These were the days between 85-90… most probably 88-89….i was in school. I dont remember the class. He used to come for tuitions from my dad. My father had this strange concept where from many of his tuition students he wouldnt accept fees. From many he accepted whatever the students affforded. Ma used to grumble at times that this used to lower his stature among others. After all who would respect a person who was not strict about the remuneration of his services? I tended to agree with my mother in those moments of her frustration. After all it was not that we were leading some luxurious life. In fact quite far from it. It was much later that i truly understood his POV. But thats another story. Right now we are talking about this guy. Such a shame i cannot remember his name. Because he was the first and one of the very few guys who left me awestruck with his sheer handsomeness. Yes, straight men at times do get that. But this guy was seriously good looking. He used some come for tuitions along with another friend of his. My father was immensely happy with his scholastic abilities. And i am sure that all the women around were really happy that he actually came around.
The problem with shy kids like me is that in spite of all the curiosity which i had regarding this person i never conjured up too much courage to talk to him. His good looks intimidated me. So imagine my shock when i realised one day that he was among one of the “special” category students of my dad! I mean how could a guy so good looking be in need for such assistance? It was at that time his aura dimmed a bit and i found some courage to befriend him. Do understand i was a gawky 13-14 year old at that time.
The guy (lets call him Rahul “naam to suna hoga”) was a kashmiri pandit. In fact i did not realise all that back then. News was not my favourite and whatever kept happening in the distant land of kashmir hardly bothered me. Rahul or lets call him Rahulda (as i would have addressed him if he had been Rahul) turned out to be one of the coolest and most fascinating folks around. We became fast friends and i would keep interupting the tuitions to hang out with him and get scolded by my father. Rahulda told me fascinating tales of his land. I has never seen snow back then. His tales of kashmir in winter filled up my imagination. I do remember one incident of his childhood that he had narrated to explain the concept of cold. Once during the winters after coming back from school he had gone out in the snow in just his gumboots along with a friend. In fifteen minutes he had to be carried back and had to take a foot-bath for half hour to get his feet back to normal. And elders told him he was an inch away from frost bite. Tales such as this and others about the land filled my young mind with all kinds of visions of some sort of Oz land. I had already decided that i would spend most of my life exploring new places.
Rahulda stopped coming suddenly a year or two later. It was 1990-91. We were also in the process of changing our houses and moving out of old Kolkata. All these changes had made him slip out of my mind.
A few years later i one day remembered and casually asked dad about Rahulda. And then dad told me about how he used to live in a smaller town in Kashmir. How he and his immediate family were forced out of their houses and the village. They came all the way to kolkata and were staying with one of their relatives. Then his parents went back to the valley after perhaps managing to strike on to something. Rahul stayed back to complete his studies. The obvious question of his sudden disappearance came up. And i saw my father’s face clouding up. Somewhere during the months of massacre of 90 Rahul stopped coming. A few months on his cousins in kolkata had sent a message to the college that Rahul had to rush back as some disaster had struck back in kashmir to his immediate family. Dad didn’t hear from him since. I remember our casual conversation ending suddenly in a pin drop silence. I guess both of us were buried in our troubled thoughts of what might have happened. By then i was in college. I used to read newspapers.
Later on in my career i met with another chilled out fellow. He was a colleague. One of the cool and composed guys around. A contrast to my hot-headedness. Lets call him Sam. Even under immense stress Sam would be in a position to crack some joke or make some fun. Soon it had become a daily ritual for me to spend good amount of time in his cabin, chatting away.
One day Sam did tell me his tale. His tale of how one day at midnight his world collapsed. How he as a teenager along with his family had to escape from Srinagar in the deep of the night. Of how since then he had to struggle on through life since. Of how that one night changed him. This was another occasion to get shocked. Never expected Sam to have gone through such experiences.
Today someone taunted me on “treatment of kashmiris” and my views or beliefs on that. Its a very difficult thought. How do you treat people who rob you of your home and kill your parents? In our “isms” and faiths we have bucketed the cause of the Rahuls and Sams and tagged them with the name “Kashmiri Pandit”. An uncomfortable irritant for the liberal apologists and a strategic weapon for the Rightists. And in all this the Rahuls and the Sams somewhere get lost. Sams somewhere found his footing and thank god for that. But even today rahulda haunts me on days like this. Where is he? How is he? Did he find his footing too? I hope he did…i really hope he did….so many of those one and a half lakh who were driven out of their homes, butchered, killed and exiled in their own homeland still struggle to find a footing.