Daddy had a clear vision about Jammu and Kashmir and it would frustrate him when others were not as passionate or committed as him. Sometimes, it would be his secretary who would be in the line of fire, at other times his personal security officer who would be at the receiving end . Despite initial apprehensions, I gathered the courage to help him and contribute in whatever little way possible.
On one of his official trips to Mumbai, I remember sitting in the Maharashtra state guest house, Sahyadri on Malabar Hill, from nine to six in the evening. Daddy had back to back appointments with executives from the corporate sector. There was a great deal of conviction with which he asked them to invest in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. “Kya kartain hain aap? You must come and invest so that we can generate employment,” he told one business magnate.
By mid afternoon, I felt exhausted and thought of a plan to sneak away for a while. So for about two hours, I was out and about sight seeing in Mumbai. Little did I know that despite an official entourage of about ten people, daddy had noticed my absence and he was furious. In my defence , I threw my hands up and said: “But daddy I was tired and I wanted a break!” To this my grandfather said, in a calm, sagely voice: “I am almost 80 . If I can work at this age why can you not?”
I can never forget the sense of embarrassment I felt hearing those words. That was my grandfather for you. He had the body of an 80-year-old but the vigour and spirit of a youngster. Of course, this wasn’t the first and the last time that I got a dressing down.
Soon after the Mumbai trip, my mother told daddy, “Sana (my nick name) says she will not work for you anymore.” Five minutes into this conversation I walked into daddy’s room reminding him of his appointments for the next day. My mother was confused and later told me how she had been pleading my case. She felt that I should have dug my heels in for a few days so that he would realise that he had been a bit harsh. But daddy had a way with his family, colleagues and people. He would scold you one minute only to then realise his harsh tone soon after. The next moment he would be his usual endearing self. It was this love that kept us going.
It wasn’t until August last year that the media was agog with speculations about his failing health. It didn’t help when my mother broke down at a public meeting asking party workers to pray for daddy’s health. The headlines were rampant but no one wanted to believe them. Not the Party, not my mother and certainly not me.
For a while, we didn’t have to believe the headlines. Daddy worked every day, with vigor and passion; few would’ve been able to guess that he was ill. Up until his six hours in downtown Srinagar, our fears were masked by his energy. But on Christmas Eve, even daddy couldn’t fool us much longer.
Daddy was admitted into AIIMS on December 24. Over the course of 13 days, daddy’s physical body deteriorated but not once did his spirit falter. Daddy, lying in that hospital bed, was still the same grandfather, leader, and person we had always known. He told his grand kids to go enjoy themselves in the city. He followed up on meetings and called for decisions to be made. And of course, he didn’t let his condition stop him from inquiring about the relief funds for flood victims and the accommodations for Kashmiri Pandits. His body may have been hurting, but his character stood strong throughout.
Daddy felt great love and empathy for the people of his state. Every time he spoke about his vision you could see his eyes glitter. He wanted the state to witness peace and development and for Kashmiris to live a life of dignity. My mother and grandfather shared a unique relationship. He was her closest confidante, a huge source of strength and a mentor. She was probably the only one who could tell him as it was. Today, there is considerable debate about how she will have to assume this responsibility since the onus is on her. But as a Kashmiri first and his grand daughter later, I strongly believe that the responsibility for a better Kashmir lies upon our shoulders too. We must all work towards it. Daddy believed that every individual of the state has to be an important stake holder in the peace process. Be it regional parties, local trade unions and even the Hurriyat. We must strive to fulfil the vision that he had for Jammu and Kashmir.
The 2014 mandate was a fractured one that threw everyone into a tizzy. But not my grandfather. While even his own party men were flustered because of the verdict, he stayed calm and saw it as a historic opportunity to unite the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Unlike other kids who see their maternal grandparents rarely, my sister and I were raised by them. In retrospect, they are an integral part of all our childhood memories. My mother being a single parent was the strict disciplinarian but daddy always indulged us. There is a lot that I subconsciously learnt from him. He was magnanimous. Not once would he speak ill of his rivals. Rarely will one ever find a politician who wouldn’t pursue politics of vendetta. Daddy was kind to the harshest of his detractors and critics. He was always optimistic and considered the glass as half full. He exuded a sense of quiet dignity which is rare and always made people feel special. For him, politics was the art of the possible.
In the beginning of December, while in hospital, he wanted me to write articles for local dailies explaining the importance of the certain social welfare schemes recently implemented by the PDP- BJP government like Laadli Beti to empower the girl child. I kept procrastinating and finally had a draft. It is ironic how my first article somehow ended up being a tribute to him instead.
Daddy loved all his grandchildren dearly. He paid attention to every little detail and that is what made each one of us feel so special. He encouraged us to follow our hearts and live life to the fullest. His absence is like a gaping hole for all of us . Perhaps the only thing that can give me solace is knowing that he went away doing what he loved the most – serving his state.
Daddy we will miss you terribly…
2015 Kashmir Despatch