Summers in the Machhal Valley in Kashmir makes the famous quote of Amir Khusro on Kashmir “Gar Bar-ru-e-Zamin Ast Hamm Ast Hamin Ast Hamin Ast” more relevant. Honestly this was the first thought which hit my mind when I first saw my transfer order for Kashmir. The gushing Machhal River, picturesque surrounding lush green forest, aroma of Pine trees & chirping of birds around truly makes it a heaven on earth. Kashmir is not just random place for me but an emotion, a beauty beyond words. Tasked to keep this untouched beauty safe, I was positioned on the border fence in Machhal area to counter any infiltration attempt by the terrorists intending to disharmonize the valley.
It was the rising dawn of 21st of July, 2021 and breeze whistling around the valley, little birds orchestrating symphony with the gurgling water of Machhal River, I was out on an area domination patrol soon after joining my battalion following a strong intelligence input of a few terrorists planning to infiltrate from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to the forest of Kalaban. Patrol all equipped to counter & eliminate any threat during conduct was supposed to carry out a search of a few isolated Dhoks (wooden huts in the forest) where terrorists may take shelter. The route to the Dhoks was along with the treacherously steep slopes. My team progressing tactically with utmost caution reached our patrol base which was around 300 meters from the Dhoks. With three more soldiers I moved ahead stealthily to observe Dhoks from closer distance, while carrying out reconnaissance unlike normal days there was a very less movement around the Dhoks, I only saw Firdaus Khan who works as an Army Porter a native of Ringpayeen village collecting firewood with his son. However, still suspicious I got my team deployed ahead and I approached further closer to Firdaus. He saw me and said, “Jai hind Saab” with a cheerful smile, after exchanging "Eid" greetings with him and his son I asked about his Khairiyat (well being) and whereabouts of other villagers. He told me that due to heavy rains for last two days others have not come yet.
As we were exchanging greetings, I heard a voice in excellent english accent, “Would you like to have a cup of tea or kahwah". Pleasantly surprised I looked towards the Dhok and saw a curious smiling; teenager girl wearing a light blue color Salwar kurta with a lilac dupatta covering her head, wishing her Id Mubarak I replied “yes of course” & appreciated her fine English accent. The glittering ambitious twinkling eyes of that girl left me curious to know more about her. Firdaus told me that she is his daughter presently studying in Bangalore in class 11th and was here for the festival. I complemented him on his efforts to make her daughter study and progress. He expressed his gratitude towards Indian Army that has not only provided employment to him but also took care of studies of his children by sponsoring their initial education. She aspires to become a doctor, and serve the people of village. Despite pursuing her education in Bangalore one of the Metropolitan city of India, at home she was still a simple Kashmiri girl carrying fire woods from forest, helping her mother in house hold.
Shehnoor was her name, a brilliant confident girl with ambitions in her eyes from a small village at the border of India & Pakistan where education is not a priority, fighting her all odds determined to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. After around 20 minutes of conversation and assuring that there is no threat to Firdaus & his family I left the Dhoks confident of one thing that Kashmir badal raha hai, this is a Naya Kashmir I want to see in future ‘a progressive peaceful Kashmir’, what can be more pious on Id-ul-Adha than this. A small interaction with Shehnoor taught me that, life is not just about where you are but about how you create it for yourself. Living up to her name has brought a ray of hope for girls of her village by setting a new benchmark and breaking all shackles, being a first girl in her village to step out of home, study and determined to pursue her dreams and made her contribution towards society. It gave me a hope that in a place far from urban civilisation confronting not only climatic challenges but other adversities. There are people with clear vision of their future goals all set to overcome the daunting struggles and fulfil their life’s purpose giving all of us a ray of hope.