• Tasneem Kabir
  • Publish Date: Nov 16 2017 9:00PM
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  • Updated Date: Nov 16 2017 9:00PM

Mumbai, the city of dreams? Not this Kashmiri girl


There are magical places, fables say, where all dreams come true. Mumbai, that seaside home to people from everywhere, is one such place. The city where I was educated, for the most part. The city that fuels the dreams of a nation. My dreams, too? Well.

When we first hit Mumbai 7-8 years ago, the air was thick with the smell of the sea and the land full of people. Scared of getting lost in the seas of humanity around, I gripped my father’s hand tightly. That should have been the least of my worries, though. Turned out the city wasn’t as welcoming as we had imagined. I vividly remember overhearing my parents saying almost every landlord they had asked to rent a place had turned them down saying “Kashmiri ko dena hi nahi hai”. That was the first blow to the dreams of my nine-year-old self.

Once we finally had a place to call home – in a posh locality, too – the rejection became more subtle. Our Hindu neighbours were all civil and welcoming until they found out we were Kashmiri Muslims, not Kashmiri Pandits. That’s when the questions started: “Why did your people hate Kashmiri Pandits?” “Why do they want nothing to do with India.” 

That’s the gist of pretty much every conversation during my elevator ride to our fourth floor apartment. In school, the children would often remark to me, “That’s how we do it in India.” 

For a girl who didn’t quite understand the Pandit and Muslim scene, I would just shrug and smile. 

As I grew up, I realised my Kashmiri identity was something I couldn’t ever escape. There was this one time, during my early teens, when a bunch of us were playing a game of Truth and Dare. I didn’t trust my friends to dare me to do something rational, so I opted for Truth. And you won’t believe what I was asked: “Is it true that Kashmiris burst crackers every time Pakistan win a cricket match against India?”

Hardly any person would shy away from asking for my family’s opinion on whether Kashmir should separate from India or not. As though we spoke for all of Kashmir! If we replied what they wanted to hear, they felt assured of our “lack of patriotism”; if we differed, we were called “diplomatic”.

Why is it that being a Kashmiri makes me seem like a walking, ticking time-bomb? Why is it that I, of all the billion people in this country, am asked for proof of my patriotism? Why and on what grounds am I subjected to additional frisking at airports? Why is it that people across India still have difficulty integrating us into their idea of a society? Why is it that prejudices against us still exist? Why is it that we are known as coming from a “violent bloodline”? What have I ever done to deserve this?