Camera: Athar Rather
Video editors: Rahul Sanpui and Kunal Mehra
Additional footage courtesy: JWT and J&K Tourism’s ‘Kashmir: The Warmest Place on Earth’
A vice president at one of India’s largest advertising firms has made it his hobby to reunite long-lost friendships in Kashmir. His modus operandi? A Facebook page and an ever-growing online community!
Sitting in his office in Gurugram, over 700 kilometres away from his birthplace in Anantnag, Jaibeer Ahmad reveals that the inspiration behind the unique online initiative ‘Raabta’ is his grandmother.
The page currently has a following of over 22,000 people and has successfully managed to reconnect many who were separated by the conflict in Kashmir.
How Was Raabta Born?
Raabta basically means a connection. It also means getting in touch. The idea actually started with a personal quest. My grandmother who is in her 80s, she had a friend who is like her third ‘son’. They separated after 1989, when Dinanath Uncle migrated, and left the Valley. Ever since, we hadn’t been in touch with him, hadn’t been able to trace him.Jaibeer Ahmad, Founder of ‘Raabta’
Jaibeer reminisces, “She often talked about him and wanted to get back in touch, wanted to meet him once. And then one day, it suddenly struck me. I discussed it with a few friends who also felt the same about their friends and neighbours and I realised that it’s a common sentiment across both Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims. They want to get back in touch with their lost friends, neighbours and schoolmates.”
And thus, in February 2018, Raabta was born. By April, the page had managed to reconnect Jaibeer’s grandmother and her “third son” Dinanath, who spoke to each other for the first time in 29 long years. “They spoke for an hour. And cried. Both of them are unwell and unable to travel. But they promised each other they will meet again. Soon.”
The Return on Investment
We asked Jaibeer, “How do you manage the time to run Raabta despite having a full-time job? And what’s your personal return on this investment?”
After a long tiring day, I don’t know how I find the time and energy to do this but sometimes it goes on till very late night that I connect with people. The return on investment is the joy and happiness.Jaibeer Ahmad
To explain what he means, he shows us a post on Raabta by an Ashima Koul, who was looking for her friend and former classmate Abbas.
Raabta worked wonders for Ashima and Abbas too. Jaibeer recalls with a smile, “I remember, for the first time, when Ashima and Abbas saab reconnected. Ashima called me after that and she said that she had spoken to her friend after 28 years. I think that the tears I had in my eyes at that point in time are worth a million bucks.”
The Pandit-Muslim Divide
I was a teenager when the exodus happened. Before that, there was a very warm relationship. Our lives were intertwined, there was not much of a difference between a Kashmiri Muslim and a Kashmiri Pandit, culturally.Jaibeer Ahmad
But he regretfully adds, “Suddenly after 1990, all of that changed. Now, if you see social media, any Kashmiri Pandit and Kashmiri Muslim interacting, it is full of bitterness and anger, and a lot of hatred, if I could say that. Having said that, at an individual level, we are still very good friends. It may sound like a paradox, but it’s the reality. Offline, when we meet, we are the best of friends. There was this hope that at an individual level, we could rekindle that relationship. That’s what Raabta is trying to do. ”
The Dream Ahead: Raabta Offline
Where does Raabta go from here?
It’s a very small initiative but I hope to continue and sustain this. At some point in time, reach out to people who are not on Facebook, on-ground, villages, rekindle that friendship again.Jaibeer Ahmad
A Poem for My Long-Lost Friend
Here’s a poem that Jaibeer penned, dedicated to all the long-lost friends of Kashmir.
Born to the same seed, you and I are of the same weave
You a Pandit, I a Muslim, I a Pandit, you a Muslim
You and I are one soul
A storm may have swept us apart but we stay tied together
By the same thread, the thread we call our home
I don’t know where you live today
And you must be wondering how old have I grown
But our memories keep us together
Wasn’t it your pheran I wore that night when it turned cold?
Do you remember the naps we took under the shade of the Chinar tree?
Remember the evening strolls on the banks of the Lidar?
Have you learnt to swim now?
When was the last time we had a meal together?
Was it nadur (lotus root) that your mother cooked for us?
Or was it haakh (collard greens) that my mother fed us?
When was the last time we stumbled into each other?
There is so much we have to catch up on
The Kangri (earthen firepot) that kept us warm, has turned cold
Let us warm it again...
Where are you?