RECENTLY a bus of Amarnath yatris was involved in a cooking gas cylinder blast near Anantnag. Local youths went all out to rush injured pilgrims to hospitals in their own vehicles. The gesture made me nostalgic about Kashmiriyat I experienced during my heyday, decades ago.
During 1966, I had opted for the Central government’s forest survey to assess the quantum of green wood in the country — on government as well as private lands — for the optimal utilisation of resources. Topographical sheets and aerial photographs of the Survey of India were available for indoor table work and field checks. We, in the northern zone located in Shimla, were required to cover the Shivaliks and the Himalayas. J&K was to be covered on priority, starting from the Valley.
A senior conservator, Capt ES Das (retd), a soldier-turned-forester, was our zonal coordinator. In those days, J&K was as peaceful as Himachal. Nevertheless, while moving us to Kashmir, he hammered two important precautions to adhere to — do not discuss politics and do not get provoked if asked by a Kashmiri when you had come from Hindustan. He permitted us to drape ourselves in olive green fatigues, instead of the khaki usually worn by forest officers.
Being a hill-man by birth and up-bringing, I used to be allotted the most difficult sampling points. That allowed me the privilege of having gone to the inner-most dales and ‘margs’ of Kashmir. Unarmed soldiers, we found Kashmiris extremely kind and hospitable.
One day, our sampling point fell in the thicket above Gandharbal. We were leisurely climbing the open hillside to approach the thicket to collect samples, not knowing what was going on inside the grove. Just as we entered it, we heard women shrieking. Soon a bevy of some 10 young girls, throwing their wood-cutting tools, darted out and dashed towards their village, as if some wild beasts were about to pounce upon them. Apprehending the possibility of a serious outcome of the girls mistaking us for marauders, I called off the day’s survey work and climbed down towards the habitation where the girls had headed. I assured the village elders that we meant no harm to the girls who had panicked on just sighting us. They asked us to relax.
In another incident, while we were in a forest above Tral — logging a big pine tree for form factor analysis — one of the logs slipped out of our control and hurtled down the slope. A few days later, we were told that the log had hit the cattle grazing on the slope, killing one instantly. The villagers could have made our life miserable, but their large heartedness saved us any embarrassment.
How one wishes that Kashmiriyat returns not only to the Valley, but also globally, once again!
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