A Love Affair With Kashmir, The Forever Conflict


I did not plan to fall in love with Kashmir, the forever conflict, or its people. When I visited Wonderland, I could not have predicted the profound effect it would have on the way I would see and understand a protracted conflict: the spoils of war; the senseless violence; the widows and families left behind; and the endless political quagmire. 

Over the past year, since the release of my first book, Secrets of the Kashmir Valley, I have watched from afar men, women and children dying, or wounded by gunfire, pellet bullets, and the accidental torture of civilians as the Army hunts for militants.

As an American observer, I have witnessed acts of kindness and togetherness. Conflict brings people together. 

Kashmiris help one another; they march together when one of their own is taken; they shout slogans of freedom when on the anniversary of their dead (read martyrs); and those in exile in Europe and America continue to write about the atrocities of war.

Together, Kashmiris everywhere call attention to what is happening to them. Even when India shuts down the Internet and phone service for hours or days. 

Despite the shutdown, their message reaches the international community.  Together, Kashmiris share the same aspiration.

We deserve to be free.

In recent years, I travel back and forth to Pakistan to meet Indian-held Kashmiris, who visit Pakistan for personal reasons, and then return home to India. While there is a sizable population of Kashmiris settled in Pakistani cities, their lives are markedly different from Kashmiris living under “Army rule” across the border in India. 

As I write this, events are unfolding in Indian-held Kashmir. A martyr’s death anniversary on July 8th ignited a heavy Indian security presence. Curfewed nights went into effect. The summer capital city of Srinagar came under siege. Again. Which is why we shouldn’t forget the people of conflict. 

In my new edition of Secrets of the Kashmir Valley, I talk about the Indian Army’s use of pellet guns that blinded hundreds of children; the innocent boy playing cricket who was “accidentally” shot dead; the anniversary of Burhan Wani’s death on July 8th; and so much more.

In the book, you will find an updated Introduction, additional chapters, a new Epilogue, and original poetry throughout the book. 

The New Edition Is Almost Here.

Here’s an excerpt from the new edition of Secrets of the Kashmir Valley:

He continued to speak as we held hands: stories of unspeakable horrors that millions of other Kashmiris like him had witnessed—a child shot in a cricket field by accident; a girl gone blind by a pellet gun; a mother consumed with so much grief that she lost her voice.

I am trying to understand, Sethi, but it’s never easy for an outsider. I have never experienced anything like this. I don’t know if I should cry. Or just let you come closer. All I know is that I want this feeling to last. To be here with you. To stop, breathe, and be.

He gave my hand a loving squeeze and pointed to the blue night. Bathed in moonlight, we gazed more deeply into each other’s eyes.

If I asked you to come away with me forever, would you? I imagined Sethi saying words I could only imagine.

Forever? I would say with dreamy eyes.

Yes, forever.

I played a fantasy in my mind. He would take me in his arms and then…but it was all in my mind. A love affair with a happily-ever-after marriage and a home on an island with marine blue water and mangosteen.

“You should go,” I said, withdrawing my hand. “It’s late.”

“You’re right. I will see you in the morning. May God protect you, always.”

The next morning and the morning after that came and passed like a fast moving sailboat. Sethi insisted I tell him my life story. He wanted to know where I have been, what I have done, and who I might have loved. In the short time we were together, I made him cry and laugh.

“You rarely laugh,” I said.

“When you live in Kashmir, it’s easy to be an angry man.”

“That’s why you surprise me. You’re not a militant. You’re not a protestor. You’re not fighting for freedom.”

“We won’t be free until we stop fighting each other,” he said.

Finally, I understood Kashmir’s problem. For so long, I had believed India and Pakistan, two ancient enemies, were the only obstacle to peace. But Sethi helped me see that local Kashmiri politicians, ex-militants, and religious groups also contributed to a divided valley.

The truth is that there is no one leader.

No Mahatma Gandhi to lead a revolution against the Indian occupier. 

Before snowfall, Sethi left Pakistan for India to return to his family. And I boarded a plane for America.

For a while, I take small pleasure in the fact that I have Sethi’s stories. Then I do something I haven’t done for years.

I fall in love.







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