Maximum City – Being Indian in the Indian Capital

The Delhi walla‘s pretension in writing makes me want to lodge a bullet in his balls – Blogger Nimpipi, the woodchuck chucks
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"India is Not My Country"

A young man from Kashmir says that India is not his country.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

He is half Delhiwalla but the 18-year-old Mr Peerzada Shah Fahad avoids the label. He may have two homes but he says he belongs to only one.

Mr Fahad’s handicraft trader father has a six-room house in Srinagar but each winter they migrate to this four-room rented apartment in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, a neighbourhood which is home to the communities of Kashmiris, Afghans amongst others. Here Mr Fahad has made many ‘Indian’ friends. Here his older brother is a call centre executive in Gurgaon. But Mr Fahad doesn’t think he is an Indian, much less a Delhiwalla, thank you very much.

“I’m Kashmiri and we’re different from Indians,” he told me one day as we were sitting at Central Park in Connaught Place. “Our life, our food, our language is very different.”

“So is that of a Tamilian,” I said.

“But our religion, too, is different,” argued Mr Fahad, “We’re Muslims.”

If this unwillingness to embrace Indian identity was built merely on the exclusivity of Islam and Gushtaba, it would have been easy to dismiss Mr Fahad. He would then have been just another angry, confused kid from Srinagar where there’s no pub, no disco, no cinema; just mosques, morgues and cemeteries. But Mr Fahad is more nuanced, more multi-layered, more complicated.

His heroes are all Indians. Mahatma Gandhi: “Because he believed in non-violence.” Aamir Khan: “Because in Rang De Basanti he sacrificed his life for justice.” Arundhati Roy: “Because she speaks truth even if it’s bitter.”

Mr Fahad has downloaded the entire text of Roy’s The God of Small Things onto his MP4. He has seen Rang De Basanti more than 10 times. He marvels at the comfort level in the Delhi Metro. Yes, he likes India. “Mumbai has such fast life, Calcutta has fine old buildings and in Delhi, people are very helpful,” he observed.

But sorry, Kashmir is another country.

“My Delhi friends tell me that we Kashmiris think of ourselves as too special when we are just another part of India,” he said. “But they don’t know what’s happening there; they don’t know the history.”

History, of course, is Kashmir’s biggest burden. The first time Mr Fahad felt its weight was when he first lifted a ‘martyr’s’ coffin on his shoulders. He was 12, in VI standard. It was an everyday story: firing in the mohalla, a body, no relatives, no identification paper except a ring with a name: Abrar. “Perhaps he was a Pakistani,” Mr Fahad said. “We buried him before midnight.”

The last time Mr Fahad stood by Abrar’s grave was last year in August when there were again disturbances: calls for the azaadi, rallies, firing, bodies, martyrs. “I’m now used to the feel of coffins,” said Mr Fahad. “I know they would keep coming till Kashmir gets freedom.”

If this lad just wants azaadi from India, then why come to Delhi each year? “Did the Indians stop going to England when they were under the British rule?,” Mr Fahad shot back.

The glitz of Delhi is no match for this young man’s bitterness. The horrors of home are too overwhelming. Not for Mr Fahad a blue-chip job and a life in the world of malls, multiplexes and suburbs. “More than a lakh people have died in my country and each of them must have three or four grieving relatives left behind,” he said. “I want to do something to make their lives better.”

Do such career ambitions coming out from a pimpled teenager hint that India’s newly acquired soft power has failed to impress the Kashmiri youth? Will no allowances be made for the fact that an unprecedented 62 per cent of the electorate participated in the assembly elections of December, 2008? Will no chance be given to the cheery charisma and movie-star looks of the state’s new chief minister?

“People voted for roads and drains in the assembly elections,” confessed Mr Fahad. “But we still want azaadi from India. We also want peace.”

On September, 2008, when Mr Fahad turned 18, he had immediately applied for a voter’s I-card, not out of a sudden love for India but because “Indian authorities ask for it everywhere.” Else, this I-card has no value.

For, like his parents, Mr Fahad, too, has no plans to vote in the national elections scheduled later this year. “My vote won’t make a difference,” he remarked. “Come to Kashmir and you’ll see yourself that India is no democracy.”

Mr Fahad plans to apply for a graduation course in Delhi University this year.

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