Many years ago while sitting thousands of kilometers away and quite unaware of the ground reality in Jammu and Kashmir, I came across this famous quote by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir “Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast” (“If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here”). There is no denying the fact that these words were instrumental in arousing my curiosity for this place. The visuals of Dal lake with floating houseboats, snow clad Himalayas, the breathtaking glaciers, gardens neatly manicured with chinar trees, the mighty Jhelem gushing through the valley and beautiful people showcasing their unique culture, made such an enchanting panorama in my mind that at times I used to feel envious of those blessed people who lived there. But ironically, little did I know that a place as serene as a paradise had long been infected with deadly viruses such as insurgency and terrorism. When, how and why this blessing became a curse is a point to introspect for all of us as humans. Jahangir’s Kashmir resembled a beautiful damsel blushing in hues of red aptly mirroring the chinar leaves of autumn. Whereas the Kashmir that we have seen in recent times is a reflection of a helpless vagrant. Though she is still smitten in crimson, but unfortunately with blood oozing out from her burned and bruised self. As an aftermath of prolonged armed conflict, the place which should have been cheerful and vibrant with constant footfalls of tourists has now become deserted and forlorn. The sad truth about this fiasco is that fear, distrust, uncertainty and gloom has crept in the society… hindering its survival and growth. As a result of growing up in a conflict zone the children are subjected to constant trauma such as anxiety of separation and death. We also get to hear a lot about mental health issues that has cropped up in the region. Unfortunately, the youngsters are the worst affected in the whole process as they are robbed off their innocence far too early in their lives something that no child should be deprived off. As children have a tendency to imitate what they perceive from the world around them it becomes all the more difficult for them to avoid getting influenced by untoward incidents that take place around them. Moreover, the day to day discussions of these impressionable minds are also quite different unlike the children growing up in a more peaceful place. With schools being closed due to curfew every now and then and minimal constructive engagement some of these kids indulge in meaningless discussions and activities.
Interestingly, a place doesn’t determine the talent quotient of its inhabitants instead it decides how equipped it is to nurture their talent and help them evolve. God bestows upon each of his creations the power to excel but how do we utilize that power is up to our free will. However, amidst heart wrenching stories of youth being swayed by radical thinking and thereby engaging in anti-social activities in Jammu and Kashmir, we also hear about individuals who have made their mark in spite of all odds. For instance, the phenomenal story of child prodigy Tajamul Islam winning world kick boxing championship for India or the achievements of television sensations like Shaheer Sheikh and Hina Khan. Or, for that matter the success story of Athar Amir-ul-Shafi Khan, an officer in Indian Administrative Service, acts as a silver lining on an otherwise dark and gloomy cloud. Thinking about Athar’s journey… from Anantnag to Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi and from there to Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy for Administration, Mussoorie has been exemplary. Similarly, other known and unknown faces from the region have also dared to defy all odds and dream differently. Their success depicts the true nature of the human race, i.e. a strong instinct to survive in the face of elimination. Perhaps, we are designed in such a way that we are in a constant pursuit of opportunities that would take us to a better situation than the existing one. After all, nobody wants to remain stuck in a deep and dark den eternally, therefore we tend to get attracted to even a small flickering light that we find because it could be a sign of a possible way out to a brighter future ahead. In such cases, the parent’s role becomes all the more significant as they anchor the puzzled child to take a detour while tactfully avoiding the roadblocks so that their children are able to reach their destination. No doubt, these known or unknown achievers pose as a role model for many… as the youngsters watch every move that they make and get inspired to follow the trails that these idols lay along the way.
There could have been another name in the above list of achievers – Zaira Wasim. The way she thumped her way with her remarkably flawless acting skill into mainstream hindi cinema is simply mind blowing. But quite recently, she gave a jolt to the whole nation by announcing to quit cinema. Who could have imagined that the gifted girl who made the whole country awestruck with each outing at the box office would make such a decision. For many of us who live far away from the shambles that Jammu and Kashmir deals with, it resembles a maze full of Rashomon effect, where one could easily get disillusioned and lost because at every juncture it presents a different version of the same story. I often wonder, what could have been the real reason behind her exit or rather what made her to crack-up? No doubt, the entertainment industry comes with its own share of stress and pressure which could possibly pose as a huge burden on a young shoulder. Besides, time and again she has also been subjected to extra scrutiny and grinding than what was called-for. Right from the beginning of her stint in cinema there have been instances where separatists did not take things that she did or the people that she met in a good light. Therefore, Zaira had to endure their constant verbal lashing. During those days, it was hard for me to comprehend her fearful, apologetic and calculated behavior. But gradually, I realized how difficult life must have been for her and numerous children like her who grow up in the backyard of terror. Let’s not forget that years of living in fear and being oppressed takes a huge toll on the psyche of an individual.
Even Though, I genuinely wish Zaira is able to deal with her inner turmoil and figure out the real purpose of her life so that she lives a contented life but deep within… I still can’t lose hope that someday she might realize the fact that she has been gifted with a wonderful talent by the almighty which should not go in vain. I still can’t understand how a profession can become a hindrance to one’s faith and religion (as stated by her before quitting acting)? Personally, I feel one can serve God by performing one’s occupational duties well. Haven’t we heard of artists being closer to God? By being part of meaningful projects she could have been closer to the creator as well and his creations. But presuming her decision was governed by external factors, for instance if she was scared of becoming an outcast in the eyes of fundamentalists and society or perhaps a threat to her family’s life then it is a matter of concern. In that case it would be shameful for all of us as that would mean that we have failed in protecting the interests of our children. This reminds me of an African saying, “It takes an entire village to raise a child.” The society as a whole has a responsibility to take care of and protect the children. Interestingly, a society not just comprises of only ordinary people from all walks of life instead it also includes politicians, fundamentalists and separatist alike. These people possess within themselves the power to influence people. And unfortunately, this could be a colossal problem for any society as its so-called stalwarts fail to understand that due to their squabbling over fringy and petty matters the development of innocent souls get hampered. Moreover, living in such a melancholic environment affects the mental well being of the people. In the past we have witnessed incidents where children and young adults were mobilized to participate in stone pelting activity or take up arms. I wonder if the people who instigate the youth to indulge in such things encourage their own children to participate in them? Or, do they conveniently play with the fate of others children while tactfully shielding their own progeny with security cover? It is so pathetic to see the inability in refraining from double standards, by the same people who holds a responsible position in the society.
In the present scenario with Jammu and Kashmir becoming a union territory of India, I hope it brings dawn of a new era in this region. While the world has its eyes glued on this part of the country, it is up to all of us to show maturity and sensitivity in handling this issue. And gradually, help it to re-discover and prepare itself to come face to face with Jahangir’s idea of ‘heaven on earth’. No doubt, as of now it might be limping or rather clawing back to normalcy but with proper vision, support and patience from all quarters it could stand on its feet and this could be a turning point for the residents of Jammu and Kashmir and for the whole country. The real achievement for us would be when Kashmiri society regains its vigor and come into the mainstream. This could happen when their youth get to enjoy equal opportunities just like their peers from other parts of the country. Moreover, when there is none with vested interest to manipulate their sentiments and beliefs, that is when they would march towards a brighter future without having an iota of fear or doubt . After all, just like every child on earth they too are entitled to feel happy, free, secured and most importantly… to dream.
– By Aradhana Basu Das