“My visit to Srinagar was not the first but it was the first trip that in­spired a new avatar”


India Today - - COVER STORY -

There are many places I have vis­ited to re­search my nov­els but only Kash­mir has changed the course of my life

The jour­ney that changed my life was a chance visit to Srinagar, Kash­mir. It was not my first time into Srinagar but it was the first jour­ney that in­spired a new avatar.

My par­ents had al­ways loved Kash­mir and al­most ev­ery year we would take our fam­ily’s sum­mer hol­i­days there. We would stay at what was then called the Oberoi Palace (now the Lalit Grand Palace). Our trips al­ways con­sisted of hav­ing meals on the gen­er­ous lawns of the palace, end­less shikhara ex­cur­sions on the Dal Lake, walk­ing through the nu­mer­ous ap­ple and cherry or­chards, tak­ing pony rides at the Polo Ground, sip­ping sweet water of the Chashme Shahi springs, partaking of the ex­quis­ite honey-wal­nut fudge at Moon­light Bak­ery and break­ing away for a few nights to the snowy peaks of Gul­marg or Pa­hal­gam.

I re­call vis­it­ing some of the usual Srinagar tourist spots with my par­ents, for ex­am­ple Hazrat­bal, Shal­i­mar Bagh and the Shankracha­rya tem­ple but I can­not specif­i­cally re­mem­ber hav­ing ever vis­ited Rauza Bal, the place that would even­tu­ally in­spire my first book, The Roz­a­bal

Line. That visit would hap­pen much later, in 2003, by which time I was 34 years old and mar­ried.


My driver told me that there was a very old tomb in the heart of Srinagar that was worth a look. “How old?” I had asked. He told me that it had stood there for thou­sands of years. Some said that it had been around from 124 CE. Fas­ci­nated, I agreed to let him take me there. It was lo­cated in the Khanyaar neigh­bour­hood of Srinagar, a rather crowded zone of the old city. In fact, when we reached the spot, I didn’t even re­alise it. It looked al­most like any other lowrect­an­gu­lar dwelling in that area with white­washed walls, a cor­ru­gated green roof and iron fenc­ing around the perime­ter.

My driver beck­oned a lo­cal who prided him­self on know­ing the tomb. He smiled a tooth­less smile as he guided me in­side in an­tic­i­pa­tion of bak­shish. Buried within the struc­ture lay a Mus­lim pir, Mir Sayyed Naseerud­din. But be­low his burial lay an­other body, one of an ear­lier saint that the lo­cals call Yuz Asaf. This one was ori­ented in an East-West di­rec­tion ac­cord­ing to an­cient Jewish cus­toms. Near the grave towards the right hand cor­ner was a tomb­stone show­ing an im­print of hu­man feet scarred by cru­ci­fix­ion. My grin­ning tooth­less guide told me that many be­lieved that Yuz Asaf was none other than Je­sus Christ who had es­caped from Jerusalem and trav­elled to Kash­mir.

Writ­ers of­ten say that we don’t go look­ing for sto­ries. In fact, it is sto­ries that seek us out. That’s pre­cisely what hap­pened with me. Even af­ter I re­turned to my ho­tel that day, I could not stop think­ing about the tomb and the fas­ci­nat­ing story around it. I was ob­sessed.

Upon my re­turn from Srinagar, I de­cided to search for ma­te­ri­als that would an­swer my ques­tions about the tomb and the per­son who had been orig­i­nally buried there. A year later, I had read over fifty books— about the tomb, about the pos­si­bil­ity that Je­sus sur­vived the cru­ci­fix­ion and about the the­ory that he stud­ied un­der Bud­dhist mas­ters in In­dia. By this time my wife was fed up of my re­search. She told me that I was be­com­ing a bore be­cause in­creas­ingly the only item of con­ver­sa­tion with me was the tomb. She sug­gested that I try to find ways to get the ob­ses­sion out of my sys­tem. And that’s when I re­alised that I would write a book.

I had been to Srinagar at least fif­teen times with my fam­ily but I had never been as fas­ci­nated with it as I sud­denly was. Upon my next trip, I revisited the Jyestesh­wara tem­ple that stands at the top of the Shankracha­rya Hill, ris­ing 1100 feet above the rest of Srinagar town. This struc­ture dates back to around 200 BCE but what is in­ter­est­ing is the fact that there are ref­er­ences to carv­ings that talk of Yuz Asaf, the very man buried at Rauza Bal. Even more in­ter­est­ing is the fact that the hill on which the tem­ple sits is of­ten called Takht-iSu­laiman—the Throne of Solomon. This ties in tan­ta­lis­ingly with the idea that Kash­mir was the promised land and that the lost tribes of Is­rael had wan­dered there.

It is said that the Mughal em­peror, Ja­hangir, once re­marked about Kash­mir, “Agar Fir­daws ba roy-i za­min ast, hamin ast-u hamin ast-u hamin ast.” Loosely trans­lated, it means “if there is par­adise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.”

There are many places that I have vis­ited to re­search my nov­els but there is only one place—Kash­mir—that has changed the course of my life. I sur­ren­dered my life as a busi­ness­man and took to writ­ing, strug­gling with the de­ci­sions that I made over sev­eral years but never re­gret­ting the in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties that my new world had to of­fer. I too had found my par­adise. n

Illustrati­on: RAJ VERMA

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