Home Away from Home

  • Saqib Malik
  • Publish Date: Jun 26 2016 2:16PM
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  • Updated Date: Jun 26 2016 2:16PM
Home Away from Home

For hundreds of non-Kashmiris working and living in Kashmir has largely been a comfortable and memorable experience

Every time Muhammad Saleem Beg, General Manager of BSNL Kashmir Division, rings up his family in Delhi, there is a frantic response from the other side.
Originally from Uttarakhand, Beg has been living in Kashmir for the past few months, working as the top boss of state owned cellular company, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). But every time there’re media reports about violence in Kashmir, Beg’s family in Delhi is a worried lot.
“Although I have served in Kashmir during the peak of militancy in 90’s but my family is always worried and every time I call them, they ask for my well being,” says Beg, recounting his first stint in the Valley in 1996-97 when, despite the strife, he had to oversee the launch of several new telephone exchanges.
For hundreds of non-Kashmiris, living and working in Kashmir is akin to being at home away from home. In the wake of the recent NIT  controversy, several non-locals seemed to be stuck in a catch-22 situation, most of them  sandwiched between being nationalistic,while at the same time carrying a soft corner for Kashmir, which they term as their second home, says Beg.
“We didn’t venture out often during those days but things are different now,” says Beg. “I have made many friends here and roam around quite freely here.”
"I don’t have an independent view on these political issues and hope the government is able to address these concerns well,” he says about the recent NIT row, adding that "limited presence of troops is still required here."
Sitting in his comfortable office at Lal Chowk, Beg cites many examples of communal harmony and brotherhood at the BSNL office. The window of Beg’s cabin looks over a temple situated in the BSNL premises which caters to a number of non-Muslim employees working in the Srinagar office. 
The hospitality of people in Kashmir has impressed Beg.“I have found the most obedient subordinates in Kashmir and compared to my last postings, I feel I have found the best colleagues here,” he says, adding that he's now waiting for his children’s exams to get over so that he could shift his family to Kashmir.
The General Post Office (GPO) in Polo View similarly has a considerable number of non-local employees. Interestingly, the GPO has around 20 non-Kashmiri employees who are originally from Bihar, Delhi, Rajasthan and several other states. One such employee, Sandeep Kumar Baloda, Postal Assistant at the GPO, has had a comfortable stay in Kashmir for the last five years, though he misses his year-old son.
Apart from having a hard time in adjusting to the food and the harsh winters, Baloda says he's having a memorable  stay in Kashmir. “Except some stray incidents, I don’t think there is any indifferent attitude of people towards non-locals here,” says Baloda. “I lived in Anantnag for four years and found the town people more warm than the city folks.”
Baloda feels a better train connectivity between Kashmir and the rest of India will help in strengthening the bond between local and non-local people. “I share family terms with many of my Kashmiri colleagues here and even visit their homes. They also visit us on our festivals but the only difference of opinion creeps in when it comes to discussing the larger Kashmir issue,” says Baloda whose close friend and colleague Sanjay Kumar has strong political views and feels that ‘asking for independence is an unjustified demand’.
Married a year ago, Kumar says he was petrified of media reports prior to his Kashmir posting. “Not every day there are bullets fired here and not everyone is a militant here. It is wrong on the part of Kashmiris to portray passion for Pakistan. People here must accept being an integral part of India considering the vast democracy,” Kumar says. To everyone’s surprise at the GPO, Kumar is loud and clear about his stand on Kashmir issue. He says common Kashmiris treat non-locals well, while adding in the same breathe: “India and Indians cannot afford to let go of Kashmir.”
After living in J&K for over four years, Ankur Mishra, who worked with oil marketing company BPCL, is now back in Delhi. Mishra says apart from the language barrier in official communications, his stay in Kashmir was comfortable. “Although I was based out of Jammu but I used to visit Kashmir quite often and made many Kashmiri friends,” he says. “Although I have left Kashmir but I have a lot of memories from the place called Paradise on earth.”
Some top officials and bureaucrats who are posted in Kashmir but belong to outside states also call their stay in the valley as ‘the most memorable one’. Yasha Mudgal, Deputy Commissioner, Baramulla who originally belongs to Jaipur, says although she is living alone in Kashmir but she ‘does not feel lonely’. Mudgal, an avid art lover, is fond of Kashmiri handicrafts.  She also takes time out for short vacations and goes for Shikara rides in Dal Lake.
“I am a nature and art lover and Kashmir offers best of the both. I pray and wish that peaceful and conducive environment prevails in this beautiful place,” says Mudgal who is known for her suave lifestyle and able administration.
Mudgal says the NIT issue was highly politicized. “I don’t think any educational institute accepts or rejects a student based on the religious grounds," she says. "The NIT row was just hyped by national media.” 
Mudgal is also a keen student of Kashmiri language, although she finds Kashmiri much more nuanced than other regional Indian languages. “I like picking up a few words of Kashmiri and utter those words in front of my close friends and colleagues,” she says. “It is a very flowery language.”
Chef Utpal Mondol, Chief Chef of Hotel Lalil Grand Palace, who is based in Kashmir for over a year now, admits that his love for Kashmir knows no boundaries. “I am so fond of Kashmir that I don’t want to go back to my hometown Kolkata. People in Kashmir are very family like. They accept you and embrace you,” says Mondol. “The originality and nature of Kashmiri people is commendable.”
With its pristine glory, Kashmir offers nature at its best, he says. “Every morning it feels good to be here. Political issues are not in the control of common people,” he  adds. “All we can do is to have cordial relations between Kashmiris and non-locals.”