My recent attempt to read a few books on Kashmir before my travel to Srinagar resulted in an awakening. I read extensively (or at least what time permitted). I started off with Behold, I Shine by Frenny Manecksha. It was an interesting read; however, I did not learn anything that I did not know already. I also felt that, since it was about the voices of women and children it did not distinguish between those who give asylum to the militants and those who take pro Indian stand. I do not have a problem with reality; neither do I have a problem with reading anti-Indian stands. Those who have suffered need their voices recorded before they vanish from the earth in years to come and no one has a dialogue documented. The book describes the military occupation in no different way that is being talked about. Frankly I was expecting more from the book. It was a good read but not the best.
Our Moon Has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita came to me when Ramchandra Guha recommended the book at a book launch. Pandita talks about an entirely different event: The mass massacre of Pandits in the valley and their forced exodus. Being a pandit himself the author does not shy away from the gory details. His suffering along with his family still haunts him and that is evident from his writing. You can kill the demons but you still need to conquer them. The “isalmisization” of the valley under the influence of the land ahead of borders is talked about extensively and those who betrayed their own friends are told that all is not forgotten. Those who talk about the atrocities faced by the Muslim majority population are reminded that those who are suffering now have inflicted immeasurable pain on those who used to reside in those very lands years ago. With all the pain and suffering Pandita still maintains that he may have lost his home but he has not lost his humanity. He does not wish anything bad upon those who are living in Kashmir now by anyone. It was the most influential book that I read out of the lot.
It is true that some of the residents do believe in Modi government. While they patiently wait for some positive changes in the region, increase in tourism being one, few others do not believe that they are a part of India at all. We stopped on our way back from Dudhpatri to have a look at the apple Orchards and maybe take a stroll. We were not allowed to wander off by ourselves because, apparently, the orchard stretches far across and all the trees looked alike. For the fear of losing us a boy accompanied us around. I still remember those blue eyes and the way he smiled, as if he was weighing it before spreading it across the lips. We did get along fine. We tasted different apples before speaking out the names of them as we heard from the boy.
There was slight confusion on the type of apples to buy when the blue-eyed boy tried to help us. ‘Ye accha hai. Aapke mulk mein yehi jaata hai.’
I had read about the inherent feeling of alienation towards the Indian state but it was hard hitting the first time. We picked up our cartons and left with a Shukriya and smile. I really hope with slight gestures of goodness we are able to convince them of our humanity.
I am always reminded of a line from poetry of Aga Shahid Ali:
In your absence you polished me into the Enemy.
Your history gets in the way of my memory.
Zoon came by in the beginning of the year when the publishing house contacted me to send some books to review. Zoon did seem like a book I would enjoy but it ended up being quite the opposite. After a number of attempts to read I decided the book was not for me. There was nothing wrong with it except that it was dull. Nothing about the book excited me. I decided to not waste my time and did not finish it. It was a good call since I immediately got to reading The Country Without a Post Office.
The collection of poems is a reminiscent, like a long lost love, like a distant memory revisited. The poet is remembering those who left the place fearing the on-slaughter, he is apologetic. Those who are coming in the way of his memory are being reminded of it. I absolutely loved the collection of poems. It reminds me of the Shikara rower we got in conversation with. ‘Hum nahi pattrav karte saab. Hamare paas to kaam hai.’ Those who don’t have work to do get into these acts. ‘Aap aao aur Kashmir dekho, kuch nahi hoga.’ There are always those who want to be a part and those who want to cut out one.
Talking about cutting out a part, I also read The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. Roy was my first favourite Indian author. I admired her like no other. In The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Roy has attempted to portray a very small part of Kashmir and decided to show it as the opinions of the majority. I found it faulty, but even if you try to separate reality from fiction (here I believe Roy has tried to write fiction) I liked the book. Just didn’t love it much. It seemed like random collision of molecules full of agitation but without any purpose.
Another one that I wish I had read, again a recommendation from Guha is Curfewed Night. I will get to it soon though.
I do understand that I visited Kashmir as a mere tourist. I did not have the opportunity of interacting with many locals or understanding the temperament. But I sure understood one thing: we all strive for survival; in our own way, at our own place.
Kashmir is beautiful beyond words. I do hope to revisit it soon. And this time not as a tourist.