Ham ko maâluum hai Jannat kii haqiiqat lekin

Dil ke khush rakhne ko Ghalib yih khayaal achchhaa hai

 

Mirza Ghalib

 

Ghalib’s timeless lament—The reality of paradise is known to us, but we indulge in fantasies to keep our hearts from sorrow echoes through my mind as I walk the streets of the Srinagar’s markets, neighbourhoods and squares. Every conversation begins in suspicion and progresses only as far as tolerance. Behind the faces, smiles, and gestures of hospitality lies another reality that I have read about, and can sense but don’t want to know too well because I can’t alleviate it, absolve it, or share in it. I am the Kashmiri who is not from here. I do not have her sorrows etched onto my soul, skin and future.

 

There is a slow trickle of tourists returning to the city but it’s doing little to alleviate the gloom. There is a tinge of violence in the way touts acquiesce to the demands of the tourists, a desperate tolerance for this important means of income that can be the difference between life and death. The house boats, many in disrepair, are desperately fighting for clients. The shikara oarsmen are bartering for pittances, the hotels are mostly empty, their staff lethargic from inactivity and indifference. The Kashmiri crafts shops go through the formalities of display, but within sit sullen and withdrawn men. A lifeless life of a people waiting or perhaps simply surrendered.

 

From the essay Through The Gilded Windows of Emperors by Asim Rafiqui

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