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I can never understand the pain of the unknown soldier and the letters he writes home. I am an outsider in Kashmir, writes Neelesh Misra.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2008 19:39 IST
Neelesh Misra
Neelesh Misra
Hindustan Times

I am an outsider in Kashmir.

I have been travelling there for much of my career as a journalist, I am married into a Kashmiri Pandit family, and some of my closest friends are Kashmiris. I love the voices of Kashmir's celebrated singers Rashid Hafiz and Kailash Mehra. I have written a few of my popular Bollywood songs with inspiration from the turbulent solitude of Kashmir's roads. My next book extensively features Kashmir. I can even understand a few sentences in Kashmiri, and after an animated discussion in Kashmiri between friends, I can shock them with one of the few Kashmiri sentences I know: "Mecchu Souri Taraan Phikree (I understood everything).

And yet, I am an outsider in Kashmir.

I am someone who has no idea how Kashmir operates at its various mysterious, intriguing levels. I can never feel the pain that has seeped into the blood of hundreds of thousands of people living surrounded by death for years, for whom the first sight of the morning, when they open their windows looking for the warmth of the cosy sun, is a military bunker with an armed man.

I can never hear the growl of the army or paramilitary man when he brusquely asks me to pull over at a barricade and humiliates me in front of my family; I can never squint at the sight of the harsh torchlight that he flashes in my face in the night, I can never feel his rough hands on my body as he searches me for bombs, I can never hear the hostility in his voice as he lets me go. The militants have given Kashmir immense pain - but the crushing response of the Indian government has made that pain fade in comparison.

And I can never feel the tragedy of being treated like an outsider in my own land.

I am an outsider.

I can never imagine how it looks, watching from inside that barb wire, sand bag-protected bunker with the little light bulb. I can never be that man from a faraway Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu or Jharkhand, wearing a heavy bulletproof vest and holding a machinegun, fighting a war someone else created, and for which he must now give his life. The man watching out for his invisible enemy who comes holding a grenade under the pheran; the lonely, often terrified man who kills not so much to kill the militant or the innocent Kashmiri, but to save his own life in a strange land that was thrust upon him by the same people who thrust military occupation on the picturesque land.

I can never understand the pain of the unknown soldier and the letters he writes home. I am an outsider in Kashmir.

And I can never know what is like to be driven out like an outsider from Kashmir. I can never know what it is like to be a Kashmiri Pandit. The minority whose fault was that they were bright, prosperous, did well in life, and were nationalists at heart. The people who were threatened, killed, hounded and ridiculed and forced to leave their homeland - with their pain never understood by either India or Kashmiris.

I can never feel for their tragedy. I am an outsider.

And perhaps some day I will acquire the brains to understand why the Indian taxpayer's money - which includes my money - goes into the Black Hole of governance where New Delhi issues blank cheques once in a while to buy peace and loyalty in Kashmir and it vanishes without trace in the rarefied air of the valley.

Perhaps someday I will acquire the brains to understand why Indian taxpayer money is used to pump favours to the same men who abuse India and the idea of India.

I am outsider in Kashmir.

But I am embarking on an exciting journey across hundreds of kilometres that will bring me face to face with these and numerous other faces of Kashmir - tragic, poignant, funny, heartwarming, sad …

And then, after those three weeks spent in Kashmir, maybe I will less of an outsider.

First Published: Nov 09, 2008 00:11 IST