Of migration and nostalgia: A woman’s unending journey of longing for her roots 

This day, 28 years ago, many Kashmiri Pandits were preparing to move towards the plains, leaving behind their homes in the politically-charged mountains. One such journey took Sopore’s Uma Shori to East Delhi, her new address. But all these years, she could never part with her ‘lost in transit’ roots, her Kashir.

Every time our old television, with the knob for changing the stations, fixed on a channel telecasting some vintage film, I would look at the idiot box to see if it was showing Pakeezah. Saleem and Sahibjaan’s (Raaj Kumar and Meena Kumari’s) love story evoked a feeling of sensual romance. But for me, it evoked a longing, of home.

All these years, away from my home, I would eagerly wait for that 8-second sequence, showing my neighbourhood in North Kashmir’s Sopore.

“The third house from the left is our Hum-saay’s house. If you stand on its roof, you’ll be able to see our home, too.”

That would be my phrase, every time the sequence played. I had always felt proud about how the film was shot in our neighbourhood, my neighbourhood.

I don’t think my urban grandchildren ogling endlessly at the television would ever understand the sense of belonging that I have with that place, I fondly call my home.

Everything about my stay in Delhi had to connect me to Kashmir, be it my handmade Wawuj (hand fan), setting up the Kaanger for peak winter nights or preparing the traditional Keasher Gogji Aanchaar every year. Every Kashmiri household anywhere in the world will have small bits of Kashmir with them. Kashmiris will always boast about Kashmir, wherever they are.

With the Exodus came the burden of travelling, constantly being on the move, seeking to settle somewhere, far away from home. I always knew, even though I would eventually settle somewhere that I would never be at peace anywhere other than Kashmir.

This was one of my first thought as I left Kashmir, on my very first train journey, from Jammu to Ambala. That first journey, and the thoughts of probably never being able to see home, the place where my Mouj te Moul, my parents raised me, attached themselves to trains, and I could never travel in a train without the memory coming back haunting.

Everything about trains and people moving in opposite directions, speak of movement, but that train journey felt like captivity. Moving in the opposite direction of where I belonged: Garre wandehaye garre saasah, barri nearhayi ne zanh.

That train seemed to me at the time like little houses in motion, I had never seen so many people together at the same time. As a child, me and my siblings, pretended that the small place beneath the staircase, was a train compartment, with blankets tucked under us as berths. We would whistle, like the sound of a train about to depart, and ask each other to hurry up, pretending that the train was about to leave and we were still not prepared.

We’re still not prepared

Like the time I wasn’t prepared to give birth. Rowing a boat towards the misty morning image of the temple in Varmul, I was pregnant with my first child, and the same afternoon I gave birth. Varmul, or Baramulla was my maiden home.

That 10-hour long journey raised a number of questions in my mind, all well answered now, much later in life. My life in a journey raised many thoughts, from Kashmir to Delhi, a place where I took my first breath to the one where I would probably take my last.

ALSO READ: Of Migration and Nostalgia: A Kashmiri Pandit girl’s homecoming hues

All of the thoughts connected to the fact that this metal container was taking me away from Kasheer, while the train was whistling, lagging, struggling, halting. It had stopped, somewhere in the middle, I don’t know where, like a static picture, frozen in my memory waiting to be complete, but it isn’t meant to end.

How can I forget that ride which eventually took me miles away to a humble apartment on the first floor somewhere in East Delhi?

Whenever I would look out of the balcony at the concrete buildings, blocking the sun, and at the neighbourhood where people would pick up frequent fights over petty things, I would often miss Kashir.

I used to tell my grandchildren about our home and make them visit the Kashmir of my memories. Overlooking all these cacophonous sights and sounds, I would point to the distant by-lane encompassing an old government hospital, and say: “Wahan tak dariyaa hua karta tha” (The river would run up to that point).

No matter how many houses you change in life, the one where you grow up will always be the home you see when you dream. Like the time my son would park his car next to the green-painted rusty shutter, only to come back into the car, unable to go back to the house of his dream, as it poured heavily.

I would spend hours sitting in the balcony in East Delhi, as if reliving my good old days. That balcony was my gateway to the world — that I would hardly be able to visit again. Just like the train which took me away, to uncertain life, in an alien, foreign land.

“Will I ever come back?” was a constant thought, the inception of which was the train journey.

But then, I did finally visit Kashmir, once as a tourist. That was my only last wish, and it got fulfilled.

I went back to the home, with my son. We walked through the narrow by-lanes of the Battpora village. I took a few steps forward and stopped, thinking of my reaction on seeing the house of my dreams after such a long time. At times we would pace up, and then suddenly forget our way forward. As we stepped closer to it, a barren nervousness had seized us.

Both of us froze at the sight of our Garre.


Uma Shori passed away in December 2015. This memory was narrated to her granddaughter, Prerna Lidhoo, who documented it as an audio in 2015, and transcribed it later. Prerna is a journalist working in New Delhi.  

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