What is it about Kashmir that makes you smile? What is the one thing you talk about with pride about Kashmir? What makes you happy? What is that one thing that you boast about when sitting next to someone on a plane or on a long journey in a train?
Guess it is the beautiful mountains, the picturesque scenery, the ‘filmy’ locales, the pristine beauty of the many valleys, the picnic spots throughout Kashmir. And also the so-called beauty of the people. Warm, loving, caring, and always welcoming, Kashmiris. And maybe the food. The never-ending weddings that are converted into free-for-all food festivals, and are hotbeds for innovation in modern Kashmiri tradition. And… And… And…
Very little of this has anything to do with what Kashmiris have wrought themselves. The Valley was a creation of Allah. Our beauty, or rather the impression of that, is a blessing from Allah. Kashmiris are warm, loving, caring and always welcoming, to the point of looking silly and domineering.
Wazwan has been carried forward from generation to generation, but there is little to be proud of in a tradition that was meant to demonstrate love, but has now become a tool for ostentation and a source of deep discomfort for prospective brides’ parents in this time of retrenchment in expenses.
There is very little else that Kashmir can be proud of. Look around.
The Chinese are celebrating their currently unstoppable rise to world power status on the back of strong reforms and the near-perfect implementation of forward-looking planning.
States in India have a lot to be proud of. Such as Gujarat which can be proud of the incredible entrepreneurial skills of its people and a strong leader who has overseen the decline of poverty to unprecedented levels. Such as Kerala which can boast of Human Development Index scores that can match the best. Such as Maharashtra which has carefully dug up its proud past to position itself in modern India as a powerhouse for the Indian economy.
Even Pakistan, ever so close to being called a ‘failed state’ can pride itself on its very survival; a modern, geopolitical miracle, matched in modern times only by the survival of Israel in a neighbourhood of hostile nations. If all fails, Pakistanis pride the one achievement that is the envy of all around – nuclear weapons, and its ever-growing network of motorways is a sight for sore eyes, if there ever was one.
The majority in Sri Lanka can take satisfaction from their extra-ordinary human development – which has seen its healthcare and education systems excel.
The Gulf Arabs can be happy about the way their leaders did not squander ‘all’ of the oil money and thankfully invested a portion of it on education, healthcare, infrastructure and arming rebel groups abroad.
And pushing happiness to the wall, the Afghans can pat themselves on the back for being the one country in the world that has defeated the aims and objectives of every single world power that ever dared to put a soldier or tank on its soil; development, tradition and all else, be damned.
So what has Kashmir achieved? No, recently, what have we as a people achieved? The realisation that no one among us is happy with our geo-political status quo is nothing great. No one in the world is, anyway. A tremendous increase in the educated workforce, coupled with a disdain for manual and agricultural work that has seen Kashmir become dependent on ‘external’ aid for food, is shameful.
Shoddy, shameful work by local contractors, who have had opportunities to construct great highways, scenic roads, and beautiful buildings, has added insult to the injuries of the past. The railways lies under-used, the roads in a shambles. Health-care, despite a surplus of doctors and allied health professionals, lies in dire straits courtesy of crude planning.
It is never too late, to look up to something, and in Kashmir, modern Kashmiris need to end the search for something to smile about. A great hospital, a great university, a big bridge, a building that will represent Kashmir.
A monument anywhere, representing the desire of Kashmiris, showing off the great talent of the people. For far too long, for centuries, have Kashmiris clutched at straws, hiding behind excuses. It is time to break free from them, and to do something special. As a people, as a nation, as one, together, as a ‘family.’
It is up to this generation to do that service.