They were surveying me with interest, a group of 20-odd boys and girls from different parts of Jammu and Kashmir. They were in Delhi as part of an ongoing initiative by NGO Yakjah, the idea being if these people met and shared their experiences, they would forge a stronger bond and develop a better understanding of each other's issues and aspirations.
The ones from Kashmir were milling around me because many of them had never seen a Kashmiri Pandit in person before. They had only heard about them from their parents and grandparents. How could they? Their stories began just as our chapter in the Valley was coming to an end.
There was a girl who lived in the same locality - Kanya Kadal near Habba Kadal - where our house stood. And yet 20 years separated us, could-have-been neighbours. It wasn't their clothes, their English spoken with a Kashmiri accent (tchs and phhs), or their academic accomplishments (management, law and journalism students), or their uninhibited leg-shaking to 'Munni badnam hui' that surprised me. The internet can be a great leveller in many ways to many people.
What set these young people apart from Kashmiri men and women of my generation and the generation after that was the absence of hate for the 'other'.
They did not seem to care about the political bickerings over J&K, the question of belonging or not belonging to the Indian State and the tug of war with Pakistan. In fact, as we discussed the politics of the Valley, someone mentioned the acronym 'JKLF' which someone else opened as 'Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh Friends'.
What these young people did have was a passion for life, a refreshing curiosity, and most importantly they carried no dregs of hate.
An organiser told me how a young lady from Sopore had rushed out of her house to apprehend a group of stone-throwers last year when the agitation was at its peak. "She told me that she just wasn't convinced that the solution lay in hurling stones," said the coordinator. Another young man told me that he didn't care about India or Pakistan or freedom. "Freedom for me is the opportunity for self-development."
Some of their lightness rubbed off on me. As I drove away from the 'chill party', for the first time in many years I told myself I needn't worry about the Valley. It had found its safekeepers. Its future was in safe hands.