When Ashima Koul spoke to Abbas Hamid for the first time in more than 30 years, she was unsure about whether or not he would remember her. After all, 30 years is a long time — enough to finish old wars and start new ones. Although they had lived next to each other for ages, she had moved out of the valley and got married in 1987, while Abbas stayed back. Three years later, the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus, a large majority of whom were Pandits, happened. Although Koul was in Delhi, the conflict marred any chances of reconnecting with Abbas.
So when three decades later, Koul managed to track down Abbas with the help of Jaibeer Ahmed, curator of 'Raabta' — an online initiative which helps to connect Kashmiri Pandits with their Muslim friends — she was nervous. But one WhatsApp group was all that it took to bring them together and it wasn't just her, Abbas remembered her too. "When he immediately remembered me and started inquiring about my parents and sister...there was joy," says Koul.
What started as a WhatsApp group has now turned into an online platform called 'Raabta' (connection). Ahmed, who started the page, hails from Mattan, Anantnag. Although he moved to Delhi to take up an advertising job, the need to reconnect with friends and neighbours who he was close to in the Valley, was always there at the back of his mind. But it was his grandmother's long-standing wish to speak with Dina Nath Pandit, a man she used to treat like her son, that ignited the spark. The two had lost touch after the conflict and hadn't spoken in 29 years. "She remembers him and just wishes to see him once. After she told me to find out about him, it became a personal quest for me and the first post I wrote on Raabta, was for him," says Jaibeer, who runs the page with a couple of friends who have volunteered to help with the design, content and publicity.
Although Dina Nath is yet to be found, Jaibeer has managed to reconnect about seven sets of people so far through his online initiative. School teachers hearing from their students, long lost best friends reconnecting after decades — Raabta has truly warmed hearts. One such story is of Nuzhat Jehangir, who recently re-connected with her childhood friend Suman. When she got in touch with her friend, she wrote in the comments section of her original post saying, "Got connected with your help, couldn't talk to her much...29 years of trauma, pain and the desire to meet my best childhood friend overwhelmed me. Thank you Raabta."
The older lot is especially thankful to Jaibeer because it was they who witnessed the genocide and subsequent exodus. Their lives were changed irrevocably. Jaibeer, however, feels the communities never lost the love that existed between them. "Our lives were always intertwined; we were never two separate communities," he says. However, he realises that pain can't be forgotten completely. It can only be eased over time. "The pain for some people has slowly turned into bitterness, anger and even hatred. Many of the people who have managed to rekindle their relationships virtually because of Raabta, want to reunite physically as well...but it's been a long time, 30 years...," he says.
It's also tough to imagine that the current militant atmosphere, which leaves very little space for discourse, didn't weaken Ahmed's resolve. "We might be on different ends of the political spectrum but when we meet as individuals, our differences are kept aside. This was my premise for Raabta. The platform is not going to become a solution for anything. It is just a way to rekindle relationships that once existed," he says. And with the response that he's been getting from people, you can tell this is one job that he doesn't mind doing for free. All the people who contribute to Raabta and make sure it's up and running each day have full-time jobs, too. However, a common yearning to discover old friends and re-live those days keeps them motivated.
Raabta has also been getting support from local radio stations, which have actively facilitated calls between those who wish to reconnect. The page is regularly updated with stories of reunions and reading the posts makes you realise that you are just one comment away from the person you're looking for. All one really needs, is a start.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Apr 18, 2018 16:28:07 IST