Kashmir, Kaschmir,Cashmere..Or Cauchemar in a Sea of Stories

“Yaathum oorae yaavarum kelir”

This very famous quote from the Tamil poet Kaniyan Poongundranar depicted in the United Nations means “All town is home, all men our kin’. Today, with the world having reduced to one global village, the idea of all towns being home seems quite a possibility. Yet for a lot of us what prevails more than often is -“Home is where heart is”. No matter how far and wide we travel, how old and wise we grow, our heart continues to tick specially for that one place we call ‘Home’. The reason probably is because Home is not merely a place, but a repertoire of emotions and memories, both good and bad. Home, sometimes becomes your identity, sometimes it is that invisible protective cloak that shields you from harm and at times a magical potion that heals you from the agonies of living. When one such thing to which you once belonged is shattered and you are deprived of what once belonged to you, the misery that follows is everlasting. This kind of misery however has given birth to a lot of enlightening literary works all over the world. The closest to me being Vairamuthu’s Kallikattu Ithikaasam’. Even the strongest of people break down when they read about how the protagonist, an elderly man collects a handful of sand as a token of memory before they vacate their home for the Vaigai Dam to be constructed in its place. Vairamuthu’s pain also takes the form a beautiful song named ‘Vidai kodu engal naadae’ in Maniratnam’s feature film ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’ which portrays the emotions of Srilankan Tamilians leaving their home to seek asylum in other countries. Like all artist, writers too have the gift to find solace by giving voice to the pain that keeps haunting them all through their lives. One such attempt to find solace is Rahul Pandita’s ‘Our Moon has Blood Clots

 

An award winning journalist known for his work in Maoist affected areas of India, Rahul Pandita needs no introduction. His is also one of those voices heard loud and clear every time the plight of Kashmiri Pandits is discussed. I have not read his other books –‘The Absent State: Insurgency as an Excuse for Misgovernance’  and ‘Hello Bastar – The Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movement’, but I am no stranger to his articles. So I must say I was aware of what was in store for me when I picked ‘Our Moon has Blood Clots’. As promised, he goes on to tell the tales of Kashmiri Pandits tracing their history with Kashmir since a long time till the exodus that rendered him homeless. He talks of the Separatist movement in Kashmir, the events that unfolded and how their lives changed once forever. Before I started reading the book, I told myself I will not shed a tear no matter what. I did hold on well until years later when Rahul knocks at the door of his own home he had to abandon during the riots, only to find someone else living there while he had been living his life moving from refugee homes to hotel rooms to dilapidated houses.

 

I finished Rahul’s book and sat there staring at Basharat Peer’s ‘ Curfewed Night’.The GoodReads and most of the online book stores recommend ‘Curfewed Night’ along with ‘Our Moon has blood clots’ and the vice versa too. For once I obliged to the recommendations and had decided to read them one after the other in immediate succession. However after completing ‘Our Moon has Blood Clots’, I was so laden with sorrow that I wanted be give myself a break . I almost did it too.The next morning, something made me start reading ‘ Curfewed Night ‘ and I am glad I did that.

 

Basharat Peer like Rahut Pandita is from Kashmir and is an established journalist too.  ‘Curfewed Night’ is indeed the one that was published earlier among the two books and is one of the first few books to talk about the Exodus of 1990. For readers who aren’t familiar with Basharat Peer, he is also the script writer of the much acclaimed ‘Haider’ along with Vishal Bhardwaj. While reading ‘Curfewed Night’, I couldn’t but help notice some striking similarities and stark differences between the two books and their authors. Both were teenagers during the Separatist movement and had to leave Kashmir. Rahul along with his family was forced to move out of Kashmir like the other Pandits, while Basharat  was moved to Aligarh University by his family to keep him away from harm’s way. While both their families wanted them to secure a government job, neither of them had the heart for it and eventually established themselves as journalists. Above all both returned to Kashmir to tell the story of the forgotten ones. Both talk poetry and quite a lot of history, except one talks more of Tickoos, Bhats and Kauls, while the other speaks more of Shameemas, Shahids and Asifs. One talks of Shivaratri in Kashmir and the other talks of Eid in Kashmir.

The books bear evidence to the fact that cricket is not merely a sports in India but a lot more than that. I am amazed how both of them talk about Javed Miandad’s famous last ball six of Chetan Sharma that won the match for Pakistan and the emotional significance attached to the event. My respect to both the men for the parts where they are brutally honest with their expressions. For instance Rahul says he wanted to join the RSS because he wanted to do something, he wanted a gun in his hands and wanted to kill and wanted to throw a bomb in the separatists’ procession. Basharat says he wanted to join the JKLF (Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front) and cheered for Pakistan during the cricket matches. But I am more than grateful to their parents for telling their sons that if they wanted to do something good for Kashmir they should rather read.

Good they did do, for Kashmir and for the Indian state as well, by speaking out loud the stories of the lives destroyed in the conflict between militants and the army. Brides being gang-raped, men rendered impotent through electric shocks, women turned into half-widows, fathers who had to bury their sons, the list seems endless and excruciating beyond words. My heart goes out to Rahul when he says, “I isolated a portion of my heart, I kept in it things I would share with no one”. I am stumped to learn that almost around the same time while I at the other end of the country was blessed with a happy childhood, here are two men who lost their childhood to gun powders and bloodshed and were deprived of a carefree adolescence too. Even worse is that there were many more whose lives ended even before their childhood ended. I know this must be true for even today. While I write from the comforts of my home, there must be someone somewhere on the face of the earth bleeding to death in the streets for no fault of theirs.

I have never been very appreciative of the Gandhian way of the struggle for Indian Independence. I am one of those who thought that the non-violent protests took us too long to secure our freedom. I was convinced that an armed rebellion would have worked better for us. But after the numerous heart wrenching stories of those faceless fellow beings that both these men had to say from the conflict zone, I see that I am starting to look at things differently. The truth that had been evading me so long finally struck me when Basharat’s father tells him that none of the great men who changed the history, changed it with a gun.

I do have something to complain about both the books. Their style definitely seems much influenced by their profession. Although both talk poetry, neither could be a Vairamuthu when it comes to narration. But then Vairamathu wrote a fiction inspired from his experience, while both Rahul and Basharat talk about their own real life experiences.  While Basharat at least follows some chronology, Rahul makes you wander all over. But then to begin to narrate the horrendous experiences one is put through is akin to reliving those experiences. It takes a lot of courage to attempt it and I must credit Rahul for that. I must also credit Basharat for those chapters where he speaks of the exile of Kashmiri Pandits, Buddhism in Kashmir etc. although they were not sufficiently dealt with. Both the authors live up to the spirit of their profession as journalists for most of the chapters, but there also times they talk to you as blind representatives of their ethnicity leaving you disappointed.

I am glad I read both the books in succession because they surely do complement each other. They fill in for the missing words. Although their roots are the same and  there is truth to everything that has been said, the stories are not entirely same. I am sure you would agree with me when I say it is very important to know the story from all sides. Having said that, these are not the only sides of the story. There is still more to it. I am yet to read about the stories of the militants, the army , the paramilitary forces and last but more importantly the take of the Indian state in all these. But I might need sometime before I do that as a mark of respect to all those innocent lives I have come to know of thanks to Rahul Pandita and Basharat Peer.

To my readers – I recommend both the books. Do read them and do read them in succession.

To Rahul Pandita – If you ever get to read this, I pray you find your solace and I wish you find a new home that heals it all.