The Kashmiris I met

Kashmir, the name referred to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, is heaven on the earth. It indeed is.

One of my dream destinations, these days it is in news due to political reasons. Last few decades it has been in news for terrorism, exodus, army camps, wars, tough life and all negatives. Once a destination for film makers is now destination for news makers.

This story is about my Interaction with two Kashmiris. Mukhtar and Reyaz, who used to come every season, used to bring Kashmiri shawls and used to stay entire winter.

It was late 1990s. I had approvals from my father to play cricket in local clubs. I was playing in a club which largely stayed in a ghetto. And the Kashmiris coming to my town find it more comfortable to stay there.

In one of those seasons, two Kashmiris joined our team. They used to come to practice after end of their business hours. They added spark to our team, we acknowledge by sacrificing our places in playing eleven whenever they accompanied us for matches.

Mukhtar was quite and easily get mixed with us in terms of appearance. Reyaz was more prominent, for two reasons, one he was talkative and two, he was way different in looks than rest of us.

During one of those cricket seasons, Ramadan month coincided. My team, which consisted of one Sikh, three Hindus and rest all Muslims, so almost entire team was on roza, the fast during the auspicious month. We had to travel to a remote place via train for a tournament. It was a place with least connectivity. The two Kashmiris joined us.

I remember it was my last match being part of that club.  We played brilliantly but lost the match chasing 150 plus score in 25 overs, despite the heroics of our vice captain W Khan a.k.a. Dabloo Khan and those two Kashmiris. I, after getting out,  scoring just 15 runs (of 14 balls) sat near the scorer to stay away from the stares of the team.

Reyaz joined me there. I was not a talkative person those days and would utter only when needed. Reyaz was a chatterbox. With his Kashmiri accent, he was fun for the people in scoring box. He shared a lot of stories of his home, his family, business, plans and many things. Mukhtar joined us after he was out and he pulled legs of Reyaz, praised my game gave few tips and promised he will bring me a Kashmir willow bat on next trip. This was the maximum chat anyone from the team ever had with Mukhtar. Reyaz continued his stories and jokes till the final blow to our team.

It was a tough day for us as a team, but winter days, being shorter, are little kind to those who fast. Post match we had plans to give it a miss to the earliest train.

We sat together for iftar, a routine, if the Ramadan falls during season. After the feast ended, we already have missed the train and had 3 hours until next one. Reyaz was roaming around and was able to find someone or other to chat. 

The team sat scattered in small groups, some of us were taking a naps. The cold evening by now has become a chilly night. The open station was adding to the already freezing temperature. There were very few passengers waiting and foggy and cold weather  has made them hide into their travelling blankets. The place has become  quieter.  Suddenly, breaking the creepy silence, someone's singing pulled everyone's attention. 

It was Reyaz, singing Mohd Rafi's iconic song, "Dil Jo Na Keh Saka". I was listening to this song for the first time and beleive me, when I listened to the original Rafi's version, I found Reyaz's version better.

After an hour or so, the train came in, we boarded and by midnight we reached our town. I lived little ahead of the ghetto the rest of the team stayed in. Mukhtar offered me a drop, since I was the only one going ahead. After his offer, few team members too accompanied me through.

It was my last season with the club, after that I never met Reyaz or Mukhtar. Those two guys appeared happy, never cribbed about their situation in Kashmir, and most importantly, used to spread only positivity.

Kashmir may be a beautiful place, but the Kashmiris I met were probably more beautiful.


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