Why did terrorists kill my father: Kashmiri Pandit poet's son recalls night clock stopped ticking for him
One of the foremost shocking killings in Kashmir in 1990 was the murder of Sarvanand Kaul 'Premi', a Kashmiri Pandit school headmaster and popular litterateur.
This was a time when many Hindus had fled Kashmir. But the Kauls decided to remain back believing that the "family wouldn't be touched thanks to the goodwill" that 'Premi' enjoyed within the society.
On May 1, 1990, however, 66-year-old 'Premi' and his younger son, Verinder, were gunned down in Anantnag, each day after being abducted from their village. Five days later, the grief-stricken Kaul family left Kashmir. Never to return.
May 1 is now observed by the Pandit community as Shaheedi Diwas, or Martyrdom Day. And thirty years on, his only surviving son, who's getting through with minimal resources, is now planning a mammoth mission, to re-publish his father's cherished work.
It's been three decades since his father and his brother were gunned down in Kashmir. But, Rajinder Kaul, who is now almost an equivalent age his father was when masked terrorists barged into their home the village of Soaf-shali, has no answers for the questions that have haunted him for years.
"Why did they kill my father and brother? Why was I orphaned? How did we subsided of a Kashmiri? And, what did they even achieve with all this violence for thirty years?" Kaul asks, recalling the night when the clock stopped ticking for his family.
"It was an evening of heavy downpour. the lads rampaged through the house, desperately checking out something and asked my father to return meet the 'commander'. My younger brother got suspicious and [decided to] accompany him," Kaul recounts.
"Pandits were [seen as] government informers or accused of hiding Army's weapons but we had faith in [my] father's goodwill. We never imagined being targeted and expected both [my father and brother] to return soon. To our horror, next morning their dead bodies were located. My brother was only 27 years old, recently married and had a young child," Kaul recalls.
That night of downpour, incidentally, reminds Kaul of his father's poem 'Rood Jeri' (Rain is falling). Describing heavy rainfall on a hot summer day, the then 20-year-old Premi penned this verse while at his home, taking care of elders and cattle.
By the time the 1990's summer night of heavy rainfall came, the poet had vanished into ashes.
Even though the Kauls were old acquaintances of then Governor Jagmohan, "no power could protect us at that point . There was no law and order in valley, thousands of men would congregate on streets shouting religious slogans. Their number went even into lakhs. We could only stay huddled in our homes . thereon night, heavy rainfall meant nobody might be contacted about our situation."
Five days after the tragedy, 13 members of the surviving Kaul family packed their bags, boarded a bus and left Kashmir forever. Some Muslim neighbours encouraged them to remain put, but a choice had been made. The Kaul family stayed for a couple of days in Jammu, at a hostel arranged by a contact then moved to Delhi.
"Till September, I didn't venture out of my house in Delhi. In shock and frightened, my eyesight suffered. My mother immersed herself in religion, maintaining a bold face in hardship. We expected a society furore but Indian conscience showed no awareness. Many influential people expressed sympathy but discouraged us against chatting with journalists. Slowly over the years with campaigns, people have now began to become conscious of our struggle," Rajinder Kaul says.
Kaul recounts how his father had helped in ensuring communal harmony a couple of years before the Kashmiri Pandit exodus of 1990. The year of 1986 saw communal tension after the Pandit community was targeted in Kashmir. It's come to be called a 'rehearsal' of sorts for the violence seen in 1990 violence.
Then, 'Premi' had given a public speech in Kashmir appealing for communal harmony. "His words helped rebuild the arrogance of minority Hindus", his son reflects.
However, Kaul also questions former governments and their complete failure to handle things . "Where was the govt at a time of lawlessness? No promptness was shown in handling increasing terrorism and violence."
REVIVING THE LEGACY
In Delhi, Rajinder Kaul spends his days surrounded by piles of manuscripts written by his deceased father... they're all that remain of his father's legacy.
'Premi' authored quite twenty-four books, which include translations of the 'Bhagavad Gita', 'Ramayana', Rabrindranath Tagore's 'Geetanjali', and Russian folk tales in Kashmiri. His unpublished work included translations of Harivansh Rai Bachchan's 'Madhushala' and works of playwright Pushkin .
As the only surviving son, Kaul intends to revive his father's legacy, but faces a predicament. Kashmiri readership is fast reducing like the present generation not reading or understanding the language.
'Premi's Kashmiri 'Bhagwad Gita' took four years to be converted into an audio/video project, but witnessed a scarcity of viewership despite renewed interest.
"Many books were destroyed, left behind. What I managed to bring may be a cherished treasure i'm trying to republish. The plan is to translate works into Nastalik Kashmiri (Urdu) and Nagri Kashmiri (Hindi) for a bigger readership," Kaul says.
Kaul is currently busy proofreading his father's devotional poetry, 'Bhakti-Pushp', which incorporates 200 devotional songs, able to be published once the lockdown is lifted.
"I am excited about his Urdu work on Lalishori, analysing the life and verses of celebrated poet Lal Ded. there's such a lot treasure I realise he had penned and that i hope the planet are often enlightened. The tragedy of his death is mine but his works are for everybody to delightfully read," Kaul says.
The only regret he has is how governments haven't acknowledged the contribution of such Kashmiri writers.
"I face a mammoth task but have minimal resources. we've not lived a simple life but I hope to spread awareness about my father. I even have written to the cultural ministry, Sahitya Academy, J&K culture Department, and even to elected representatives i do know . We await a national recognition for Sarvanand Kaul 'Premi'. Perhaps, then the planet will realise the greatness of this writer and therefore the loss of such a precious life at the hands of terrorists," Kaul concludes.