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23 Sep 2019, 10:56 HRS IST
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  • Ladakhi-Kashmiri cooks brew camaraderie in Leh kitchen

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14:33 HRS IST

By Kunal Dutt

Leh, Sep 11 (PTI)
The three, two Kashmiris and one Ladakhi, are cooking up a storm in the hotel kitchen, one skilfully chopping vegetables, the other standing over the wok, cooking and portioning out the dishes, and a third making namak chai' on order.

Head chef Stanzin Namzang, a local from a Ladakh village, and Ishfaq Lone and Adil Mir, both school dropouts from Kupwara in Kashmir, are colleagues at a local hotel here but also friends in uncertain times as their homelands become the cynosure of global attention.

Lone, 23, and Mir, 19, have been unable to go back home since August 5, when the Centre revoked Jammu and Kashmir's special status and announced the bifurcation of the state into the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

Both are school dropouts. Lone said he came to Leh in search of livelihood a few months ago while Mir arrived over a month ago.

"I came here, and then the lockdown happened in Kashmir Valley. Neither of us have been able to go back to our homes in Kupwara or speak to our family members. We feel separated from our families," Lone said.

In their conversations with 26-year-old Namzang, they often share their concerns over when the lockdown of the Valley will end and their apprehensions about what the future holds for them and their people.

Talk in the kitchen varies, from how to get the qahwa' just right, some jokes and also everyday banter and references to Article 370. The conversation reflects their political differences but also empathy for the other's point of view.

Namzang, a Buddhist who speaks Ladakhi, said language is not a barrier and she talks to Lone and Mir in Hindi.

She said she tries to keep the mood light when they are working together.

It's a harmonious existence. Sometimes, Lone and Mir talk to each other in Kashmiri while Namzang listens to Buddhist chants on her mobile phone.

They also often enjoy sipping on namak chai' or nun chai' (salt tea), a traditional beverage of both Kashmir and Ladakh regions, as they listen to each other's stories.

Their political differences are inevitable but manageable, they said.

Unable to contact their families for more than a month, the two Kashmiri youths mostly keep indoors, Outside, however, in Leh town, the mood is one of celebration.

A prominent roundabout in streets carries a banner put up by activists that reads: "Ladakh freed from Kashmir".

In Leh's main market, huge cloth banners have come up, with messages like "Thank you Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making Ladakh a UT" and "Ladakh celebrates its 1st Independence Day".

It is just a geographic separation for the better development of Ladakh, said Namzang.

In Namzang's view, some people are trying to convey a sense of divide with a few posters bearing messages like Ladakh freed from Kashmir'.

"We are quite happy about Ladakh finally getting a UT status, a long-standing demand of the locals for decades. But J&K and Ladakh are like brother and sister. I don't feel any animosity towards Kashmiri people. It's just that we want proper development in our region," she said.

Her kitchen mirrors that spirit.

Namzang, who is pursuing higher education from an open university, said, the two boys make her laugh a lot. And she is Ladakhi didi for Mir.

One of the first Ladakhis to raise the demand for UT status in Ladakh was Buddhist scholar and politician Bakula Rinpoche, after whom the Leh airport is named.

Since independence, the Ladakh Buddhist Association has been demanding UT status for Ladakh, claiming the region had been neglected by the state government on the development front.

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