Writing about Roth – the sacred cookies from Kashmir made me realize just how much I miss the beautiful Valley of Kashmir. I was born there. I sort of grew up there. I can’t say I have all happy memories of the place. It was after-all the place from where I left one dark night in the back of a truck. Crouching amidst whatever belongings my Uncle’s family and a couple of neighbors could load into it in a span of a few hours. If we got caught leaving, our lives could end. The terrorists were threatening to kill Hindus and rape Hindu women in Kashmir. They had already attacked important members of the minority community. So our families hurriedly sent young girls out of the valley with a few belongings.
My youngest sister and I were living with my grandparents at that time. My parents lived and worked in a village a few hours out from Srinagar. We had lost all communication with them. So my grandpa packed a few of my clothes, a few of my school certificates, handed me some money and told me to go live with my aunt in Jammu.
It was difficult leaving them back. But he would have none of it. He wanted me, the young teenage girl, out of harms way. He had to stay back to make contact with my parents and then decide if he wanted to move from the valley or move to a safer place within the valley. My little sister was to stay with them and my uncle and aunt stayed back too.
In less than a night, the big old house that housed 5 families, was housing 5 members of my family. They were all waving silent goodbyes to me and my cousins. Urging us to leave, pleading us to just go and not cry.
It took me days to stop crying. At first because I was constantly worried about my family, especially my grandparents and my little sister. I wasn’t sure if they had averted an attack by sending us away or invited it by sending us away. Then I began to feel the pain of being uprooted from the place I called home. I cried. And prayed. And cried. And I had no idea if my family made it alive. And for the first time in life I felt alone.
It was after a few weeks that news came in that my parents and grandparents were united and safe. My little sister had made it to safety. Relief spread over me and for the first time in days I cried tears of relief.
I did go back to Kashmir a couple of years later because my family still lived there. It was different and deserted. The streets were full of Army bunkers and uniformed men were posted everywhere. It felt odd to know the place yet not recognize it.
But I still have more happy memories of the place than sad, terrifying ones. I choose to remember my home for how beautiful its people are, how gorgeous its mountains are, how youthful the rivers and how delicious the food is.
From the simple people of Kashmir comes this simple yet comforting dish of Kohlrabi, rice and lassi. It’s an everyday dish like the haakh. Comforting and nourishing. Not only does it comfort the senses, it heals the soul. It is my go to dish when I need a piece of home. A home where my roots are and perhaps always will be.