Atheist Ghazi

BY NASEER AHMED

I was among a privileged few friends a self-proclaimed atheist invited to his wedding. The groom was ready to board a vehicle for the ceremonial journey to his bride’s home when the lines of a wanwun (traditional Kashmiri lyrics sung by women at marriages) stopped him in his tracks: sabz dastaras khuda chui raazi, pakistanuk ghazi aaw. The groom was not wearing a green turban, and was not heading for a battlefield, but still he was a ghazi (victorious warrior), that too from Pakistan. Andghazi we call him since.

Some four years ago, a journalist from the other part of Kashmir came to see his relatives in the Valley. His family had been divided in the 1947 partition.

He said all Kashmiris were mad. It was a significant statement. I asked him to restrict himself to limits set by Sir Walter Lawrence, the first settlement commissioner of Kashmir.

“He has called us many names already. So, don’t please try to surpass him,” I said, pointing out that Azad Kashmir was not exactly Barcelona.

But he did not budge, and went on to defend himself.

“Yesterday, I saw my relative take out a pack of cigarettes from his cupboard, kiss it and replace it with utmost reverence,” he said.

“I asked him why he did so, and what was so special about the pack,” he went on.

“’I have brought it from Pakistan in the 1970s. It is from Pakistan, you know, from Pakistan,’ he told me proudly,” he said.

The Azad Kashmiri had been plain dumbstruck.

Now, he had great desire to see a Kashmiri marriage. He disclosed this to me. He wanted to see a Kashmiri bride and groom.

I told him that he was late by one day. Had he been here the previous day, he would have had a chance to see marriage function in our area.

He insisted on visiting the family.

The groom was a dashing young man. He was an engineer and his bride a teacher.

Reluctantly, I went to yesterday’s hero, and told him about this friend from Azad Kashmir who wanted to see him and his bride in wedding attire.

The word Azad Kashmir worked like magic.

Within half-an-hour, the engineer turned out in his groom’s attire – sherwani and mustard headgear, and the bride in a lehenga.

My friend hugged him warmly.

“You are from Azad Kashmir!” the newly-married engineer said, and laughed in excitement.

“Good! So you are from Azad Kashmir,” he said over and over again, hugging my guest all the while.

In 2006, in Poonch an elderly journalist told asked me where I was from.

“Srinagar,” I said. “Though I don’t look like a Kashmiri.”

He smiled.

“Some time ago, a Kashmiri employee was in Poonch,” he launched into his memories.

“He insisted on seeing the border. It was far off,” he said.

“So I told him that this mountain was under Indian control and that far one under Pakistani control,” he recalled.

“And for days together, the Kashmiri would face the Pakistani mountain and offer it crisp salutes,” the Poonchi said.