The colony is a mini India. Chauhans, Abrahams, Aroras, Agarwals, Khans, Sandhus, Negis, Kelkars, Nairs, Subramaniams, Reddys, Davids, Dars etc are the happy residents. Domestic workers, security guards, drivers, watchmen, shopkeepers, maintenance staff…all are from different states of India. Farhan Wani has been here for about a decade. He is a known person in the neighborhood….a respected teacher, a good samaritan, an accommodating neighbour, a part time pro-bono cricket coach for kids, a hard working member of the Residents’ Welfare Association…..he is happy here.

Today, Farhan’s excitement is palpable…he was going to his home town Srinagar with family. His son Abid was diligently packing gifts for his grandparents. His wife had chalked out a list of things to be brought from Kashmir for the neighbours. His driver Thakur from Bhopal took them to the Airport and the excited family flew off to Srinagar.

Farhan’s brother Imtiyaz came to pick up the family at Srinagar Airport. Excited chatting went on as the car drove on the road to home. The vehicle stopped at a crossing. Farhan’s expressions changed as he noticed a group of people, probably from Uttar Pradesh, crossing the road.

“Why are ‘these’ people wearing pherans?” A surprised Farhan asked.

“Hmmm…. ‘they’ perhaps find it comfortable.” Imtiyaz replied.

“Is it comfort or are they trying to masquerade as Kashmiris?” Farhan doubted.

“Why would they want to do that dad…..masquerade as Kashmiris?” Abid asked sleepily.

Farhan did not expect that question and chose to stay quite.

“Why dad…?” Little Abid was persistent.

“So that they can stay here permanently….” This was the best answer that came to Farhan’s mind.

“Should they not?” Abid asked another innocent but logical question.

“No…Kashmir is only for Kashmiris…..we have a different identity…a different culture…” Farhan answered reluctantly.

“But dad, if we can stay in Delhi as Kashmiris…why can’t outsiders stay here?” Abid asked.

Farhan took out his mobile phone and gave it to Abid so that he stayed quite playing his favorite game ‘Temple Run’ on it. Silence ensued in the car. Innocent questions are often very difficult to answer. Was it Xenophobia, i.e, fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange? No, it was not….because India’s connection with Kashmir is age old…neither foreign nor strange. Workforce from other parts of the country has been coming to Kashmir every summer during harvesting since ages. Many of them stay here permanently, working as hair dressers, carpenters, masons, shopkeepers, etc. So what was bothering Farhan? Why was he uncomfortable with ‘these’ people wearing a pheran? Why does he want to keep Kashmir secluded but at the same time is comfortable with Kashmiris being in every other part of the country?

Like many others, Farhan has an underlying fear that the outsiders will come and take away the jobs and property and change the culture and demography of Kashmir…. but these fears are unfounded. There can be no progress unless a society has a healthy mix of people. Come to think of it, are the other states in India not progressing? Has Haryana or Punjab lost its culture due to people from other states coming and settling down there?

On the contrary, Kashmir is the only place which has been demographically isolated, leading to extremism, terrorism and retarded development…. thanks to our machinating neighbour. There are no instances in the world where demographically isolated societies have flourished. Kashmir needs private and public investments on a large scale. This can happen only with outsiders coming in.  Imagine a Kashmir with large industries, hotels, motels, malls, call centers, tourist centers, cafeterias, ropeways, camping sites, trekking trails, multiplexes, etc. It will be a booming economy where everyone will get benefitted. This can only happen if peace prevails and investments start pouring in…..and if the society is open to welcoming people from other states.

The holiday of Farhan’s family came to an end. Farhan neatly folded his pheran and placed it in the almirah. 

“Dad will you not take it with you to Delhi..?” Little Abid asked Farhan yet another tricky question.

“Well…..it will be warm in Delhi…..so I will not require it.” Farhan replied smartly but he knew he was in for another uncomfortable question.

“But I have never seen you wearing it during the winters in Delhi.” Abid said.

Farhan awkwardly smiled and left the room…..

Farhan will not wear a pheran in Delhi because there he is part of the metro culture….but he will not like the same metro culture to come in Kashmir. He will also not like Ram Bilas, his father’s decades old assistant from Bihar to wear a pheran in the cold of Kashmir. Strange…dichotomous….but true.

Chaman mein ikhtilaf-o-rang-o-bu se baat banti hai Hum hi hum hain toh kya hum hain, tumhi tum ho toh kyat tum ho?

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