It’s autumn in Kashmir. A thick layer of haze obstructs our sight from viewing the clear sky, the mountains, and the sun – which hides behind colossal clouds. There is an intense level of coldness blowing through the streets in the mornings and in the evenings.
People are stocking up essential items for their households as the winter is near. People face a lot of hardships during winters. Winter is the synonym for hardship in Kashmir. One is not sure which was or which will be the harshest winter. And, of course, there are frequent power cuts which irritate people and add to their suffering.
As autumn is here, the trees have shed their leaves and are naked. The most eloquent Chinar tree has all its crisp, crimson-coloured leaves scattered on the ground. There is something about the colour of its leaves which allures our imagination. Often, these Chinar trees are found in large spaces like gardens and playgrounds. These days, children play cricket under those magnificent trees and the leaves get trampled under their running feet.
When I wake up these days, I first go near my room’s window and look outside. A complete haze has enveloped the surroundings. Through the frosty windows – which are a sign of winter – I still find children playing cricket nearby in intense coldness, and hear their shouts. But I can’t see those vertiginous mountains that have disappeared behind the thick haze
Have you ever imagined what seasons have to do with people? Why do they occupy a certain place in a certain way? What autumn means to people in Kashmir?
Seasons, as they’ve always, leave a print of memory on our lands. They shape our way of living, our sight, our senses, our culture, and our understanding of things. Seasons carry hidden scratches of meanings to a particular place for which they are meant for. As we depend on the cyclical changes of seasons, every season carries its own essence, its own colour and generates its own memory.
Last year at this time, Kashmir was under siege. Phones, internet, and communication were banned. Shops, business establishments, schools, offices were closed. A complete military siege was put in place after the Central government unilaterally revoked Article 370 and Article 35A. High-speed internet still remains banned after more than a year now.
A stringent curfew was put in place to stop people from protesting. Streets were blocked with barbed wires and there were restrictions on people’s movement. There was a heavy deployment of soldiers on the streets. Curfew was in place. Amid the communication blackout, there was no news as to what was happening around. Journalists struggled to file in their stories. One was not even able to talk to their loved ones.
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After surviving the deadliest siege, it was winter. Then, as the winter was over with its harshness, the pandemic wreaked havoc across the world. Just as the siege had shown signs of getting over, Kashmir was locked again and further pushed into gloom.
For the rest of the world, it was lockdown. But for the people in Kashmir, it was lockdown within a lockdown.
With a crashing economy, businesses closed, education suffering, jobs lost, and anxiety and depression pushing youngsters to suicides, life has always been fragile for the people in Kashmir. You never know what is going to happen next. Normalcy is a dream in Kashmir. It is the resilience of the people that they still push themselves and face the world.
Talking about life in Kashmir, it has always been desolation. There is hopelessness. Despair. When I walk through the streets or just pass through the market, I often meet people’s gazes and they tell me something. They hide their emotions in their eyes. Their faces are like mere skeletons, waiting to be smashed. It’s as if everyone wears a face-mask to hide their anguish. I see the drowning, dark lurking emotions in people’s eyes. I see the collective desolation of a people.
Now as the autumn is here, it feels yet another layer of sadness all around. I’m not a pessimist but I’m just being truthful. For the rest of the world, autumn is a season of colour, love, and hope. But in Kashmir, autumn tells us a different story.
Autumn is not just a season in Kashmir but a remembrance. A memory of the loss. It’s the language, the colour, the way of life, the climate, the situation, and the history.
Mir Umar is a student of English Literature at the University of Delhi.
Featured image: A man walks through a garden on an autumn day in Srinagar. Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail