As I stepped into the house, it seemed I had come home.
The room we sat in was like any other room in Srinagar. A printed blue sheet on the soft flooring, embroidered drapes, all typical of a downtown Srinagar house.
The TV set tucked away in a corner. There was a whiff of Kashmir all around: the crockery, the TV covers, the doormats.
But I was three hundred kilometres south of Srinagar.
Located by a canal in Jammu, this was my first ever visit to a Kashmiri Pandit house.
I belong to a generation of Kashmiri Muslims that has not seen a Kashmiri Pandit in its neighbourhood, had no Pandit boy as a friend, no Pandit teacher to boast of, no Pandit colleague to stroll with on the banks of Jhelum…
Unlike our elders, the post-1989 generation in Kashmir has no fascinating stories to tell about their Pandit teachers. No tale of Pandit teacher toiling hard to make his Muslim student learn calculus and the alimentary canal.
Being a Kashmiri Muslim, it was amazing to watch the Pandits speaking the same language, playing host astonishingly similarly.
As I sat on the floor at MK Bharat's house, I was benumbed and turned into a statue for a while. As a large plastic sheet was rolled across to serve tea, I had mixed bag of feelings — one that of joy and two deep sense of guilt.
It is a guilt I have to live with throughout my life.
But what way joyous moment was when I sipped tea. It was my first tea in the last 28 years I had sitting next to a Pandit family.
Breaking the silence in the room, his wife pointed towards bakery on plates, said “Che chukh ne tulani keh, yeh chuni kehen (You are not having anything, it is nothing).”
It acted as a trigger. I started finishing the plate full of cheese pokaras (cheese fried in special flour). It was not hunger but joy to having my first tea at a Pandit house living near a one of the Kashmiri migrant camps in Jammu.
Mr Bharat’s son Aditya started us talking on his favourite subjects: books and movies.
My perception of a Kashmiri Pandit in the Valley was that he is ‘something’ who speaks a different language, eats differently, and behaves differently. I believed that our only link was that we shared our land at some point of time.
But I was wrong. They swear like us and curse like us.