Coming from a fast moving life of hustle and bustle of New Delhi with a 9-5 desk job, my life had become monotonous to the extent that I was on a verge of mental breakdown, if only I had not volunteered for this get away trip with my friends. You can call me Sameer and I am a software engineer working for a multi-national company based in Gurgaon. I was convinced in my heart that in a short life span of 26 years and slightly more than 3 months, I have seen parts and parcel of struggle which comes with a human life; I thought that nobody would have been through so much struggle that I face every day.
But my false accomplishment and pride was shattered when I witnessed an altogether different aspect of life on the trip to Kashmir. We moved in a group of 11 people and had decided to venture out onto a virgin part of land with very limited number of civilized people dwelling there. So after an extensive search on Internet we homed down to a place called Bangus Valley. The videos on internet were mesmerizing and attracted us to that place. We started our journey, which was amazingly picturesque and scenic but around 4 kms short of our destination we met a road end from where we were supposed to start on our foot journey. Thanks to our guardian angel and a local boy of around 21 years who helped us to complete the trek. It was a tedious climb through narrow footpaths and makeshift wooden bridges, which led us finally into the Bangus Valley. This short distance came out to be too long for us and we took around three hours to reach the destination. Hence time outplayed us and our plan was not a plan anymore. Per force we had to look out for some place to spend our night at and once again the young guardian angel offered us a place to stay in locally made makeshift dhoks of the villagers. We were both excited and a little nervous at the same time. We had no other option than to surrender to his offer.
Everything in the area looked around perfect and out of the planet that I had earlier never witnessed, a different world altogether but there was someone who attracted me like a magnet and involuntarily my steps moved in his direction, and I just sat next to him in complete awe. I still very clearly remember his milky eyes with a solid gaze, weatherworn face and wore an angelic smile always. His composure complimented with his attire and in a confident voice made a verbal communication with me “Aap kahan se aaye?” where do you come from, he asked me and in a flimsy voice I could only reply “New Delhi”. He somehow ascertained my discomfort and started talking politely like a Nursery Teacher to a toddler coming to school for the very first time. We got in a comfortable conversation and I started to ask about him, his family and his village with some non-interested questions thrown at me in between, he had so much to say and so little to ask as if my world and sufferings are too petty in front of his.
Muhafiz, 83 years old man is the chowkidar (Muhafiz) of his village. Since ages his family is appointed as the chowkidars and is responsible for the safety and security of their village. He narrated various incidents where militants used to come and loot items from their houses. They would demand for ration and food and at once fill the entire house with muck and foul smell of gun powder. “There were times when the villagers had to bring ration on loan so as to fill these demon bellies, and in return they would spare our lives and women”.
Every infant slept in fear, youngsters slept with shoes on, in order to run whenever required and women slept hidden. The days were always longer and nights dreadful. Muhafiz and his family in a sense had failed to perform their duty and this thought would eat his conscience every day and night, his village was just at the foothills and next to the Jungle, Indian Army had already launched Counter Terrorists operations but was still far from reaching his village.
One day Muhafiz took a step and reached out to a senior ranked officer of the Army seeking help in protecting their village but they required land to establish themselves, to which Muhafiz replied “Sahab Jaan hai toh Zameen ka kuchh karenge” (I can till my land only if I am alive) and very happily offered his hard earned land to the Army, so that they come and establish peace and prosperity in his village and once again he could restore his self-esteem and pride of being the muhafiz of his village. “jabse humari fauj yahan aayi hai, hum aram se raat ko soye hain” (since, our Army has taken over here, we have slept in peace). This was his sentence which so brilliantly summarises everything happening in Kashmir.
Everything about the trip is fresh in my mind. I’ve learned a lot and lots of questions are still unanswered like what makes a man pick up arms against their own? What makes them loot the pride of others? Why did a man give away his entire land earned since generations for a cause and do not even regret his decision?. To sum up this short narration I would sincerely thank the armed forces working in the valley, who were instrumental in establishing peace in the region and because of them, now we can freely go around Kashmir and have an insight into the valley.