“Despite my best efforts to move beyond it, I have been thinking of my lost home since the eruption of the most recent crisis in Kashmir. I was born a Hindu in Kashmir, as was almost everyone in my family, for probably thousands of years. My parents decided to move abroad for work opportunities in the early 1980s, really so that they could gather funds to build their dream house in Srinagar.
We spent every summer and holiday, probably four to five months a year, in Kashmir. I was born in Habba Kadal, a neighborhood in central Srinagar, its maze of streets lined with narrow, four-story wooden houses.
My parents built their house in the suburban area of Natipora, which at the time had open fields, fresh air and an unobstructed view of the Himalayas. We gently, by hand, carried home china, linens and decorative items for the house. We clambered over rocks and beams at the construction site, watched them polish the terrazzo, proud and excited for our return.
Afternoons cleaning string beans and corn from the vegetable patch. The time my mother told me not to play badminton in the evening, and it got so dark that I smacked a shrieking bat instead of the shuttlecock. I woke up once in the middle of the night and saw a bear dancing on its hind legs on the lawn. Nobody believes me about this one, but it happened.
After one of many picnics in Pahalgam, a hill town so picturesque you can see it in every Bollywood movie, I was halfway through a tourist-trap horse ride before realizing a pound of chocolate-covered walnuts was too many.
This is all to say: Have you ever heard people talk about how incredible Kashmir was? How beautiful, how peaceful? “Paradise on Earth” is the cliché, right? It was absolutely all of that, no exaggeration. To my 9-year-old self, it was the most magical, joyful place in the world.”