These thoughts are occasioned by my most recent week-long embrace of the valley of Kashmir (March 22-28), among whose people I am, despite some five decades or more of living in metropolitan India. My visits and my engagement with Kashmir remain relentless, and my language, despite a half century of marriage outside the Kahmiri fold, still rolls from my tongue with accents of love and belonging, and I am owned there without the least subterfuge or qualification. My people are presciently brilliant of intellect and will question and research everything that may be questioned or researched barring one thing—god and religion therefrom. There are of course those who do so, but away from public notice, it must be said. And presumably many others who keep their cogitations to themselves altogether as they conform to everyday religious observance. Let me quickly add that such questioning has now becoming a hazardous enterprise across the world’s religions, differing only in degrees of accommodation and consequence.
This was not so until some three decades ago. During my years in the valley, and long after as well, it was common to hear Kashmiris of all hues spar about divinity, argue many dark corners, lovingly mock at God’s frailties, propagate godliness as human selflessness and a habit of non-doctrinal embrace of the other, to laud the rich treasures of sufi-rishi wisdom that transcended denominations, indeed that challenged denominations, to celebrate the lives of saints as emblems of all-encompassing love, and not to hold the definition of faith down to personal habits that may have been proscribed in a sacred text.