I do not like writing one day after the other but last night I heard an epic story. So interesting it was that I who had accepted the invitation of a gorgeous English man to go check up Chinese New Year celebrations in town stayed behind to hear the story of a 76 year old lady. Wow, and how worth it was.
They say in Brazil that life begins when you are forty. The sentence could not have been truer than for Carley, the Australian lady I checked in about a week ago. Until last night all I knew from her was that she had spent lots of time in Kashmir, that she read voraciously the newspaper and that she was very friendly.
Where to even start?
“I arrived in Kashmir in the 80’s. After crossing India, I arrived at the lake. I arrived in the house boat, and as I got out of the shikara I looked up. There was Kadir. I took one look and thought ‘ There you are. I was looking for you for my whole life. And I did not even know it.”
Kadir, a Muslim Cashmere married man. Kadir who lived in a place that was about to be set in turmoil, war, killings in the eternal struggle of the Kashmere valley.
But that is not where the story starts. The story starts with a girl in Australia who got pregnant and married very early. A girl who spent a life in academia, in a loveless marriage and then became a political activist. A woman who is part of the group who set all legislation that till this day protects the forests of New South Wales and the rivers of Tasmania. By her forties her husband changed political activism for Rajneesh, also know as Osho. That was it for Carley.
Carley left the world of academia and learned to be a nurse, a practical work that could ensure her work anytime, anywhere. And so it was that she left at forty for the first time to see the world. She never stopped since then. She first went to China.
“I went in as a socialist, came back as an avid supporter of democracy.”
Back to Australia to work a bit more and off she went to India. Met by the unscrupulous heat of India she immediately realized she needed to go up to the mountains. How to do it? At the time traveling through these roads was not so easy as they were mainly for the military. She met an Indian devotee of Gandhi and followed him to Manali. From Manali she went to Kashmir on her own carrying with her a bottle of Cointreau .
For those of you who know the very famous book Shataram Carley spent the first three nights of her Kashmir stay drinking with Kadir and Gregory David Roberts. Wishing him to disappear and leave her to be alone with Kadir. And so it happened that they started an affair that would change both of their lives forever.
Kadir’s wife was sent away and Carley stayed. She became close to his kids. She did not fully understand at first the impact she had had in that poor woman’s life. When she met Kadir he was suicidal. Unhappily married in an arrange wedding. He was unhappy in Kashmir having lost his older son and having left two daughters. In some parts of the world that is a true disaster. Carley was herself recovering from her own traumas. They helped each other.
For the next years she went back to Kashmir. She brought tourists. She paid for schooling and doctors and everything that was needed for his family. Always going back to work as a nurse. She was then able to get him a visa to come to Australia and so he worked every Cashmere winter of the following 10 years in Australia.
Carley suddenly realized she wanted to see more of the world. She could not just keep going to Kashmir. In the middle of the 80 she traveled alone through all the Stan countries (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan etc ), Azerbaijan, Armenia in winter seeing first hand starvation and what the Soviet Union was doing to the place. As she arrived in Turkey and saw piles of Tomatoes and fruits all around she knew the Soviet Union would collapse very soon.
She loved Istanbul, but tired of the cold went south to Egypt. Loved Cairo hated how she was treated. After having seen the beauty of Islamic architecture all over she found Egypt was all about building big things. She missed Kadir and wanted to go back to India. In Egypt they would not give her a visa, she went to Jordan, they also refused it, she took a bus to Damascus only to arrive in the middle of Palestinian uprising because of the killing of someone I do not remember the name of.
She was eventually able to go back to Kashmir. By this time the violence had restarted. The army would round up man and make one Cashmere pick three militants or else that man would be killed. The women many times would come and surround men and army. Then violence escalated with children being shot in shikaras and even inside mosques.
She was furious. She was too outspoken.
“There was it. I had to either pick up weapons or leave. I was putting my family in danger for being so outspoken. The girls were growing up and I was a huge scandal there. His children needed their mother. I paid for her to have an operation to no longer have babies. I made a mess in that lady’s life. By then I started understanding the real dimensions of my arrival in their life. I had to go.”
“When was this Carley?”
“2003. I left.”
“Have you been back?”
“ Are you going to see him again ?”
“In another life I am sure. I am certain if there are other lives we have met many times before.”
“Do you feel guilt?”
“Yes. I feel some guilt for what I caused to that woman’s life.”
But her face lifts up.
“Do you want to know something incredible? My daughter was in India last year and she wrote me to ask whether she could go visit Kadir. She loved him. He was a charming man who enchanted my whole family. I agreed and was very clear that it was of outmost importance that she should be respectful to his wife. And so she went and I saw a million pictures of them together. His wife hugging my daughter! And then she told me that Kadir told her that neither him nor his wife will have anything to do with the decision of who his daughters will marry. It will be their own choice. I was shocked. I was shocked. I felt happy beyond belief. This is the most important thing now. They must have good weddings.”
As I hear the story in details. Ask every single question in the world. Go through the feelings myself. The complexity of humanity. The coexistence of a multiplicity of feelings. As I imagine in my mind the places I have visited being in war, being destroyed I feel an eerie feeling. I am so moved. I know these mosques, these boats, these shikaras she talks about. I even know Kadir. How many Kadirs have I met along the way in a mixture of gentleness with old traditions. People who we imagine so different but are always willing to go to different places than the ones they have been to.
“Carley, Thank You. This is an amazing story. I am so thankful to have heard.”
“Thank You. It is just a life!”