It was when my mother took me to Chrar-e-Sharief, one of the most revered shrines in the Kashmir valley. It is the resting place of Sufi saint Sheikh Noor-ud-Din or Nund Rishi. His sayings were handed down to generation after generation by word of mouth till about 200 years after his death.
Ashaq suy yus ashqa sati daziy
Svan zan prazales panun paan
Ashaqun dou d yas valinji saziy
Suy ada vatiy Laamakaan.
A lover is he who burns with love,
Like gold will glitter his own self;
The one, whose heart is afflicted with love,
Will surely attain the Infinite self.
On the doorway leading to the shrine, one was immersed in the fragrance of incense sticks. Hundreds of thousands of threads lay tied to almost every non-movable structure symbolic of wishes asked for and wishes granted. Above the wooden structure of the shrine, doves, hundreds of them, fluttered in unison, offering themselves as the flags of the saint.
As mother began to enter the main door, holding me by my hand, a dervish blocked our way. He was wearing a green pheran (traditional Kashmiri loose-coat). He was mumbling something and, in between, his voice rose. This went on for minutes. And when he finally opened his eyes, he took out a big lump of sugar and gave it to me. Then he held me by my arm and pointing towards me, he told my mother, He has to come back.
That dervish has haunted me for years, occurring in my dreams, when I lay in delirium or lived the most tumultuous moments of my life. You have to come back, he only says this much.
I wonder whether that dervish ever told the same thing to Ashraf. Ashraf crossed the Line of Control in early 90s. He did come back, but brought along with him few AK-47s, hand grenades and rocket launchers. He had joined the JKLF. In 1997, he was killed by security forces. Apparently, they had been tipped off about his movements by the rival Hizbul Mujahideen cadre, who suspected Ashraf of providing information about their men to the Army. But his killing did not satiate the Hizbul thirst for blood. A month later there was a knock at his residence in downtown Srinagar. His mother opened the door. They pushed her away and asked Ashrafs brother Jaleel to accompany them. Jaleel was a student of Chemistry at the Amar Singh college. A very bright student, who wanted to become a scientist, his professors later said. For over a year, nobody knew about the fate of Jaleel. Till one day when security forces arrested a few Hizbul men. They told a story in a matter-of-fact tone. On the same day when Jaleel was taken away, they took him inside an apple orchard. They had dug a grave under an apple tree. They shot Jaleel in his legs and kicked him inside the grave. He was begging for water, the Hizbul men told their interrogators. They plucked a big Ambur (a special apple variety) and shoved it inside his mouth. Then they filled the grave with earth, burying him inside. Alive.
I also dont know whether the dervish has ever appeared before Prana Ganjoo and told her, You have to come back. Unconfirmed reports suggest that she was last seen outside a house in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. It may not be true but then Police in Kashmir are yet to confirm her death. Who is Prana Ganjoo
Prana is (was) the wife of Professor K L Ganjoo. He happened to be a resident of Kashmirs apple town Sopore; he taught at the local agricultural college. Like lakhs of his fellow community members, Professor Ganjoo chose not to migrate to Jammu. His friends and relatives had warned him of the danger that his decision could put him through. But he did not pay a heed to their advice. The Professor told them that this is where he had lived throughout his life and that he feared none.
One evening in October 1990, the couple along with a cousin sat to have food. It was a day of fasting and they would eat only once, before sunset. No sooner had they mumbled a few prayers when the terrorists barged in. They took the three on the bridge built on the river Jhelum. Professor Ganjoo was shot dead after being brutally tortured. His cousin jumped into the river and swam to safety with a bullet injury. And Prana Ganjoo Some say she was gang raped before being butchered to death. But there is no mention of her death in police records.
And did the dervish ask Mast Gul to come back as well In 1995 he was received amidst thundering applause in Pakistan, after burning down the Chrar-e-Sharief shrine and then breaking the security cordon.
Even Gods failed in Kashmir post 1989. It seemed as if they could sense their inability to intervene. They fled, leaving their sanctum-sanctorum behind.
But there is still some hope. 25 years ago, on that fateful day, mother tied an orange thread at the Chrar-e-Sharief. I would like to assume that it is still there, intact, though faded now with vagaries of time.
That is why I must go back. The Dervish is waiting. With a lump of sugar.
May be the Gods have come back too.