HYDERABAD: Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru once called Kashmir a paradise on earth. The people of Rajouri district in Jammu and Kashmir would not exactly vouch for that.
Situated along the Line of Control, they have grown accustomed to constant soldier activity and the sound of shell firing.
For Riyaz, a boy of just 13 years, fear is a way of life.
He wakes up every morning sighting the fence set up along the walls of his house and listening to distant gun shots, praying to God to keep a stray bullet away from his home and family.
Little wonder then that his innocent travels have been restricted to in and around Noushera, his native village in Rajouri, always accompanied by his mother to his right.
But ever since Riyaz, along with 24 other school going children of his age, took the train for the first time ever for a tour of India beyond the hills and snow, he has stumbled upon a new reality where there is no fear.
In the city, as part of a sponsored tour by the 33 RR of the Indian Army stationed at Rajouri, the 25 children (from four schools) along with four of their staff and a few battalion officers took time off from their travel to spend a day at the Artillery Centre.
After the two-day tour from J&K to Hyderabad which took them through never before seen sights and sounds of India, the children are now more sure of their role in serving the country.
“The day we set out, most of the children were depressed and were seen crying.
This was the first time they were travelling without their parents, to whom they are closely attached due to the life and death situation prevalent back at home.
But now, having seen life beyond the hills and the relative peace here, they don’t want to go back.
They want to get settled with their parents here,” said Rajesh, a teacher, as 16-year old Rajinder, his student, nodded in agreement.
Rajinder conceded that despite having witnessed live firing and gunshots, he would still like to join the army and serve the nation, especially now that he’s seen so much of his country.
“It needn’t necessarily have to be at J&K.
I am ready to serve anywhere, even here in Hyderabad,” he asserts, visibly relaxed for the first time in his life due to the quiet and calm environs of the Artillery Centre.
For another boy Raju who aspires to be a teacher, it’s the train experience that’s been most refreshing.
“I just kept staring out of the window the whole day.
It’s for the first time I am seeing level ground and it feels so good.” The group is expected to leave Hyderabad on Jan 21 and head to Bangalore, then Mysore before returning home.
Having arrived in the city on Wednesday itself, the day was spent sightseeing at Snow World and numerous parks along the Necklace Road.
The entire tour is part of Operation Sadbhavana, an Indian Army endeavour, which seeks to create national integration by enabling children from backward regions of terror-affected areas, to visit other parts of the country.
Simply put, a national effort at inspiration through experience