The youth of my nation asks me, “Why should I believe you?”. I see the distrust in the eyes of a ten-year-old who asks for my name before he can tell me his. He is young, naïve but more clever than the youth of today. He looks at me and asks me questions, more questions than I have answers for. Even when he doesn’t say a word, his gaze is questioning me ruthlessly because I failed him.I failed to tell him he doesn’t need to fear a stranger.
The young one from my extended family asks me for proof of my religion and of my identity. He has learnt to be distrustful of the world. It is an example of the mean world syndrome, I think. I blame it on the media and on bad experiences. I blame it on his parents and the kind of upbringing. I blame it on anyone but myself because I cannot dare to think that it was ultimately me or the community that I belong to that led him to feel alienated.
A party of kids eye me judgementally. “Why should we believe you are who you say you are?”
I tell them my name, my identity, my ID. They say I don’t sound like I should so they don’t believe me. They say I don’t look like I should so they don’t believe me. They say it is a big bad world out there and everyone is pretending to be someone they are not to win the trust of someone they don’t care for.
And I think that they are right. “Why should they believe me?”
I try to talk to them in Kashmiri. They tell me I shouldn’t misuse their mother-tongue. I tell them I am a journalist. They tell me to prove it.
I ask a kid what do you do. He asks me why am I asking. I ask a kid how old are you. He asks me how old do you think I am. I ask him where he is from. He says he is from Kashmir. I jokingly say how can I believe you?
He tells me, “Don’t. Nobody believes us anyway.”
There is a problem with the world and it is much bigger than the trust deficit. It is about the gap between reality and expectations. It is the amount of hatred that is propelled against someone with the intensity that it leaves burn marks for all the generations to come. I am sure that if the little kid peeled off his sleeve and showed me what pained him, I would see the names of all the people who had once defrauded his parents, tortured his friends, tormented his namesakes and been a source of nightmare for those he calls his own.
The kid didn’t have anything against me in particular, just a general aversion to anyone and everyone who would ask him questions he doesn’t feel the need to answer. The need for privacy that most of us desire way after puberty is instilled in him as a child because he feels there is nothing he has left to hide. The entire world knows him when he would much rather be known just to himself.
The boy tells me I am invading his personal space and ruining the party. I walk away without a second thought. His sister tells me about the school he studies in. He tells me she is not his sister. His sister tells me his age and repeats his name twice before I can pronounce it.
“Are you a spy?” he asks me. At his age, I didn’t know what a spy was. At my age, I was more intrigued by their profession than afraid of it. At his age, it shouldn’t have been his first thought to ask me that question. At my age, I understood why he had to ask.
I thought about the boy and his sister and the other kids. I thought about their names, their age and the work his mother did. I thought about his accent and how keen his eyes looked and I thought to myself how bright this kid could be if he wasn’t so afraid and so careful. How brilliant he could become if he did not have to carry that burden. How beautiful his life could be if he was allowed to have one.
And then I thought the same about me and everyone else I had met or was going to meet.