By Wajahat Qazi
An eminent Western academic who has done substantive and even path breaking work on Kashmir once told me that “there was certain heaviness about and in Kashmir”. A colleague of mine who , on his return to Kashmir from vacations , looked rejuvenated and fresh , said almost the same thing. Calling to attention a paradox of Kashmir, my friend and colleague, in all eloquence, said, “Kashmir is a strange and brutal mix of freshness of light and air and the political toxicity of conflict”. These observations were validated to me as the Delhi bound aircraft slowly screeched to a halt at the Jammu airport and as the door of the airport opened to let in the whiff of the warm morning breeze.
I suddenly felt more energetic.
The warm weather was a relief to the spring cold of Kashmir and I began wondering if it was the weather that was having a more salubrious effect on me. I was disabused of this notion as I left the premises of the airport and the bustle of Jammu city greeted me.
It was 10: 30 am. Buses were jam packed people; the traffic police was alert and people seemed to respect the directions of the traffic cops; while the traffic was dense and heavy, there was no mad scramble among and between commuters and vehicle drivers and no pointless honking of horns The faces and visages of Jammuites seemed relaxed; this calmness betrayed a sense of purpose: people seemed to be going to work, attending to business and what have you in a calm but determined manner. The city, if these anecdotal impressions hold, seemed at peace with itself. All this is and was in contrast to Srinagar where a certain anxiety, despite the slothful nature of the place in terms of business and work, is a feature of the city and its inhabitants. The people of Srinagar seem to be on the edge: small incidents of road rage spill on over to arguments and at times fisticuffs , a certain glumness and stress is visible in the faces of people, shopkeepers are morose and rude and traffic in Srinagar is a mad mad rush. These are every day life situations which might be dismissed as not reflecting the essence of cities but I think they are of significance and import.
I have another observation that might be of even greater import and significance than anecdotal impressions. Whilst, I do not have statistics buttress my point but what struck me as almost surreal was the very few number of people at the Batra Hospital in Jammu. In fact, there were hardly, any people at the hospital as I visited it around noon time. This, by way of a contrast, was unusual especially given the deluge of people that can be seen at any given time in major hospitals of Srinagar. Given the absence of statistics and other relevant data, I can only speculate about the reasons for the paucity of people at the hospital. Discounting variables such as demographics, patient to doctor ratios, population density number of hospitals in Kashmir and Jammu and other factors, it may be that people in Jammu are happier, more involved in their work, professions and businesses and thus less stressed. Happiness and stress are both correlated to health and health issues. The former leads to good physical health and the latter has negative consequences on general health. This is what I extrapolated from my observations at the hospital.
What explains these divergences?
Jammuites , in contrast to Kashmiris, are not conflicted: they do not have split personalities. In essence, their identity, from a psycho-social and political perspective is settled and life in Jammu is not overlain by political uncertainty. Hence, they have a stake in their individual and collective progress and development. But, alas, Kashmiris do not have this luxury. The conflict in Kashmir exacts a toll on all dimensions of life: social, economic, political and psychological in both subtle and obvious ways.
My observations and the extrapolations thereof are not meant to indict, impugn or render the conflict in Kashmir as the catch all category which is entirely determinative of life in Kashmir. Yes, the conflict has a larger than life impact on the lives of people in Kashmir but yet, despite this overarching reality, people live and find ways of staying happy. However, the conflict is omnipresent in the subconscious levels of the Kashmiri psyche. It comes to the fore(or to the conscious mind) under even the slightest of provocations or stressful incidents- the latent anger of a motorist who turns against a fellow motorist over a small driving error, our general inability to say sorry in public spaces over small issues, our potential to flare up over provocations or slights which might not be noticed elsewhere and other related issues are all examples of our split consciousness and even personalities. All this impacts our levels of happiness, contentment and therefore public health.
I have` identified the issue but the problem is that I can do nothing about it. However, at the risk of belaboring the point, I would assert that we Kashmiris are entitled to happy, contented and settled lives but this can only happen when our consciousness and our personalities are not split- a condition which can be remedied by a conflict free, atmosphere and ambiance. Will this ever happen? God knows better but what I can say with certainty is that just after 24 hours out of Srinagar, I have already begun to miss my Kashmir!
The author can be reached at: [email protected]