The main hall of the mosque



                                                                بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
                        BISMILLAHI RAHMANI RAHIM 
       In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful. 
I am going to be sheltered in a mosque in Kashmir. Let me repeat that. I, the South Indian Hindu male, is going to be sheltered in a mosque in Kashmir. The place which reportedly is associated with fundamentalist, extremist Islam.  The place which is reportedly not safe for tourists. Where reportedly Indians are not welcomed, where reportedly terrorists and stone pelters run the streets and where your life may be at risk at any moment. 
If you have noticed, I have used the word “reportedly” multiple times.
I have a friend who works for the news aggregator app Inshorts. I asked her how they verify their news. She says unless an official statement is out, they use the term “reports”. They try to find other reliable sources and then put the news out when an official statement is out. 
So, just because the news comes with a nice image, sounds well written and has a journalist’s name that may or may not sound credible; the fact is when it says “reports” there is as much chance of it being true as of it being false. But we don’t pay attention to that, do we?
Social media hit a new spike of fake news while I was writing this. With the capture and release of Wing Commander Abhinandan by the Pakistani armed forces, the amount of articles going around skyrocketed. It was impossible to separate the bullshit from the credible ones. A single article might be harmless, but the consistent wave of news articles will only cement the confirmation bias which someone is trying to sell. And Kashmir has been the biggest victims of that in my opinion. That doesn’t mean there are no anti-social elements who are trying to disrupt peace. I am saying the smear campaign at the anti-social elements has had great collateral damage which has painted the entire populace of Kashmir as the threat. 
Again, on a tangent. Let’s get back.
I was confused, excited and slightly self-conscious when we planned to go to the mosque. Confused as to how to conduct myself inside a place of worship, excited as I could get to tell this story to you and self-conscious as I knew I didn’t belong there. But somehow, they didn’t feel so. They saw the tired, sleep deprived human first. I don’t think they even cared for the fact I had the last name of a Hindu god. 
We keep our luggage on the periphery of the main prayer hall. We go to the nearest hotel and eat some rice and Rajma (beans). It was dry, salty and honestly terrible. But since all of us were famished, dopamine was released when the saline taste hit my tongue. I was starting to hallucinate since I was starving, now I am complete. We split the bill and make our way to the mosque. I still don’t know what to expect. I start thanking them as I am flushed with this outpour of gratitude at that instant. I should be sleeping on the platform of Jammu railway station right now. The entire trip should have been an epic failure. But inshallah and thanks to my friends, I am going to sleep inside a mosque and I am halfway to Sri Nagar now.
My gratitude knew no bounds at that point and best part is, it is only going to get even better from here.
I ask Iqbal boiya what I should do before I enter a mosque. He politely told me to wash my hands, feet and my face. Then walk in. The water was freezing. Like literally the temperature was just above 0. The mosque was on a cliff, the mighty Chenab has meandered its way through Himachal and into Ramban. There isn’t a lot of water flowing, I couldn’t hear a current. I guess the glacial waters of the Himalayas temporary stop melting during winters. Chenab has a long way to go. Nurturing the Punjab plain and crossing the border into Pakistan to conflux into the Indus. 
There is a huge infrastructure project running parallel to it. A huge construction of railway bridge running parallel to the river at a great hight. Iqbal comments that by 2022 the project will be completed. Inshallah. And then Kashmir will be connected with the rest of India. Jammu and Sri Nagar will get this railroad link. He says that with a damming tone. He isn’t looking forward to that.  He wants that exclusivity to be protected.
Even though we had to risk our lives to make it this far. I start conjuring up the stories of how the Spanish conquistadors went to the Americas and inadvertedly decimated the native population by spreading smallpox. I start to realise that the exclusion of Kashmir is one of the reasons why the Kashmiri mentality is so different from the rest of us. They treasure that, and I am starting to come to realise that it is something worth treasuring. 
Do we want to spread our diseases to them? 
By the time I enter the mosque, everyone was under a blanket sleeping. I was searching for Suhail and my crush, but with 3 dozen bodies slumbering under a blanket in the cold, I knew chances of me finding them are as slim a Liverpool winning the league this season. I pull out my sleeping bag and I hit the floor. There are mats on which they perform Namaaz. That keeps my heat from dissipating into the hard cold floor. The interior of a mosque, or at least that hall of the mosque didn’t look too special or holy. It was a hall. That is it. I could gather from the direction of the extension of the hall which way is West. And that is all that is relevant in the interior designing of a mosque I believe. It should be in the direction of Mecca. 

The main hall of the mosque

I sleep in the same direction. With my anterior facing West and my posterior facing East. The sleeping bag is not very good at insulating temperatures near freezing point. But my body compensates by producing more heat. I slowly start to doze off. Not knowing if this dream might end with sleep or would I just keep on dreaming. This day couldn’t have gone any better. I see no other way. All obstacles were thrown at me, and due to no reason of my own,  just chance, kindness and the Kashmiri conscience, I am about to head North. North to Srinagar. 

But beware. Winter is coming.

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