Updated Saturday, July 8, 2006

 

 

 

My Permanent Address

Omkar N. Koul


I was born at village Bugam (Kulgam) in Anantnag district. Inhabited by about three hundred Muslim and six Hindu households, it had a primary school where I studied. From the sixth to tenth class in school, I along with other children had to travel on foot ten kilometers daily to attend the high school at Kulgam. The houses of all Hindus (except one) were on one side of the river Maav and those of Muslims on the other side. Another small river Vejinaar would join Maav near our house, thus forming a Sangam. The water level was deep at the river joint, we would bathe and swim at this place. Maav and Vejinaar would overflow with water during the time of floods. The rivers would present a frightening look. One could watch uprooted trees, branches of trees, and wooden structures afloat. When the river was used by the timber contractors to carry the timber from the hills downstream, it was quite a different scene altogether, providing an opportunity to children to join the planks to take a ride down the stream and have a lot of fun. During autumn, when there was less water in Maav, Muslims would catch fish on moonlit nights. Winter months were a lot of fun as the school would remain closed and we would play in snow, use charcoal to write slogans and draw sketches on frozen snow.

I have always been in love with my village. The more I stayed away from it, the more attracted I was to it. After my high school, I joined an intermediate college at Ananatnag (1957-59), about 18 kilometers away from my village. I had to share a small room at the top of a Muslim baker’s shop in Khanabal with two roommates. It was a unique experience of cooking (using firewood), cleaning, studying, sleeping in one room, and attending the college. I could afford to visit my village once in a fortnight by a tonga or a bus for major distance, and at times walk on foot when conveyance wasn’t available. A weekend at home was refreshing to play with school friends who couldn’t study further. It was good to have home-cooked meals. Two years later, I joined S.P. College (1959-61) in Srinagar for my B.A., and later the Jammu and Kashmir University (1961-63) for my M.A. Living in Srinagar was a different experience. I started living in a hostel, which was badly managed and later moved to a room rented by my uncle at Nai Sarak who had come to Srinagar for some training. Our kitchen, though in the same room, looked better with a kerosene stove for cooking, and a lone electricity bulb of a low voltage, which was to be switched off latest by 9 p.m. under the instructions of our land lady. After my uncle’s training was over and he left for the village, my land lady proposed to provide two-time meals to me from her kitchen provided I give her 20 kilograms of rice from my home and pay a fixed amount of money to her monthly. I immediately agreed and provided her rice and money in advance for one month. She started serving me meals using the smelled rice from her ‘ration’ shop, and would cook the quality rice of my village for herself and her son. I did not like the food and had to discontinue this arrangement after a month.

I got a new roommate from a neighbouring village. We hired a two-room accommodation nearby. My roommate was an ‘intellectual’ companion. He used to write fiction in Urdu and would ask me to transliterate his love letters from the Urdu script into Devanagari for his girlfriend across the street, who could not read Urdu. I had to read her letters too to him. It made him a little comfortable, and he worked hard to learn the Devanagari script.

After my master’s degree, I moved to Delhi and settled down at Agra for my Ph.D. research work. I stayed in hostel, ate in the hostel mess, and occasionally at a Dabba nearby. During the period of my stay at Agra for about four years (1964-67), I would visit my village in Kashmir at least twice a year. I would meet all my school-time friends, and take long strolls in and around the village. Later, I went to USA (1969-71) for further studies.

As a permanent resident of my village, I have a few ‘firsts’ to my credit. I was the first from my village to get degrees of B.A., M.A., and later Ph.D. I was the first from my village to visit the USA. This earned me a lot of love, affection from the village folk and friends. On my visits to my village, I would visit all the houses in my neighbourhood, and enquire the welfare of all. Many of my childhood friends would visit my house too to chat with me and to know about the life elsewhere. I remember, when I returned to my village after being away to the USA for about two and half years, there were unusual festivities at my house. Almost everybody (men, women and children) visited my house, hugged me and showered their blessings and good wishes. I had become a special guest in my own village. Many people invited me to their homes. My job took me to Patiala for about fifteen years, Mussoorie for seven years, and Mysore for seven years wherefrom I retired in 2001.

I always looked forward going to my village - my permanent address -for a longer and relaxed stay. The worst happened in between. My dreams shattered. I cannot imagine all houses and property my family owned have gutted in fire and raised to ground. I cannot imagine that my large room (15’x30’) with its carved window panes with coloured glass, appropriately called Aana kuth , does not exist now. I had decorated its walls with a number of framed group-photographs from my colleges and universities. I really miss looking at the lost treasure of those photographs and cherishing the memories of my student days. A huge collection of my books and papers (including diaries I wrote), were destroyed in fire. Indeed an irreparable loss!

I always thought my village is a unique example of communal harmony and brotherhood. This faith was slightly shattered when in early seventies under the banner of Jamaat-i-Islami a large group of youngsters (mostly from neighbouring villages) destroyed the temple of Ganesha in our village and threw stones at the houses of Hindus. Some officials and policemen from Kulgam visited our village next day to assess the situation. I saw first time tears in the eyes of my father while narrating the incident to them. The re-built temple was attacked again in 1986. As a result of holocast and killing of some Hindu young men in the neighbouring villages, most of the Hindu families were forced to move out of Bugam in early 1990, and their houses were looted and gutted in fire later.

It may sound strange, in the heart of my hearts, I still consider my village as my permanent address. It is not lost yet. I visited my village in October 1998 last. This visit was quite eventful. On my arrival in Srinagar, I was stranded at my sister’s place at Karfali Mohalla during the three-day curfew as a result of the arrest of Shabir Shah. We couldn’t come out of the house as all the houses of non-Muslims were continuously stoned during nights, and days when the policemen were not in sight. I was very keen to reach my village. The curfew was relaxed for a short period early in the morning, I rushed to the bus stand at Batmaloo to board the first bus for Anantnag. All the passengers seemed to be frightened. It turned out to be another nightmare. The moment the bus reached Batwara, it was attacked with stones by a crowd raising slogans. Many passengers including me were injured by stones and the pieces of broken window panes. The driver showed a lot of courage by speeding up the bus. It was a sudden shock to all of us. Some passengers, especially women and children were crying, others were rubbing their wounds and massaging the injured limbs. Everyone was trying to help another in whatever manner he or she could. The bus with broken glass panes moved on, and was stopped by police about ten kilometers before reaching Anantnag. The situation was very bad over there. This town and other neighbouring small towns were under curfew. I had to walk about 25 kilometers to reach my village avoiding main road and police. This turned out to be my last visit to my village with injuries on face and left arm. I left the village after three days when the situation was somewhat normal.

Though I visited Srinagar a couple of times in last fifteen years, I could not venture to visit my village. Perhaps, I am not bold enough to visit the village and to see the destruction of our ancestral property with my own eyes. I cannot, perhaps, face the village elders and acquaintances, whose love and affection I still cherish. I cannot probably face the youngsters who would not understand my ties with my village, my permanent address.

I had a long cherished dream to settle down in my village - my permanent address - after I retire from my service, and do whatever I could to help the people of the village especially the youngsters. Alas! this dream is not fulfilled yet.

 

Comments

I have the great good fortune to be a colleague and friend of Omkar Koul's and to have visited his village Bugam many years ago, before the "Troubles" began. That was a magical time, walking on the edges of paddy fields and watching the waters of the Maav and Vejinaar flowing under a bright moon, a time of peace and calm. Now it seems like a dream. May harmony and happiness return to the Valley soon.

Peter Hook
Charlottesville
Virginia, USA