We had never met.
The crowd was patient, glaringly staring at the arrival gates. The confusion was contained. I moved swiftly with the trolley of belongings as my eyes wandered seeking familiar face. The end was near to my despair.
I had uttered “Walaikum” by the time I faced him. His gleaming brown eyes reflected a sense of accomplishment. His hairs were short, jet black and unwavering just like his demeanor. His walk was strident not deceptive, clamoring his ethnicity. Here he was to pick me up from airport, suited up in faded jeans and a blue pullover. He was not a Kashmiri after all.
“How was the flight?”
We discussed the flight and climate as we walked towards the other end of the parking.
“Sir, Look how cruel these Kashmiri folks are!”
I could sense the engine vibrating. The thumping of pistons as the pressure of fuel rose.
“They charge fifty bugs for Parking.”
The car was rolling by now. Fifty isn’t much or is it? I nodded in absolute agreement.
The five minute drive was smooth. The weather was much better than what I had anticipated. It was warm and bright. The sky was still blue.
The second drive was much more intriguing. By then, I knew he was from Kargil and used to ferry passengers between Kargil and Jammu before the new job. He described the difficult long drives that often lasted more than twenty hours and the moments when he slipped into slumber driving.
One similar incident that I was reminded of was that of an officer travelling with a fellow subordinate. The officer was from Jammu and didn’t know any Kashmiri. The car collided with a scooter. It was a minor accident leading to denting and thankfully no injuries. Everything seemed calm till the rider realized the officer can’t speak Kashmiri. Then he let out a cry “ O Kaffir, Kaffir.”
It was the fellow subordinate who got him out of trouble. Officer’s long beard didn’t testify his faith then.
We travelled to Dal Gate which is inhabited by many families from Kargil. Also, to the tourist reception centre where don’t blur. The stand has been divided into two, one with Scorpios and Xylo (supposed to be better) and other dominated by Tata Sumos. “All the good cars are ours” he claimed.
His views about Kashmiri community weren’t staunch at all. He summarized it as a corrupt, megalomaniac and selfish. “Money means everything to people now.”He said he still remembers the first day when he stepped out of his home and the parting remarks for his father were “Never trust a Kashmiri.”
There wasn’t any hatred. He would often use the word bhaijan. He was worried about his prosperity though. The month long strikes reduced the tourist inflow and his earnings.
May be it’s the toll of years of conflict when life mattered most, the survival instinct, which has shaped the society into being corrupt and closed. Whatever may be the reason the tale repeats itself through out other regions of state.