Monday, December 25, 2017

HL- Kashmir, and the loss of beautiful childhoods

This goes long back. Nearly a decade before I wrote the first word of The Tree with a Thousand Apples, I was a student who happened to read an article on the then ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Lebanon. I couldn’t understand much of world politics back then, but what I could not forget was that the article was written from the point of view of a ten year old boy. This boy had just lost his home, his town and his family, even though he was not a part of Hamas and he was not an Israeli. He was a Lebanese, the place which was not on either side of the conflict. I found that very peculiar.

Irrespective of how I felt, the boy had lost what he had lost. I too was a boy back then, and how would I have felt if I had lost my family and my home at that age? There won’t be any more birthday parties for him, he won’t play with the neighborhood kids when the evenings dawned, he won’t be caught cheating during exams. No, it was not just an attack on his home. What that boy had truly lost was his childhood. He would have wanted to ask questions, but from whom? He must have forged an enemy in his heart, a nameless one. Yet, even though I could read and witness that, maybe I could not really understand it very well. Maybe because as someone who had seen a very comfortable childhood, what could I have known about the pain of losing one?

It was when I was in Kashmir, the heaven on earth, that the anonymous boy from the article came alive on the streets. I could see mute and stoic boys and girls who wanted to laugh and cry, I could hear things they wanted to say but kept hidden behind their little concealed smiles, just as the one in that photograph. Children of army men who went to school every day fearing whether the bus they travelled in would be blown up, children of civilians who couldn’t play cricket without knowing if their playground may become a battleground soon, children of Kashmiri Pandits languishing in camps of Jammu who seemed to have forgotten how Kahwa is made. Children who had lost their childhood, who were not on either side of the conflict, yet had grown to choose one. A side where all of them were right and all of them were wrong. I could see that the Lebanese boy in that article and his nameless enemy too were no one but the same children.

The Tree with a Thousand Apples is the story of three such children who don’t just exist in Kashmir, they live with us and around us. They don’t yet know the world they are in and all they want is for us to find them. They know that if we don’t give them a home today, there will be another boy in the future sometime, who too would lose his childhood. They don’t want to tell us any of their grand stories because they have none. All they want us to know is that their childhoods long for a birthday party and neighborhood games, that they are just three children who were asked questions they didn’t know the answers to—they are just children like us…

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