‘For the media, the Kashmir issue has remained largely black and white—here are people who were victims of brutalisation at the hands of Indian state. But the media has failed to see, and has largely ignored the fact that the same people also victimised another people.’
And so the word goes. The Kashmir issue has been the favourite of all the news channels and households alike. We chew what media feeds us. Rahul Pandita has, in this book, made an attempt to tell a largely forgotten story—The story of Kashmiri pandits and their exodus from the valley.
The cover page is the most compelling. There are homes on the cover page. These homes tell a tale of abandonment and hostility. The cover talks about the lost homes in Kashmir as intended by the author.
There are so many things that I want to say. Thoughts are running in random maze inside my mind. I will try to calm them and be coherent, for this is one of the most touching books that I have read this year. I am afraid I may not do justice to the book but forgive me, for I am trying. When the militants entered the state of Kashmir there was a cloud of death. People started dying everywhere. And those who didn’t, ran for their lives like sheep from wildfire. ‘Even the dead were cremated in a hush, as if wailing over their bodies would result in the tribesmen gaining entry into Srinagar’. And for those who may be mistaken, it wasn’t just the pandits who were dying. There were Muslims too, who dared to speak for Hindu-Muslim unity or in any way helped Hindu families. It was the darkest of times. The population of pandits has drastically reduced from 15% to merely 5% in 1981. And it is reducing further still.
Rahul Pandita was a boy of fourteen when he was made to flee from his home. This book is an attempt for him to recollect the long-lost memories of his house that he had trouble identifying when he went back. Pandita begins the book with a glimpse of the refugee camp and the value of a tomato which was initially supplied in bulk and slowly started reducing in share where it came to half a tomato per person towards the end. This was the time when the basic necessities were mocking on the face of humanity.
The author goes ahead and traces the history of the valley of Kashmir. There were multiple kings and scholars who found refuge in Kashmir. It had the best of Hindu temple architecture and rulers who were just, at least some of them. The valley deteriorated when it faced the partition. It was promised that the people would decide the future of their place but they just dragged it to the common hell. Since then the state has been in a constant threat from borders and internal forces alike.
Pandita takes us to the history of how and when the attacks on pandits began. The snot covered image of Goddess Saraswati and the horrific day where India played first cricket match in Kashmir and lost it. ‘How can I forget that day? … It was like playing in Pakistan against Pakistan.’ Crowds cheers and booed. All against the Indian cricket team.
There were men slaughtered, women burnt and raped, children shot at and those who fled had no hopes of coming back. The houses were sold off for mere pellets. The destruction was massive. It was ethnic cleansing of its own kind. This who survived never remained the same. ‘Every day, after going through the second page, I decide not to read the newspaper anymore. It makes me feel like Chitragupt—the clerk in the office of the lord of death, Yama—who maintains the records of life and death. I feel guilty, as if my reading the newspaper causes these deaths. But so far I have not stopped reading them. It is because of a sense of duty—of attending the death ceremonies and Kriyas of people known to me.’
The author addresses the mass massacre and mass exodus. He moves on to the steps taken by the government and the refugee settlements. Pandita talks about loss as a shadow of death. Loss of men women and children. Loss of property. Loss of traditions. There is a constant attempt to move on to the different aspects of the exodus but the terrifying involuntary action to constantly remind oneself of the loss is quite evident throughout the book.
Finally there is an attempt to revisit the home and friends but the place is not the same neither are the people. House is lost and people are terrified to speak. Pandita can’t get his home back. He does not belong anywhere now. But if there is one thing that he is certain of is that he has lost his home. Not his humanity.
The book is him trying to tell the tale of violence against Kashmiri pandits without inviting further violence against those who enabled it. He is often seen talking about Muslims who helped pandits and in return suffered too. Pandita will have your soul gripped throughout his book.
The language is very simple. It does not have the flowery language of a scholar but of a person who has suffered and wants to tell you how it feels like. The connection that the language establishes with the reader is its plus point.
The cover page is heart breaking beautiful. The content is covered with grief and facts blended together. The language is simple and hence beautiful.
At certain times the book may feel like statistically loaded but to me frankly it was not really a problem.
I am glad I got hold of this book. This one will remain with me forever.
Whom do I recommend this to
This book is for those who want to listen to the inglorious history of Kashmir.
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