Ghulam Mehdi Shah
The sun had gone down the stark mountains late that day .It was a hot sultry day of June and I Still remember the light red clouds that covered the brilliant blazing sky that evening as I kicked the last goal for the day in the polo grounds of Turtuk.
I was nine years old and it was the summer of 1999. Me and my family lived in a beautiful and small hamlet of villages called by the name of Turtuk which comprised of several smaller villages on either side of the banks of Shyok which shared its banks with both India and Pakistan.
Funny, how boundaries don’t change people because geographically we had a terrain similar to Kargil but we are politically in Leh district(road politics). Historically ,Turtuk area [comprising villages of Turtuk, Tyakshi, Chulunkha, Pachathang, Garari and Thang] got freedom in 1971 after which we became a part of India . However, the division was harsh. Families were split in half on either side. One a Pakistani and the other a Hindustani. But just till yesterday they were uncle and nephew, mother and daughter.
On that day when the sunset late and I was playing football as a nine year old suddenly the dark sky blazed up again and we all looked up to fire in the sky. It was an exhilarating moment and then reality and its cruel nature came running in as we realized we were being bombed. We all rushed in and our heart beats grew stronger and louder by the second. Slowly the air turned quiet again but we knew that two strange countries were at war
I call the country which took us in on 1971 a stranger because even after winning the war , no one came to console us or even support us . Although it helped us become stronger people both in mind and body but we are facing an identity crisis in terms of where as a people of a certain nation do we belong?
Culturally, the majority of population practices Islam. Before that Buddhism was in practice there. The village has a couple of small historic Gompas (Monastry) and the Tibet an influences in traditions and culture is vibrant. We speak the language of Baltistan called Balti . An interesting fact about Balti is that the number system is similar to the Japanese number system.
Economically, we are self sufficient and self reliant but being part of a great nation , we want contribute and be a representative in its voice too We are like Manto’s Toba Tek Singh who is considered mad and Is silenced for he is neither a Pakistani nor a Hindustani .
Politically,we are at an identity crisis. Like me there are so many who had to move out of our motherland and pursue our education and the rest of our lives in other places and in other towns.Its voice is never heard . Few know the story of this village because It is never written down in history , never given a space to talk . Always made to be the subaltern.Turtuk area has been deprived of Border area Development Programme, which includes the construction of Rural roads in the border areas by state Govt, providing border scholarships to the border students by the Govt of India etc etc.
Turtuk deserves an MLA seat out of seats reserved for the territorial constituencies of PoK.
So what we do is , we travel aborad , outside , to other towns and c ities to settle ourselves but even though we become well and prosperous our beloved turtuk stays silent and calm , waiting for us to come and give it a firm voice .
I studied in a Government school till class 5 in Turtuk and soon after the bombing our family had to shift to turtuk ,youl on the opposite side , but there too there was bombardment and within a week we shifted to the block head quarters of Disket from where I safely completed my tenth. I went on to do my 10+2 from leh and then my graduation in Jammu .I moved out of my village a long time ago but I still remember its various faces and facets even in my dreams . Its history , its religions and its folklores still dance on my feet when I think about my birthplace.
Khali Karim , the only sweet shop owner is a fond memeory , who specialize in stone engraving.
Turtuk area is still devoid of a Govt. Hospital, the nearest Sub-District Hospital is at Deskit (Nobra) which is 80 kms away from Turtuk. The construction of Kargil-Turtuk road which leads to the nubra valley via Turtuk faster has been shut down for political reasons and so people have to cross the highest motorable road of the world (Khardungla pass) to reach Turtuk .TheTurtuk-Khapalu road should be opened like the srinagar-Muzaffarabad road so that the people of Turtuk can meet their departed families.
One summer in 2005 when I was a young lad of 15 I had gone to Turtuk for a picnic with my friends and to this particular sweet shop . There I met this young professor Dr. D.K. Sharma who was quite impressed when I told him that my favorite story at that time was Tolstoy’s “spark neglected burns the house”
That same professor became my hostel warden in HNB University Garhwal where I was doing my post-graduation in 2011. He still remembered me and I still smile at the strange ways life takes you through.
Ghulam Mehdi Shah