[Transcription in Kashmiri by Jeelani Kamran]
Kashmir, this landlocked country, is an abode to several million souls. Every soul has countless stories to tell the world.
Translation from the Kashmiri by Akmal Hanan:
If Mountains Were Oceans by Akmal Hanan
The world has seven continents and more than 190 countries, but destiny decreed that I was born in a landlocked country called Kashmir. A place where people are proud of their lofty, snow-clad mountains, gushing streams, lakes, meadows, chinar trees, and what not! Nature has been exceedingly kind, they believe, in bestowing its bounties on the region. The place always presented a captivating view to me as well.
Whenever I found myself on top of a mountain, I felt a strong desire to ride the airwaves and land on the plains below. I always imagined myself flying above the valleys. There was something about their beauty that moved me profoundly — maybe it was the depth of the valleys, lakes, and rivers. As far back as I can remember, I would see a body of water and start imagining how deep the waters were. My ultimate passion is for water. And yes, you probably guessed it already, what could satisfy this passion more than the sight of an ocean? There is something about water that touches the depths of my soul. If I wanted to jump from mountains and ride the airwaves to land in a valley, I had a greater desire to dive into water wherever I found it. I find oceans irresistible. When I see one, I imagine myself riding its waves, drenching in it, and moving smoothly to its seabed to discover the world within it.
I always contemplated the question of whether I would trade the lofty mountains of my country with deep, serene, blue and green oceans. And the answer would almost always be a definite yes. This was in spite of knowing well that the people of my country love these mountains and are proud to possess them. No doubt, my fascination and curiosity for the depths of oceans was endless, but more importantly for me, I always wanted to trade the mountains of my country with oceans, for the sake of those same people who felt possessive of them.
“Why is that?” you might ask. Here is the answer.
Kashmir, this landlocked country, is an abode to several million souls. Every soul has countless stories to tell the world. Long stories, short stories, melancholic and nostalgic stories, such that if they were to be inscribed on these mountains, the mountains would fall short, and many more stories would remain. These stories are buried deep inside each soul, because the mountains stand guard and do not let them reach the world. Every story that tries to breach these mountains only ends up back in Kashmir, like an echo bouncing back from mountain rock. The mountains turn our valley into an open-air prison, even blocking airwaves from reaching us. The stories have no medium to carry them forward. So what happens in the valley remains trapped there. And what is buried inside the depths of people’s souls, stays buried there, to this day.
People have stories to tell about living in a landlocked region, about foreign intruders from the 16th century who found a mountain pass to occupy the valley and oppress its people. People have stories to tell the world about deceit, trickery, and broken promises. People have stories about being subjected to forced labor and fried alive in boiling oil. People have stories about how they felt when their country was sold, lock, stock and barrel, in Amritsar. People have stories to tell about the pandemic and the hardships and miseries it had brought. When Covid-19 made the world go into virtual lockdown, Kashmiris wanted to tell the world they have been experiencing such lockdowns for decades now, but no one cares.
If these mountains were oceans, these stories could have sailed to the outside world. The oceans would have provided a smooth medium for the stories to sail with the winds and reach humankind outside the valley. And more importantly, Kashmir would have been known for its people rather than its lofty mountains.
Photograph by Shahnawaz Shah
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