Are you a Kashmiri?

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Are you a Kashmiri? was the question the boy, with whom I shared the cabin of the Sleeper class compartment of Sampark Kranti Express on my way to Delhi, asked as soon as I completed my two Rakahs (Qasr) of Isha. I was kept guessing as to why should my being a Kashmiri take the credit for my religiousness but I preferred to continue the conversation. And as it turned out to be, the whole family joined the conversation and as a mark of pride the boy began to show me photographs he had clicked on his trip to Kashmir a year back. Furthermore, they told me about their Kashmiri Pandit neighbours and their closeness to them as a mark of being close to and loving Kashmir and Kashmiris. And they even went a step further and offered me and my friends a share in their dinner which we politely managed to evade as we had already packed our bags with dining stuff.

Probably, I felt pride for my identity and I got to know that there are still people who love us, love Kashmiris, different from all the stereotypes! After this conversation I could say to myself that it was a good start to a journey which many students like me had taken in the past and had returned Framed, Damned, Acquitted in order of the mention! I felt proud to be a Kashmiri!

Next, I was waiting with two of my friends at a Delhi Metro station and i noticed an Angrezi man (Englishman) taking notes while he was standing in the queue. He had a wolverine style half-beard which seemed to me as atrocious a style as thebehaviorof people while boarding or deboarding the Metro! I followed that man into the compartment and started the conversation. He happened to be a freelance journalist working for BBC and was reporting on Tourism. After introducing myself as a Kashmiri, he was pretty amused as were the other travelers in the metro whodidnteven blink at the sight of a Kashmiri boy-with-a-skull-cap interacting at ease with an English journo. He had been to Kashmir in 2010 and talked about the tensions there but admitted keeping himself away from political reporting focusing instead on Tourism only. After exchanging pleasantries we parted. He went towards the Bahai temple and our next stop was Nehru Place.

Nehru Place a shopping haven for electronic goods was where a friend of mine had to get a laptop. After much haggling and comparison we finally settled for one! As the showroom owner was drafting the bill he started the conversation by addressing me as, Khan Saab! Kashmir se ho? (you are from Kashmir?) He then enquired about the situation in Kashmir and about terrorism in Kashmir. The T word struck like a bolt from the blue but I maintained my composure. I could well have given him a modified form of the SRK dialogue as My name is not Khan and I am not a terrorist but I preferred a straightforward answer and said, It depends (on perception). I answered in this manner with the hope that he would ask more but he, probably, sensing my dissidence with his views shifted the conversation towards a more common theme Tourism! I guess people from Naxal affected states of India are never asked about Naxalism neither are people from Assam asked about the ULFA insurgency nor are people from Nagaland asked about NSCN terrorism. So why me?

My next stop was my exam-centre where I met a few fellow engineering students some of whom invited me for a cup of tea whereas others were comfortable asking questions and answering some of mine, for some last minute brush-up of concepts just before the exam. While travelling back alone to my friends in an overcrowded metro, I had in fellow travelers some policemen, contemporary students and some pan-stained-mouth unruly young men ogling at jeans clad girls!

One has to behave as an ultra-polite person so as not to invite the uneasy glances of the elderly travelers as well as others suspecting yet another terrorist attack! One has to smile at people staring at you, seemingly till eternity, and not expecting a smile back!

And I wonder similar could be the circumstances in which young Kashmiri students get picked up only to be Framed, Damned and finally Acquitted without any charge! And aptly, one of my friends who called me while I was travelling in the metro exclaimed, Akeley!? (Alone!?) after I told him I was travelling alone! And at a personal level, one has to be always mentally prepared to negotiate such a situation having read about many fellow Kashmiris being held on the mere basis of suspicion! And it is because I am a Kashmiri!

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Shah Tavseef Mairaj is a Chemical Engineering graduate from Srinagar. He can be reached at his blog http://kashmired.blogspot.in and tweets at @TavseefM

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