|A jungle on the outskirts of Palandri|
Day 4 of 'Ride for Justice' from Sehnsa to Muzaffarabad:
As I feared, being fed well and accommodated in a homely atmosphere delays my rising. It's 8:30am once again.
On the bright side, Palandri is not too far away and I'm eager to set foot in the first major town on my way to Muzaffarabad. I'm keen to seek the difference (if any) between rural and urban Azad Kashmir.
Another point of pleasure is that I've met so many people. Some have tried to enforce despair on me while others have inspired hope. My host of last night can be categorised amongst the latter. Drawing on his rich experience of living in various parts of Pakistani Punjab and the Tribal Areas, he exemplifies the strong aspiration of most Kashmiris: to be independent, self-sufficient, refraining from entangling in enmity with others and I suppose most comforting to me was the realisation that violence has been a futile exercise for Kashmir(is).
His parting words were in the form of giving me a strong recommendation to join the political fray. "Genuine politicians who lead by example are precisely what we lack", he summarised. I imagine he was just being too kind to me.
Entering Palandri was a different experience as anticipated. I was led by a local activist into a shop where a swarm of journalists and activists descended in no time and threw a barrage of questions at me. My pre-existing notion that most media people in Kashmir are a part of the power structure rather than a kinetic force for postive change was re-confirmed. Publicity here is bought as opposed to journalists ethically seeking information in the public interest.
The evening in the town provides an hitherto unfaced dilemma. Bearing in mind that I left home without a single rupee in my pocket, rural hospitality had overwhelmed me thus far. Now, a student from the maddrassah who happens to hail from my local region (Sehnsa) suggests that I ask a local hotel to give me a room 'on tick'. Despite my insistence that some facility will emerge as the evening progresses, he is adamant that I approach the hotel manager. The Manager in turn explains that it's only a matter of 150 rupees (just over a British pound) and he wouldn't be willing to wait on it as a debt, payable on my return from Muzaffarabad. The young student (reluctantly) suggests that he will make some arrangement for me to sleep in the Maddrassah.
The Maddrassah's administration as well as the student have strong suspicions that I'm a foreign agent, ostensibly looking for evidence of links to terrorism. I feel that they hamper their own reputation and aid in perpetuating the myths inferred by foreign media. I know that most maddrassahs have no links to terrorism, I studied for 4 years in one myself (albeit in the UK). My major emphasis in my long-drawn out interaction with students and teachers alike was the anachronistic nature of their syllabus, it's narrow interpretation of Islamic texts and a distinct aversion for non-muslims. All serious issues which need urgent attention.