I consider myself very fortunate to be living in the neighborhood of Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine, on one hand, and Kashmir, on the other.
It was 1999. I was working in Kashmir. Things were near normal but for that Kargil happening.
My wife, a country lass who graduated to womanhood with me, had come to Srinagar for a week to have a renewed taste of the lakes, margs, gardens & the Shankeracharya Hill.
At Shopian she bought apples, dry fruits & kangris. On her return home she bought a couple of stone troughs at Pantha Chowk, Srinagar for grinding spices for herself & neighbours.
As soon as we got down to take breakfast at Qazigund, a Kashmiri vendor with shawls over his shoulder hooked my wife. ” Madam le lo Kashmiri shawl. Iss mein aap bahut khoobsurat aur shandaar lago ge.” (Take one. U will look graceful in it).
Initially she was reluctant but soon she glued to the shawls. Price Rs. 2000 per piece. Personally I didn’t want that she should purchase given the credibility deficit but I didn’t want to displease her either. So In my mother tongue I asked her not to go beyond Rs. 500.
The bargaining started. Step by step my wife moved up. Correspondingly the vendor came sliding down not without an oath every time—Allah ki kasam, Khuda ki kasam ab nahin bachta—& so on Khuda rasool ki kasam, Koran pak ki kasam, Hazratbal ziarat ki kasam, maa ki kasam, apne bache ki kasam.…Finally she purchased two for Rs.2000.
” You will look graceful in it ” went so deep into the psyche of my wife that she would hardly part with the Kashmiri shawl while attending social functions. In a way she became a brand ambassador of Kashmiri shawl. About two dozen Hindu/Muslim women demanded one shawl each from Kashmir next time. In villages we have a very closely woven society. So I promised to oblige them all.
It so happened that I had to go to Jammu on a private business. There in the Raj Tilak bazaar our familiar cloth merchant, a Mahajan, offered us cold drinks.
But remember a “polite” Mahajan businessman will serve you one ounce of coffee only after he has taken two ounces of your blood exactly like a “hospitable” Kashmiri who will feed you one pound of mutton only after taking two pounds of your flesh.
“Shah ji, iss shawl ki kitni keemat ho gi” my wife asked. The cloth merchant examined the stuff & said he sold this shawl for Rs.400 a piece. ” But this is a Kashmiri shawl ” she asserted with confidence. “No behn ji, this is a local shawl” he disputed.
In order to prove this he carefully scratched away the Kashmiri label glued over the Amritsari brand. Seeing this not only my wife was shocked & speechless but I myself. Later at home she advised me never to purchase anything in Kashmir.
There was no love lost between Kashmiris & my wife since then. But a strange thing happened afew days back. A Kashmiri boy from Kupwara side came selling herbal products of a company. She made me purchase some toothache/headache tubes for nothing.
“He is like my son Arpan,” she said & took him inside. She served him meals with all motherly affection. Talking with him she was all praise for Kashmiris. Was that a change of heart or what, I could only exclaim ” Afreen !”
Shyam Bijyal, a former bureaucrat of Kashmir Administrative Services, lives in Siraj area along the banks of mighty Chenab. He writes notes on life and culture under the series From the Hills of Doda