(Ms. Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor, 54, was born in Srinagar, Kashmir. She completed her B.Sc, B.Ed, LL.B (Hons) and Diploma in Journalism, and Masters in Education and Urdu from the University of Kashmir. Ms. Mahjoor has also completed a Masters degree in government and politics of South Asian Governments from the University of London. She is presently the Desk Editor, BBC World service (Urdu) based in London (UK). Among various awards, she has been a recipient of the Best Journalist of the year 2005 by ECO India, Best women Journalist by American Biographer and Best Journalist for highlighting environmental issues by Peshawar Environmental organisation.)
An Expatriate's Saga
Until recently, Kashmiri families in the United Kingdom used to organise an annual get-together. Every time I attended such gatherings, I always felt that the expatriate Kashmiris, despite having a comfortable life, cherished a dream of coming back to the Valley to help rebuild what has been lost during the turmoil of the past two decades. They felt, cared and thought about Kashmir. They yearned to spend the last moments of their lives in the lap of their motherland.
Most Kashmiri expatriates left the valley as early as the seventies in pursuit of knowledge, expertise and skills. They now want to share their skills with their brethren in the Valley in order to make this place vibrant and at par with the rest of the world. It is a natural instinct among human beings to come back to their ancestral land. In fact, the instinct is much stronger among Kashmiri expatriates. A few families along with their baggage have returned and are trying to settle down peacefully. No doubt, they got warm welcome initially from their relatives in Kashmir. However, as soon as they got stuck in the daily grind of life, they felt shock and confusion. Some are about to repack their bags and run away. They have realised that the place they left behind thirty years ago has undergone tremendous change to such an extent that it is beyond recognition. Cheap and easy money has emptied all human relations of any value and in place of a society famous for its hospitality and spiritualism has emerged a crowd driven by money and bereft of all ethical values.
This is the story of my expatriate Kashmiri friend who decided to resettle in the valley after a gap of between three and four decades. After a stay of only a few weeks, he decided to give up his resettlement plan. I was curious to know what forced him to take such a hasty decision. Why was he prepared to live in the solitude and anonymity of a developed country in preference to living amongst his relatives in the land of his ancestors?
My expatriate friend was living in Saudi for the last twenty five years. He excelled in the medical profession, prayed five times a day in the Holy City of Mecca and was known for his good deeds. In short, all knew him and respected him as a true and real Muslim. He lived a comfortable life with children well-settled in different corners of the world, close contacts with relatives and generosity for relatives and strangers alike. What he found missing in his life, however, was the fragrance of the gardens and orchards of his motherland and the warmth of relatives. He had carried these with him when he left Kashmir to start a new life in Arabia.
He gathered his children and their families, and decided that they would all return to the Valley. Whatever they had earned, they invested in a joint venture which would help a few Kashmiris to rebuild their lives and stand on their own feet. However, their dreams were shattered when they came into collision with reality. Everyone they met - relative, friend, stranger - thought that they had come with bags full of money. They tried every trick to squeeze as much as they could from him. He had thought of creating an institution that would create job opportunities for unemployed boys and girls. His relatives, on the other hand, kept pestering him with requests for grants, falsely pleading their allegedly parlous financial position. Even though he was happy to live in a small three-bedroom house, his relatives had plans to build themselves three-storey mansions. It broke his heart to see the callous attitude of the relatives with whom he had desperately sought reunion.
My friend went to see his friends in the medical fraternity, only to find discouragement and cynicism. There was not a single friend left to learn from his expertise in the medical profession. He was told that his medical expertise was of no use in Kashmir where a few doctors had established their monopoly over government and non-government medical institutions. Frustration started to get to his nerves and he began to think of going back. Being a strict practising Muslim, he expected to be welcomed and received warmly in his local mosque. The first day he prayed he got a big shock when he was told to wear shalwar qameez instead of a suit, which, according to local Molvis, was not allowed in Islam. He had to listen to endless discussions on topics as diverse as the appropriate size of a beard, segregation of males and females and appropriate dress, something he had never encountered whilst working as a doctor in Makkah. It gave him pleasure and satisfaction to see his own people praying and fasting. However, he did not find the spirit or essence of religion behind these practices, just an observance of ritual.
What destroyed any confidence that was left him in was when employees of different essential services departments demanded "Chai" for everything they were under a legal obligation to provide him. It was not enough to pay all the bills for electricity, telephone or other services. He had to pay Chai in order to continue in existence. Chai was a mysterious tax that could never be precisely calculated but which one had to pay in order to secure anything of value.
His dream of living the remaining years of his life in the Valley was altogether shattered. His children, having lost all patience with the rotten way of life, decided to return to their adopted countries. He himself is on the brink of escaping, constantly repenting over his mistake of returning to the Valley. Before leaving for good, he is mailing all his friends living outside not to come back to a place that has lost its character, that is devoid of human values and the fabric that forms a community.