The Wait of Baltistan
2012 – 2013
On the night of 13th December 1971 Major Chewang Rinchin of the Ladakhi Scouts – with his troops, during the most destructive war between India and Pakistan, ceased fire after acquiring just five villages and a total area of 804 sq. kilometer of Pakistan even before the Indo-Pakistan war was called off. It was said that then Ladakhi ruling party didn’t want anymore of Balti villages as they would weaken their political positioning in the state, being Buddhists their ethnic identity will be sandwiched between the two Muslim regions of Kashmir and Baltistan.
That night people of those few villages went to sleep in Pakistan, but they woke up in India the following morning.
These villages were opened to the world for the first time in the summer of 2011 after 40 years. I went there in the winters the following year to teach at the higher secondary school, in their worst forty days of winter, crossing arguably the highest road in the world in minus thirty degrees passing through the Karakorums.
But it seemed upon arriving that it wasn’t the education they needed. They seem to embody the burden of a prolonged denial of any kind of fulfilment.
The faces and the age lines of the old narrated many untold stories of the past. They yearned to talk, tales of their rich history that they are carrying for so long. A frustration that thickens into a deep-rooted helplessness. The children had no future, majority of them died due to unavailability of any medical station. One of my 10 year old student hanged himself from an apricot tree six months later.
Majority of the population of Indian Baltistan consists of women, three to even four married to a man, having on an average 8 daughters per family, there is hardly any work apart from working working as porters helping the army on the highest peaks of Siachin. Caught in a melancholic shuttling between a sorrow for the past and a longing for a better future, they need education to change their lives.
The elderly talked about their days in Pakistan, about the trees they used to play under, and the rocks they sat on talking for hours. Nobody remembers if their parents are living any more or how their sisters and brothers looked. Gradually, the imagination of Balti’s has been forced bereft of a past, which is an essential part of their being.The wait of Baltistan is the tale of a forgotten clan separated by time and deep-rooted essence of a land. Its a journey of the people neglected, decades lived in hope, A land neglected whose Stories of an unfathomed past still chronicles around their present.
On an average it used to come down to minus thirty degrees. That much cold pierces only the tip your nails or toe. Other parts remained numb. I had started to take early morning walks around the periphery of our village everyday before school started.
One of those days as I walked downhill through a narrow alley guarded by empty huts that was opening to an open field. I saw a dog standing like a stone. As I was nearing i saw a nail hammered right between his head. He stood like after death. There was thin wire which three children had hooked and poked it every now then very subtly. In an unknown horror I questioned those children, what are you doing? They said, “He ate our hens”. He should be punished.
I told them you have punished him. Go and get ready for school. He is dead.