Delhi person who at least knows his Nund Rishis and Laaleshwaris,” she commented sarcastically, making me feel a tad uncomfortable, which I hid, being reluctant to reveal a vulnerability in my understanding of today’s Kashmir. “I chided him with a quote of Laaleshwari devi, which translates thus:
Shiva's present everywhere.
Where lies the creek to distinguish
Between a Hindu and a Mussalman?
Quick witted if you are,
Recognise yourself and realise God !
And then, I took her away with me, leaving a horde of fuming agitators behind. Today, however, that man has left the Conference, and does follow up on his sister regularly. In fact, he is one of the few people who follow up on the patients here. He even apologized to me for what he had said that time. Of course, I never was angry with him, so the question of apology never rose.”
I was sitting there, with the teacup still in my hand, looking at this woman of substance, who had defied everything: the bullets, the death threats, the bombings as well as the bullying at the hands of such groups as Jamaat-e-Islami and Dukhtaran-e-Millat, only to emerge stronger than ever, with a clearer resolve.
Before leaveing her, I asked a question that still lingers in my mind to the extent of haunting me, “Do you see the Kashmiri Pandits coming back to the Valley? Or at least, would your family ever return?”
She looked at me with an expression that I could not translate. “Mr. Rohit, I am not a political person; I never was. All I can say is that I can perhaps live with all the security around me as is given to me. But do you think that three hundred thousand Pandits would confine themselves to these prisons in a country where their freedom is as much a birthright as it is to the Muslims, and where they are equal stakeholders in the Valley as the others are? Should they live all holed up in the lands where they were born, and die that way? They would rather die in a foreign land than die as prisoners in their own homeland. Have a nice day.”
Soon, I was led away to see the women who were suffering from various kinds of ailments, and yet who share one thing with perhaps all women across the world: that they are victims.

I could not make the documentary. I quit that project after I returned to Delhi. I was too disturbed with all that I had seen in that sanitarium, and do not even wish to discuss that day with anyone. Suffice to say that is was something so bad, I get nightmares on that. However, I will never forget the woman of steel whom I had met that day. I pray to God now that the fate of Kashmir and its people is decided with voices like hers, and not some gun-toting or screaming lunatics. Also, I pray that the Kashmiri Pandits may one day be able to return to the land they can truly call their home. But the second prayer will not happen in my lifetime; I am sure of that. And perhaps, even Laaleshwari is certain on that, For honour is dear to all human beings, and Pandits today would not be granted that by anyone in the Valley.


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