It was late February in wintry Kashmir. The mercury was dipping down to subzero and the cold was harsh enough to arrest me in my warm cozy place. Everything around was catching the snapping cold. Life was freezed like frozen waters. The dark shady sky overhead was warning of bombarding more snowflakes, making people lazier because of the winter-blues. I was also a part of this lazy routinely chore. I started my day late and ended it early only to add more laziness to my sluggishness.
This routine of me was making me dumb, consuming my aptitude day by day. However it was only after I received my appointment letter from L&T InfoTech where I had applied earlier, my life changed drastically. Funnily enough, I wished for a little warmer place and I got the warmest, Chennai, the place where I am posted. Ah! And now here I am in Chennai a.k.a. Madras.
At first Chennai turned me ill at ease. I had never been to a south Indian place before. I knew nothing about Chennai except ‘Dosa’ and Rajnikanth. From last six months, I was like hibernating in my place but now this was the wakeup call for me. Although it was a promising opportunity but the trouble to bother was that I had to travel from an extremely cold place to an insanely hot and humid place. “Kashmir to Kaniyakumari”, responded everyone in bewilderment.
As I stepped first into Chennai, a chain of trees(read as coconut tress) welcomed me. Interestingly the architecture around reminded me of RK Narayan’s lifework Malgudi Days narrating stories that are weaved around intricate streets, modest houses and men in their ‘loungi’. It was feeling like the characters from Malgudi Days have turned live to entertain me.
Well for many people, Chennai won’t seem to be a very interesting place as far as the expectations from a “metro” city are concerned. Minus some of the good beaches and few glittering malls, a commoner cannot find anything more entertaining. But that’s okay. Modestly is what I really admire about Chennai. The Chennai people, as I inferred, are very modest in their behaviour and attires accept some “inflexible” guys who strictly confine themselves to the five letters of ‘TAMIL’.
The widespread use of the local language is something that I found very peculiar about Tamilnadu. The Tamil people literally don’t give a rend cent to the “national” language. Hindi influence hence the Bollywood is very negligible as compared to Tamil and hence the Kollywood. Not a very good example of “Abhin Bharat” (integral India), I must say. However, a food for thought for Kashmir where the local language is slowly getting a part of history. Although language is a big barrier here as the Hindi speaking crowd is apparently nil but I hope to follow it soon.
Food is another big problem after communication for the north Indian people, specially Kashmiris (excuse my assumption of kashmiris being Indians here), who find it difficult to gulp down the south Indian food. I couldn’t find any restaurant for Kashmiri Wazwan although non-vegetarian stuff is quite flourished specially Biryani that rules the roost.
Another interesting factor added to my experience as I could draft a similarity between the tamils and Kashmiris. It is the liberation fight going in the northern part of Sri Lanka by Tamils against the Lankan atrocities, wining the sympathy from the Indian Tamils and some Kashmiris. After interacting with some of my Tamil colleagues, I could hear some praise for the slain chief commander of LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran. The same opinion is not true for my north Indian colleagues who feel otherwise like many countries including India that listed Prabharkaran as a chief terrorist. “One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter,” that’s what I inferred. Well the same parallelism between Tamils and Kashmiris speaks for a good reason for the recent visit of JKLF boss, Yasin Malik to Chennai.
Keeping the politics apart, many Kashmiris have find their home in Chennai. Although the environment and the other parameters in Chennai are altogether different as those in Kashmir but for many Kashmiris it is a breeding ground to run their business specially the handicrafts. Interestingly there are market places in Chennai like Mahabalipuram and Spenser’s Plaza, where there are more than hundred Kashmiri shops in one place.
During my last six months in chennai, I have met many Kashmiri fellows who have almost been settled permanently in Chennai. Muhammad Ayub from old city is one such person who is settled in chennai with his family. Running emporium shops in various parts of Tamil Nadu, Ayub has spend almost three decades in chennai. His typical old kashmiri face and a long white beard speaks of his experience. Abdul Rehman is another Kashmiri whom I met in a mosque. Rehman says he came to chennai some two decads back, married a local tamil woman and hence got settled there. “Following on his food habits also changed from Noon-chai and Kander Czout to Idli and dosa,” he said with a smile.
A good reason for this settlement can be that south India is much safer for Kashmiris if we talk of the politics against Kashmiris like in rest of the states in India. But sometimes it makes me wonder for how many more years Kashmiri people will be forced to leave their homes in pursuit of a “better” living. And now when I am living in my new home of scorching sun and humid air, I wish for change again. Needless to say this time to a colder place, Kashmir.
[P.S. This piece was first published in kashmirlife ]