Friday, February 5, 2016

The Last Kashmiri Pandit

It was dark, and it was getting colder with each passing moment. Must light the kangri now, thought Tejmohan, as he struggled to find it under the clouded skies, which indicated that it might just snow tonight. The matchsticks! he recalled, as he pulled them out of his pocket, and struck one which briefly revealed the secrecy of the kangri’s location. Tejmohan quickly scrambled towards it, and in a few moments, managed to light the remaining coal in it, while felt secure - cold, but secure under the part of the roof that was still intact.

The snow had begun to fall, and he winds picked up speed. The chill was getting into his bones; the pheran proved no good tonight. His blankets were kept in the prayer room, which was at the other end of the house. But it would prove to be dangerous, as parts of the house were already broken, and he might fall through. What then? Who would help him in the entire village of ghosts and lost souls?

The winds were howling and screaming loudly; sometimes, the howling can sound identical to the screams of witches. And they were the only sounds left to be heard that night, other than the animals and the winds and perhaps rain and snow. But no humans were left in there. Tejmohan was old, and hobbled a bit. No, he thought; I should crawl across, so that I do not fall down, and began to crawl along the floor, his hands being his eyes for the moment in the darkness that had pretty much engulfed his life for good.

As he moved about, Tejmohan recalled the day, when everyone was packing up. Pandit Arjun Wakhloo, his son, his daughter in law and his grandsons had been shot dead last night. This was not the first time that something of this nature had not occurred in Kashmir; but it will not be the last, thought a worried people, as they scrambled to gather whatever was of value to them, so that they could leave. Tejmohan had tried hard to convince them not to leave.

“They are our brothers; these people were foreigners. Our brothers will save us.”

“Where were they last night uncle, when your son was shot?”
”Abbas was also among the gunmen. I recognized him by the colour of his eyes! He did not even flinch once when he pumped bullets into Arjun’s body. Was he not a friend of Arjun’s son?”

Tejmohan was left alone with a few families, while almost everyone else ran away to Jammu in a refugee camp! What could be more humiliating, thought Tejmohan, as he crawled along, than living in a refugee camp? But nobody was listening to him then; nobody was left behind to listen to him now.

Tejmohan’s hands detected a hole in the floor, and he quietly thanked Shiva, while he slife sidewats, and began to move towards the puja room. It was no less than a miracle that the puja room was the only room left unharmed in the house that day. He shivered as he recalled how a bunch of terrorists came along, and threw grenades (did they call them that?) all over, on every Pandit house in the village. Broken glass flew, screams pierced the air, as the terrorists and their supporters screamed in absolute delirium.
Ae zaalimon, ae buzdilon, Kashmir hamara chhod do!” (O torturers, O infidels, leave our Kashmir alone!)

Kashmir mein agar rehna hai, toh Allahu-Akbar kehna hai!”(If you have to live in Kashmir, you have to say Allah-u-Akbar (hint at being Muslim.))

In the meantime, a few sirens, and a few bullets sprayed everywhere, and after a few hours, everything went quiet.

Tejmohan had walked out that day. It was perhaps the last time he would do so, to see if anyone was left alive. His worst fears were confirmed; no Pandit was left alive. He was the only one left.

Finally, he reached the room. He remembered that he had to perform his daily evening puja. A Pandit, cannot leave his duties, come what may. Shiva is everywhere, he remembered, and as a Hindu he could not give up on his remembrance of that very Being that sustained him. Thanks to some old Muslim friends in other villages, who left him things he needed every few weeks. He did not come out in front of them, but would be reassured when they would tell him about the trout they brought for Hayrath or when the apples had been harvested from the orchards that once belonged to his brother, but were now owned by some person from Srinagar, or when good quality ghee would be left behind for his pujas.

He started reciting the Ganesha stuti, as he lit the lamps, whose lights created a ghostly aura in the darkness of that night. He began singing Shiva bhajans; the only thing that gave him solace from tonight’s chill, as he felt the chill rise in his body, and realized it crawling slowly towards his heart. He began to lose his senses, as he heard choruses of Pandit voices singing Bel Tay Madal with him in the background. Maybe he was dreaming; maybe he was hallucinating. He began remembering that Hayrath in Sriangar where he saw Muslim friends of his swim across the Jhelum towards the Ganpatyar banks to retrieve the pots and the soaked walnuts in them; and the fragrance of the smoked trouts started to overwhelm his senses. He heard loudly how the Hayrath Salaams were being drowned by the slogans from those mosques asking them, the original inhabitants of the Valley, to leave. He remembered that day when he had prayed at Nund Reshi’s grave, blurring out against the bloodshed he witnessed every day.

And yet, the vakhs of Laleswari rang loud in the skies, overpowering every other word that he thought of. She called for Shiva, and Shiva it seems was coming towards him in His full brilliance, blinding him out altogether.

Slowly, Pandit Tejmohan Sapru kept the lamp down, and covered himself in the blankets, and laid down to rest as a proud Kashmiri Pandit that fateful night, when the last Kashmiri Pandit of the village passed away in sleep, to give company to the spirits of the Bhattas that roam in the Valley, seeking vengeance in blood for what happened to them.

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