The Shikara Ride

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I visited Kashmir this summer, the place was just as they said; ‘a fallen piece of heaven,’ running green valleys, cotton-like soothing snow-capped mountains and dewy weather.

The Dal Lake in Srinagar is commonly complemented as ‘the jewel on the crown of Kashmir;’ comprising its natural beauty and economic value the lake stands out because of its unique travel aid; the Shikara.

The exciting ride, as well as the most inspiring story of my life, started with an introduction about the lake by our Oarsman, he told us some fascinating facts including that during winters the entire lake freezes and they hold cricket tournaments on the flat land. I was mesmerised by his fluency in English, Hindi and also my regional language; ‘Marathi.’

“This place is a fortune isn’t it, I am really curious to know about the life of people who live here. Tell me about yours?”

“Well, I was born here and I’ve not known a life except this. I lost my father at a very young age, but unlike many people in the same situation it wasn’t just me who took all the responsibilities, my entire family pitched in. We had didn’t have any pressure as none of us here has a business to inherit; our jobs keep changing according to the weather and political ether.”

“What do you mean?” I was confused and interested.

“Well, our main income is through tourism, but when due to curfews and natural disasters the place falls shut for outside people; we farm here.” He extended his hand to point out a huge spread of agriculture. They had farms established on water instead of soil and such variety in vegetation; they had crops for green vegetables, cucumber and melon. “It is also called a floating garden as it grows lilies, tulips and the almost extinct Eurale Ferox flowers.”

“When the glaciers started to melt due to Global Warming and the land we had was becoming inhabitable due to many political reasons our ancestors discovered basic hydroponics and started planting roots in water, we get good and healthy yield. They also set up a local market in this lake; it’s called the floating market. It is one of its own kinds. My people are quite good at finding creative solutions to critical issues without outside help.”

I was left speechless. He indeed was right.

“Talking about occupations; I have been a shopkeeper, an art exhibitionist, language translator, oarsman, farmer, fisherman and sometimes even a tour guide. I enjoy every bit of the different opportunities this place gives me.”

“So you play all these roles, every year?” I asked.

“I start my year by reaping and selling the harvest; then I spend months being a tourist guide to amazing people like you; midway I fish and by the end of rainy season I spend a few months in Mumbai participating in exhibitions to sell the jewellery, shawls, saffron, stones, merchandise and selective food products from Kashmir.”

“Do you never get tired of shifting from one job to another; do you never take a holiday?” I was curious.

“I have established such a routine for myself that I have a recreation and refreshment within my jobs itself. And getting tired is an unknown concept for me; anything is better than staying within the four walls of the house doing nothing.”

I was taken aback by his answer. We all spend most of our lives educating ourselves to find that one job which pays well and holds our interest, but this man had a very different way of living. He was indeed living a true adventure. Another realisation that struck me was that despite being so privileged, we all are so distant from actual happiness.

 “And also madam, I have a life where I don’t need a tragedy to feel the gratitude of what I have; I already thank God for all of it, every day. This is something that most people in big cities lack.”

“The irony being, we have art, knowledge and experiences to share but all they write about us is our political state. Everyone wants to rip off the treasures of Kashmir, everyone wants the profit this economy gives but no one wants the people in it. They don’t realise that they’re playing tug of war with our lives, we are real people too, they take away our bread and sometimes even our breath, yet they never seem to be concerned.

I want my Kashmir to be free, its name should not be dragged in controversial decisions, it should not be the reason for the death of numerous soldiers; it should not be an alarm for any kind of war. It needs to be nurtured, respected and admired for its beauty and strength. Kashmir deserves better.”

That Shikara Ride was a life lesson for me; it redirected my way of looking at my being. I still read about Kashmir in the newspapers hoarded with inhuman deeds of encountering and curfews, but unlike everyone who wasn’t on that Shikara with me, I look at Kashmir as an inspiration to lead a life I would love. I look at Kashmir in the way the oarsman wanted everyone to look.