That night, Rahul’s throat felt dry, and his forehead was on fire. He threw open the small window of his hotel room and gazed into the night sky, letting its mild breeze wash over his anger. He couldn’t let his hurt surface. He couldn’t let himself get angry. Wasn’t it anger, someone else’s anger, that had wrecked his life six years ago?
Someone powerful had made a powerless young boy angry, given him a gun – the gun which had pushed Rahul out of his home and landed him in a wretched camp of a city. Only, that camp had not been temporary. Delhi had become permanent, his new home.
In those six years in Delhi, Rahul had wanted to go back to Varmull every day. Those in power in Delhi had heard his longing, seen his pain, watched his destruction, seen his anger grow over the years. Yet they had done nothing. He sobbed into his pillow. He remembered Doora and how she had changed, and cried more.
The next morning was crisp, and children’s chatter filled the air. The Deutsches Science Museum was a large, imposing building, with over five floors. He had spent the night desperately wanting to be back in his home. He wasn’t in the mood to visit a museum, but he couldn’t have told Claudia that.
So now, he politely walked behind her through the corridors of the science museum. Furnaces, boilers, computing machines, robots, engines, cars, bridges, trains and aeroplanes rolled past him. Made of metal, glass, cloth, plastic, wood, stones. Things that had gone into his house, things that he had once owned. He had an urge to leave Munich and be in Varmull. Now.
Mohammad Shafi, the chemistry professor in Varmull and his friend, would argue how science was rational and exact, and how nothing could go wrong if based on it. “Science is the observation of nature, its forces and its reactions.” Later, when the boys, including some of his own students, crossed the border into Pakistan and returned with guns, grenades and rockets, Shafi said with dismay, “They have brought back a different science.”
Claudia and he later ate sandwiches in the museum. She did not speak much. The sealed museum window needed geraniums, and he needed breeze – fresh, Kashmiri breeze.
At the train station, Claudia wrote down Amar’s address on a notepaper and gave it to him. There was an hour for the train to Salzburg. They walked into a cafe.
“Did you like Munich?” she asked warily.
The concentration camp had been a strange suggestion to make to someone who had just landed in Germany. It had reminded him of being homeless, of being a refugee. In Kashmir, people had often reminded him of his Aryan lineage, but now, he felt like a Jew. His tongue froze.
When he didn’t respond, Claudia said, “Stephanie, Amar’s wife, and I, we’re twins. We grew up in Salzburg. Now we’re so different, you wouldn’t be able to tell. When I meet her, I tease her about her slow small-town ways. And she tells me that I speak faster, that my tone has hardened after living in Munich, that I am German now. And we laugh.”
The cafe grew warm as people walked in, pulling travel bags behind them. A small girl wheeled in her purple doll-pram. A boy made whirring noises as he rolled a red metal car on a table.
“So, you belong to Kashmir?” said Claudia.
Did he belong to Kashmir or did Kashmir belong to him? “I used to,” he said, pushing away his cup. “And you?”
“My sister still belongs to the Austrian Alps, not me.”
He, too, had been raised in the mountains, had belonged to them. They had belonged to him.
“So much time has passed. And all this distance…it has split us,” continued Claudia. “We’ve grown so apart.”
Somewhere near the Pir Mountains, far from here, with their snowy peaks and deep forests, where a river flowed quietly, he had been split away from a friend, a brother. Firoze would still be living where his Pashtun forefathers had settled a hundred years ago. While Rahul, whose Aryan ancestors had lived in the valley for thousands of years, had run many miles away, never to return.
Over six centuries, many Aryan-Pandits of Kashmir had become Aryan-Muslims, some of will, some not, and grown apart from each other. Then, on a dark winter night, someone outside Kashmir had pointed out the differences. How the Pandits spoke and how the Muslims spoke. How they ate differently, dressed differently and how they had different gods. These were small differences, but they had been enough to throw Rahul out of his home and turn him into a Jew-Pandit.
The train to Salzburg hissed. It was time to board, to leave. No single train of thought can run forever. Things interrupt and break its flow, helping you survive. Trains lift you off the ground and whisk you off to new lands. On that short journey, you forget whether you are an Aryan or a Jew, a Muslim or a Pandit, an Aryan-Pandit or a Jew-Pandit. The borders blur. But when the journey is long, like that of a refugee, you remember who you are, all the time.
The train was soon speeding past Munich. Outside the window, a farmer looked up at the speeding train. His trousers were muddy, and his hat had a feather in it. His face was red with the pride that comes from working and owning the land, from belonging to it. He grew smaller and smaller, until he became a tiny speck that dissolved into the rolling fields. Just like Firoze.
Excerpted with permission from A Bit of Everything, Sandeep Raina, Context.