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Jewish World Review June 7, 2002 / 27 Sivan, 5762

Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney
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The Kashmir maven


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Courses on how to write seldom produce any good writing because the students are so young they have no background or experience on which to base anything.

When I read about the potential for nuclear war between India and Pakistan, I dismissed it as the subject for a column because I know so little about the issues. Then my eyes fell on the word "Kashmir." I thought to myself, "Although I am uncertain about the difference between Cashmere and Kashmir, I can write about Kashmir. I've been to Kashmir."

My adventure was long ago and far away. I was a reporter for the Army newspaper, The Stars and Stripes, in Europe. The war ended there when the Germans surrendered in May of 1945, and my editor sent me to China and India.

It was assumed, after the Germans surrendered, that the several million American soldiers in Europe would be shipped to India and China to invade Japan. My assignment was to write stories about what it would be like for those men when they got to China and India.

On the flight from France to New Delhi, the C54 cargo plane stopped for fuel in Cairo. The pilot misjudged our distance from a telephone pole on the side of the runway and clipped off a few feet of our left wing. I was pleased with the accident because it made necessary a three-day stopover for repairs and provided me with a tourist-eye view of Cairo. I stayed at the Shepheard's Hotel, with which I was familiar as the locale of some movie I saw as a child.

When I arrived in New Delhi, it was 110 degrees. I was still wearing my wool uniform and all I wanted to do was lie down on the elaborate and relatively cool, mosaic floor of the airport and die. I had no interest in India or my assignment. After a few days, I pulled myself together and jotted down ideas for some stories I could write.

American soldiers on leave in India often wangled their way on board one of the cargo flights to Kashmir, so I decided to write a story for soldiers back in Europe about where American soldiers in India went on leave. I was surprised but delighted to find The Vale of Kashmir one of the garden spots of the universe. It is in a verdant bowl 80 miles long and 25 miles wide surrounded by majestic, snow-capped mountains. There is not a more spectacularly beautiful place on earth. The snow on the mountains releases some of its water as it melts under the hot sun during the day, and a thousand streams of water make their way down the rocky crevices to the town. Many of the streets are waterways, much like Venice, and people use small boats to get around.

I found a barge-like boat with rooms for rent to visitors. The only other occupants were three British sergeants from New Delhi. We quickly became friends and on the second day I joined them on a horseback expedition into the mountains.

I had never ridden a horse. Mine was a broad-backed, sure-footed animal thoroughly familiar with making his way up the icy slopes. We followed one of the streams, often crunching along on the frozen layer of ice covering the running water beneath it. The day was pleasantly warm and we took off our shirts. I soon realized it was going to be a long day. Eight hours later, we returned our horses to their owner and went to our boat. I could barely walk, crotch-bound from eight hours in the saddle and so sunburned that I could neither walk nor lie down comfortably.

Several years after I left, Kashmir was divided between India and Pakistan and they've been fighting over the region ever since.

This is all I know. It isn't much, but at least I've actually been to Kashmir and, to that extent at least, if you haven't been there, I know more about the international crisis than you do.

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© 2002, TMS