By Sofia Ahmed
SOFIA 1: Content Warning: The following story contains graphic mention of blood.
RAJ 1: You know, the love at first sight. She is good from all angles, you know, different than the others.
SOFIA 2: You just heard the voice of Raj Kaushal. He’s describing the first time he saw a woman named Batool. It was on a bus from Delhi to Chandigarh on a summer evening in 1994. When Batool boarded the bus, she noticed Raj looking at her.
BATOOL 1: He was reading a newspaper. Tall, handsome guy. We call it tall, dark handsome
SOFIA 3: Even though Batool found Raj attractive, she had other things on her mind. For the five days before she got on the bus, she had been bleeding.
BATOOL 2: I was in a pool of blood. It was blood was coming from all sides. It started in the evening, around six o’clock.
SOFIA 4: Batool has a rare genetic disorder called Klippel Trenaunay Syndrome, which affects her blood vessels and arteries. The disease leads her to have flare ups where she bleeds from her uterus and intestine.
BATOOL 3: I thought it will stop. It didn’t stop. So, I laid down on the bed and it continued till 12 o clock in the night.
SOFIA 5: And that’s why Batool was on the bus – to visit her doctor in Chandigarh.
BATOOL 4: I wasn’t like in that kind of situation where I would really feel oh, he is nice, good looking and all that. But I was in like, oh my god, I just want to reach Chandigarh I don’t know whether I’m going to live or not.
SOFIA 6: The bus made a rest stop at a restaurant. Batool got off the bus for some fresh air and stood by a tall Banyan tree with a wide trunk.
RAJ 2: She was standing there all alone. She was not looking at me. Then I approached her. Hello Excuse me, Are you from Kashmir?
BATOOL 5: I said Yes, I’m a Kashmiri.
SOFIA 7: Batool was from a small village in Kashmir called Bandipore. And Raj was a colonel in the Indian army. Kashmir borders both Pakistan and India. The two countries have been fighting over the region for the last seventy-five years. But many Kashmiris want their own independent country and there has historically been a lot of tension between the Indian military and Kashmiri civilians. And when Raj and Batool met in 1994, tensions were extremely high. Just a few years earlier, the Indian army had killed 100 Kashmiri protestors in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, where Batool went to college. Raj introduced himself to Batool as an officer from the Indian army. But the rest of the conversation was short- only about ten minutes.
RAJ 3: She said, I’m going to Chandigarh I said, I’m also going to Chandigarh I asked her, Would you care for a cup of coffee? She says no, thank you very much.
SOFIA 8: So there were a lot of differences between Raj and Batool, Raj was a colonel in the Indian army and Batool was Kashmiri. There was an over 10 year age difference between them. Batool was struggling with a rare medical condition that she didn’t know if she would survive. And on top of all that, Raj was Hindu and Batool was Muslim. A relationship between the two seemed impossible.
BATOOL 6: For our society in Kashmir, marrying a Hindu is like a huge social stigma. So nobody will accept it.
SOFIA 9: There has been a long history of violence between Hindus and Muslims in India that dates back to the 1947 partition and creation of Hindu majority India and Muslim majority Pakistan. Even today, Hindu-Muslim relations are tense, with the election of Modhi’s Hindu nationalist party and rising violence against the minority Muslim population in India. So when Raj met Batool in 1994, the fact that he was Hindu and she was Muslim, was a pretty big barrier to the relationship. But none of these things bothered Raj. He grew up in an orthodox Hindu family, but he himself wasn’t very religious. When the bus arrived in Chandigarh at about 8:30 in the evening, Raj helped Batool with her bags and dropped her off at the guest house she was staying at.
RAJ 4: And then she said thank you very much. Bye-bye. That’s all. She had shown no interest in me.
SOFIA 10: Batool didn’t think she would see Raj again. Her doctor was able to stop the bleeding, but said she needed further treatment in Delhi. Raj has always been very stubborn, and continued pursuing Batool. When the two were back in Delhi, they reconnected and started spending more time together. They went out to eat and Raj would drive Batool around Delhi in his car.
RAJ 5: I won’t say it’s dating. I don’t know what dating is these days with the modern kids. She, I think developed some liking for me, I don’t know.
BATOOL 7: Of course I started liking him, because he was very, very, caring. And he would make sure my health was priority .
SOFIA 11: Neither of their parents supported their relationship because they came from different faiths. So instead of asking Batool’ father for his blessing, Raj asked her doctor. The doctor said they would be unable to have kids together because of Batool’s condition. But despite the medical issues, their family’s disapproval and all the religious and political differences, Raj had his heart set on marrying Batool. Two years after they met, they had a small wedding with their friends. Batool’s dad had met Raj, but he didn’t approve of their relationship. As for Raj, he didn’t tell his family Batool was Muslim. His family found out after the wedding when they saw a letter with Batool’s maiden name on it.
RAJ 6: My father was very, very disturbed when he came to know that I being a Hindu from a Brahmin family has married a Muslim girl.
SOFIA 12: So as a high-caste Hindu Brahmin, Raj was also expected to marry a Brahmin. And marrying a Muslim wasn’t even a consideration. The marriage distanced both of them from their families. And because they had both married outside of their religion, they felt ostracized from their Muslim and Hindu communities. And then In 2000, when Batool was 37, her and Raj had their miracle baby, Tanya. Tanya is now 22 years old. She’s not very close with her extended family and has never felt accepted by them.
TANYA 1: I know my parents won’t call it trauma, but I would call it trauma. Like it’s you know, either side not accepting me. And I think that really struck my parents, like what did our daughter do you know.
SOFIA 13: Over the years, Batool and Raj started exploring Christianity more. They felt Christanity was a reprieve from the polarizing Hindu and Muslim spaces that they had not been accepted in after their marriage. They also sent Tanya to a Christian boarding school.
TANYA 2: They kept dealing with this trauma of families, and their own health, and just overall society. They always felt that it was the Christian friends who were there to help them and accepted them. And they felt that same with me that I was accepted into the Christian community, without any judgment.
SOFIA 14: Even though faith seems to be something that would separate Raj and Batool, it’s actually been something that has brought them closer together.
BATOOL 8: My faith grew when I met my husband. And when I gave birth to a child. So that was when I felt yes, God is there.
SOFIA 15: In 2019, Raj was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had to undergo surgery to have his prostate removed.
RAJ 7: When I was being taken to the operation theater, and then I saw Lord Jesus image in one of the corner.
SOFIA 16: The surgery and recovery was the final push that led Raj and Batool to convert to Christianity. They took Tanya to visit the tree under which they met. It was a brisk winter day. Batool realized that the Banyan tree had grown much taller since they were last there. Tanya took a picture of her parents with the tree.
TANYA 3: I was a bit like, old ass fucking tree. Like this is the place where it all started.
SOFIA 17: Twenty-one years later, Raj and Batool had ended up under the same tree where they had met. Their love story transcended all the limitations of their time. And for Tanya, witnessing her parents’ love has shaped the way she sees her own relationships.
TANYA 4: I don’t have any objections to dating anybody. Regardless of where they’re from, what they do. They always just told me to marry someone or date someone who’s a good person.
SOFIA 18: This is Telling True Stories in Sound. And I’m Sofia Ahmed.