The sky seems sad and it’s dreary today. The rain slowly cuts through the cold and everyone seems to be rejoicing as the sheen, the snow starts to fall. I feel awfully lonely in the small deserted house that stands on two canals of land -as the occupants have been driven away by the cold. Even the mice in the attic seem to have jumped ship…the sound of rain has quitened them down. I long for the comfort of familiarity and head towards the Dal. My solitude gets crowded by words that hang in the air.
Yesterday- “What are you doing here?”, asks my, let’s call her my Jawahar Nagar friend (J.N.F), as we eat enormous portions of food at Books and Bricks, a newly opened cafe in Srinagar. She’s continually perplexed by my winter visits. Collecting diamonds, I think to myself. “I’m doing what Mina was doing!” “Who?”, she questions. Her reaction makes me realize I hear parts of local lore, only a certain class in Kashmir is privy to. I was told this by my assistant who heard it from his father.
“So according to local lore, there was once a European traveller who fell in love with Kashmir. I don’t know how but they say he came and never went back. He would sit at a particular spot, throwing stones into the Dal and would feel mighty pleased looking at the water droplets that gleamed on the Pamposh flower. To him they looked like diamonds. Apparently, when his family would ask him what he was doing in Kashmir, he would say, ‘I’m collecting diamonds!’. He eventually died in the Valley and somewhere in Srinagar, lies his grave. So, what I’m doing here is as fruitful as what Mina was doing”, I replied.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve really wanted to get married!”, says my 33 year old, single, incredibly independent, lawyer friend. She’s very distracted by the boy in glasses who sits behind me, reading. “I want my husband to be tall and I really like guys who wear specs!”. “Don’t your parents want you to get married?”, she inquires. Religion, Politics and Marriage, in that order seem to be the hot topics of discussion in Kashmir. “My Mom does but my Dad is like Amitabh’s character from Piku. My entire life, I haven’t been questioned about my wear abouts or what time I was coming home but ever since the itna chunga munda, my ex has started seeing someone my Dad is up each night, waiting for his daughter to come home, so worried she might fall in love and elope with someone. He’s constantly telling me how bad boys are, how I’m too strong willed to adjust with a man and how terrible marriage is. Basically, Bhaskor Banerjee!” She finds it amusing and liberating… I roll my eyes. “Not that it makes me a difference because I just don’t want to!”. As I utter these words, I think of the row on New Year’s Eve.
NEW YEAR’S EVE- For the past, I don’t even recall how many years now, I’ve spent this night…sleeping. But to get out of my self inflicted solitary confinement this New Year’s Eve, I went out for a quiet dinner with my landlady and her son to Caffea Arabica at The Broadway. Though, the most popular coffee shop in Srinagar was unusually unpeopled, it was hardly a quiet and serene environment. Popular Bollywood songs, like “Jumme ki Raat he” blared from the vicinity. Apparently, a private party had been hosted by someone inside the hotel. A group of women giggled their way into the Cafe and asked one of the waiters to take a picture, after which they quickly made their way towards the music. We finished, our slightly cold but scrumptious meal and I excused myself to go the washroom. I stood outside for a while, waiting for the occupant to exit…in a while two, slightly tipsy women stumbled out of the loo. As soon as I stepped in, the very tempting, seductive smell of cigarette smoke enveloped me. Though, I’ve quit…I’ve yet to reach a point where I’m indifferent towards it. A candle stood burning at the window sill…’Asiya Andrabi, thinks that New Year celebrations are UnIslamic…The Millat would have a field day here. The people in Delhi who are constantly talking about the repressed state of Muslim women would be pleasantly surprised, too’, I thought to myself as I came out. Most women from privileged backgrounds in Kashmir are alot like my girlfriends/sisters in Delhi- actually no, the Kashmiris are better educated and are rarely dependent on their spouses. But there is an underlying hypocrisy about Kashmiri society, probably due to the conflict. The people of the Vale operate from behind a Veil.
Anyhow, I come home before midnight so that I can chat with the boy who waits rather impatiently, now. Since it is the beginning of a New Year, he assumes that I would be ready…enough time has passed. But it’s difficult to drill any sense into my head…I’m so damn adamant. He looses his cool as the clock strikes 12…I start 2016 saying-‘The only time we really want something is when we can’t have it.’