The exodus of the Pandits from the Kashmir Valley began twenty-five years ago, on the night of 19 January 1990. Over the next few months, as hundreds of Pandits were killed by Islamist extremists, lakhs left the Valley. Rahul Pandita was only fourteen when his family joined the exodus on 4 April 1990. In this excerpt from Our Moon Has Blood Clots (Random House), Pandita describes the experience of exile in the immediate aftermath.
We finally reached Jammu early that evening. After we had crossed the Jawahar tunnel, Father’s worries about finding suitable accommodation had taken over. The Dak Bungalow where we usually stayed would be expensive, since we didn’t know how long we were going to stay. Eventually we checked into a small, relatively cheap hotel. Ma immediately set up a kitchen on one side of the room and my sister was sent to fetch a bucket of fresh water. Until a few years ago we had not even heard of overhead tanks. It took us a while to understand that the water that came out of taps in Jammu and elsewhere was not fresh water.
On the first day I filled water in a bucket to take a bath. The first mug that I poured over myself singed me. I was reminded of how we would bathe back home in Srinagar. In the winter, Ma would wake us up before sunrise. In the bathroom there would be water steaming in the traditional copper tank. We would have a bath while she kept a set of fresh clothes on a kangri to warm them. We would then dry ourselves vigorously, wear the clothes warmed on the kangri, and snuggle back under our quilts. In summers, just for fun, I would bathe at the tap in the kitchen garden when Ma was away.
In Jammu, for me the biggest symbol of exodus turned out to be a pair of shoes. Back home, my father once saw me playing football at the polo ground with men twice my age, and he was so impressed that he bought me a pair of studded football shoes from a store called Sunchasers. But those shoes had been left behind. The ones I came to Jammu wearing were falling apart. So, Father had bought me a pair of cheap canvas shoes from Gumat market. I despised those shoes. But I understood his position. He had no money and there was total uncertainty about our future.
Our only concern during our last few days in Srinagar had been to somehow survive, to go somewhere where there would be no slogans, no loudspeakers, no fists and middle fingers raised at us, no hit lists, no Kalashnikovs, no freedom songs. So we were relieved to come out of the other end of the Jawahar tunnel.