Tryst With Paradise Once Again

Article 370 is history and with that, the paradise that was bleeding since ages sees a new dawn. The state has suffered a lot due to the militant insurgency, but now new hopes and aspirations have generated among the people of India.

I happened to visit Kashmir in 2014 and it mesmerised me with its charm and beauty. However, I am not a resident of the region and can only talk about my experience as a tourist to the place.

They say books are a person’s best friend. So, here’s a list of few books based on Kashmir that will help you know the pain and struggle the people of Jammu and Kashmir had to face.

1. Our Moon has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits

Author: Rahul Pandita

Genre: Memoir/Non Fiction

Book Blurb:

Our Moon Has Blood Clots is the story of Kashmir, in which hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits were tortured, killed and forced to leave their homes by Islamist militants and to spend the rest of their lives in exile in their own country. Rahul Pandita has written a deeply personal, powerful and unforgettable story of history, home and loss.

Rahul Pandita was fourteen years old when he was forced to leave his home in Srinagar along with his family. They were Kashmiri Pandits- the Hindu minority within a Muslim-majority Kashmir that was by 1990 becoming increasingly agitated with the cries of ‘Azaadi’ from India. 

My Take on the Book:

Our Moon Has Blood Clots is very insightful and gives a firsthand account of the experiences of the author himself. It is a memoir of a lost home, of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits like Mr. Pandita himself, when they were forced out of the valley by insurgents funded by our neighboring country. The plight, the trauma and the fear that the Kashmiri Pandits had to face have come alive in the book. The brutal killings, fleeing away from home, staying in refugee camps in Jammu, these realities are narrated with much pain.

This book reminds me of the tragic story of one of my ex-colleagues. She is a Kashmiri Pandit who had to flee from her native place along with her parents. She took a job in Delhi where I happened to meet her. I still remember (this happened sometime in the late 90s) how she used to talk about her home and life back in the valley. Their sufferings did not end there. Her mother had a nervous breakdown while leaving the valley and was completely disconnected with the rest of the world.

Rahul Pandita has done a phenomenal job. Painted with vivid imagery, this memoir carries all the pain and suffering of Kashmiri Pandits. The author has put his heart on paper that leaves a deep impact on the reader. The book also talks about the aftermath of the exodus and gives a closer look at the life and conditions through which the pandits have lived and survived.

The book is very gripping at the same time very disturbing to read. Switching between the past and the present, the book is all about the fear, the torture, the murders of loved ones…and the final blow of being chased away from their homes. It’s a heart-wrenching book. If you want to know more about the plight and trauma of Kashmiri pandits who had to leave the valley for their life, go ahead and read it.

A sublime tragedy indeed.

Here are a few excerpts from the book:

“It was a pathetic existence. Many fell ill with diseases that were hitherto unknown to the community. In the first year alone, many elderly people died of sunstroke, and snake and scorpion bites. Children became infected with fungal diseases, and scabies became rampant in the unhygienic camps. Doctors reported hundreds of cases of stress-induced diabetes”.

“In one camp lived a woman whose young son was killed by his friends in Baramulla. The boy’s mother refused to believe that her son was no more. So, every afternoon she would cook food for him and keep it on a parapet outside her tent. I saw her one day while she was cooking food for her dead son. She spoke to a neighbour while she lovingly placed the food on the parapet. ‘He won’t eat if the rice is not crispy,’ I heard her saying.”

“At the blue gate, Father stopped and turned back. He looked at the house. Looking back, there was a sense of finality in his gaze. There were tears in his eyes.”

Buy Our Moon Has Blood Clots from Amazon

2. The Tree With A Thousand Apples

Author: Sanchit Gupta

Genre: Fiction

Book Blurb:

Inspired by true events, this riveting narrative traces the lives of Safeena Malik, Deewan Bhat and Bilal Ahanagar, three childhood friends who grow up in an atmosphere of peace and amity in Srinagar, Kashmir, until the night of 20 January 1990 changes it all. 

While Deewan is forced to flee from his home, Safeena’s mother becomes ‘collateral damage’ and Bilal has to embrace a wretched life of poverty and fear. The place they called paradise becomes a battleground and their friendship struggles when fate forces them to choose sides against their will.

Twenty years later destiny brings them to a crossroads again, when they no longer know what is right and what is wrong. While both compassion and injustice have the power to transform lives, will the three friends now choose to become sinful criminals or pacifist saints? The Tree with a Thousand Apples is a universal story of cultures, belongingness, revenge, and atonement. The stylized layered format, fast-paced narration, and suspenseful storytelling make for a powerful, gripping read.

My Take On The Book:

The story of The Tree With a Thousand Apples revolves around three friends Bilal, Safeena, and Deewan, whose paths cross twenty years after they witnessed the ‘Paradise on Earth’ shatter before their eyes. The lives of these three childhood friends suddenly changed on the night of 20 January 1990. How their lives take dramatic turns and what happens when their paths cross again after 20 long years? Well to know this you will have to read this book which I am sure will intrigue you with its language, narration, and the story. The character building is brilliant and the narration style is simple and captivating. 

The author Sanchit Gupta has treated the subject very sensitively and has successfully explored the loss that humanity faced in Kashmir due to the unwarranted violence and terrorism.

This book is written so beautifully that it evoked so many emotions within me. When I was reading it, so many incidences started flashing in front of my eyes. The beautiful locales of Kashmir, one of our Kashmiri family friends and stuff like that.

The book blurb questions, “If a criminal was once a saint and a saint was once a criminal, then who is the criminal and who is the saint?” What do you think? Now, this is a tough question to answer? Is it about the perspective or the situation? Is it about the challenges or the changes? How does this change happen? Well, these are some of the questions to ponder and to know the answers, you will have to read the book.

The Tree with a Thousand Apples weaves the world of Kashmir beautifully. The author has poured the emotions of Kashmir in this book. The helplessness of its innocent people who are gullible and whose lives have been devastated due to the unrest in the valley have been beautifully described in it. The three protagonists and their stories showcase the miserable condition of the people who wanted the world to listen to them, understand them and help them.

The cover of the book is simply amazing and draws attention at the very first glance. And what about the title? The moment I read the title, I wanted to read the book.

Buy The Tree with a Thousand Apples from Amazon

3. Curfewed Night

Author: Basharat Peer

Genre: Memoir

Book Blurb:

Since the independence of India, Kashmir has been a major concern for not just India but also the world. The issue of Kashmir still is a crucial issue discussed across forums in the global arena and is one of the major hindrances in improving relationship with India’s neighbour and kin of one time. Much has been written about Kashmir and the separatist movement in Kashmir. But the beautifully scripted account of the brutality with which the separatist movement is carried on till date has no precedence. The book, Curfewed Nights, gives an honest, crude, and truthful account of what goes on in the paradise of India which is under the spell of the separatist movement.

The author of the book, Basharat Peer, being a Kashmiri himself has related to each and every detail provided in the book from the first hand experiences gathered by him. Since independence of India, many Kashmiri youths have been mesmerised by the terrorism to the extent that they want to join the terrorist organisations even without thinking about their families or themselves. They have illusioned godfathers in the leaders of such terrorist outfits. In fact, the author was sent out of Kashmir by his family, just to keep him away from these painful romances with the militants.

The book, Curfewed Night, has a lot of heart rending accounts of how a mother watches her son who is forced to hold an exploding bomb or how a poet discovers his religion when his entire family is killed or how the politicians are tortured inside the refurbished torture chambers or how villages have been rigged with landmines which kills innocent civilians, and how temples have converted into army bunkers while ancient Sufi shrines have been decapitated in bomb blasts. This painful saga of humanity and human crucifiction in the name of religion and jihad was by RHI in the year 2009. The book is available in paperback.

My Take On The Book:

The book is based on biases and presents a one-sided narrative.  It is tilted towards justifying the militants and presenting the problem of Kashmiri separatists as the problem of common Kashmiri people. From the beginning itself, the book presents and advocates the separatist agenda. The author keeps on justifying that the presence of military is oppressive for Kashmiris but he fails to explain the crimes committed by the militants trained and armed in Pakistan to wage war against India and disrupting peace in Kashmir.

Although the author tried his best to portray the harmony between both the Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims before 1990, but fails in hiding his real feelings. Here is an excerpt from the book,

“The religious divide was visible only on the days India and Pakistan played cricket. Muslims supported the Pakistani cricket team; the Pandits were for India. Yet the tensions, which were partly class-based, never simmered into sectarian violence. But things fell apart after the eruption of armed conflict.”

“We did not relate to the symbols of Indian nationalism—the flag, the national anthem, the cricket team. We followed every cricket match India and Pakistan played but we never cheered for the Indian team. If India played Pakistan, we supported Pakistan; if India played the West Indies, we supported the West Indies; if India played England, we supported England.”

There is also mention of the kidnapping of Rubaiya seeds, daughter of then home minister, by JKLF. JKLF demanded the release of their jailed friends for releasing her. The book also portrays how people cheered for JKLF gorillas when the Government of India had to release the terrorists. The book also accepts the involvement of Pakistan in spreading militancy in the region.  Here is an excerpt:

“That winter, too, busloads of Kashmiri youth went to border towns and crossed over to Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir for arms training. They returned as militants carrying Kalashnikovs, hand grenades, light machine guns, and rocket launchers issued by Pakistan.”

The author has written that Yasin Malik led the militants of JKLF but at the same time is unhappy when he is arrested. He finds it ruthless when the India Government responded. It is an irony that according to the author, training of Kashmiri youths as a terrorist is fine but when the military fights back, it is a torture and ruthless step. Most importantly, he failed to mention why the need arose to deploy army in Kashmir. The book mostly focuses on portraying how the army spoilt their lives but he failed to realise that it is the militancy that gave rise to this situation.

The book only glamourises and idolises militants and terrorism and is solely meant to present the problem Kashmiri Muslims who supported the militants and separatists ideas.

The book also fails to showcase the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits who had to leave the valley overnight. He has very lightly touched the exodus and mass killings of Kashmiri Pandits. 

The narration style is very plain and flat. It presents anecdotes and snippets of experiences that the author gathered from various people. It jumps from one incident to another. This hinders the flow of narration which is not smooth and presents the story in bits and pieces.

Although the book gives a good insight into the lifestyle of Kashmir, it was really difficult for me to finish it. Presenting a one-sided view, the viewpoint of people who supported separatists, the book shows a lot of hate towards India. The book is misleading the vulnerable youth of Kashmir and spreads false propaganda. Though the last few chapters are mellowed down but I would have loved if he would have explained the problems faced by common peace-loving Kashmiri people due to the militant insurgency, irrespective of their religion. 

A one time read to understand the psychology of Kashmiri Muslims during the late 80s and 90s.  However, I suggest reading this book with “Our Moon Has Blood Clots” by Rahul Pandits. Both these books are set during the same period and tell the story of Kashmir with different approach.

Buy Curfewed Night from Amazon

4. Jihad In My Saffron Garden

Author: Roxy Arora

Genre: Fiction

Book Blurb:

‘Undoubtedly, My Saffron Garden was a playground for Farishtey and Djinns. The tiny flora in the lush meadow tiptoed upwards as lithe as ballet dancers while they hobnobbed with the tinted winged butterflies’………. Year 1988, the two Superpowers 

of the world, U.S.A. and U.S.S.R., embroiled in their cold war. Each vying to outdo the other in its quest for terrain, a terrain saturated with oil. 

As the Soviet troops leave Afghanistan………….. Our Indian borders bleed at their most breathtaking yet strategic point….. Kashmir. Jihad unleashes its angst. Roshina Kapoor, headstrong and feisty, born and bred in Kashmir. Aafaq Qazmi, principled Muslim elitist, reciprocates Roshina’s love for him with unbridled ardour. Heena Qazmi, Aafaq’s sister and Roshina’s best friend. All three young adults fiercely possessive of each other as well as their beautiful state and the Kashmiriyat they symbolise. The ‘Saffron Garden’ was theirs. Why in 2015 does Roshina return to Sopore without her lover and best friend? Why does the Saffron Garden scare her? Is it because she is a Kafir? Will Roshina ever find closure and love or will her past catch up with her and wreak havoc in her life yet again?

My Take On The Book:

“Jihad in my Saffron Garden” is a well-narrated novel which is about Kashmiriyat that believes in respecting people of all religions. The story is about the harmony that existed in Kashmir prior to the militant insurgency that stepped its foot in the region during the late 80s and early 90s, shattering the peace in the valley. The story also explores how everything changed in the region dramatically with the violent entry of the Militants.

It is a story about a Hindu girl, Roshina Kapoor, and a Muslim boy, Aafaq Qazmi, who fall in love with each other, and the fate of their love. It portrays how life changes when a beautiful city is hit by terrorism. 

The narration style is beautiful. One thing that I liked was the way the author has dealt with the topic. Kashmir, on the whole, is a very sensitive issue and Roxy has done a brilliant job in maintaining the balance, without raising a controversy. The topic has been handled very sensitively. One can feel the pain of both sides, both Hindus and Muslims living under the fear of terrorism and betrayal.

The character building is brilliant and the plot is engaging with its various layers and subplots. If you are looking for a fresh and insightful story based in Kashmir, go ahead and read “Jihad in My Saffron Garden”.

Buy Jihad in My Saffron Garden from Amazon

5. The House That Spoke

Author: Zuni Chopra

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Book Blurb:

Fourteen-year-old Zoon Razdan is witty, intelligent and deeply perceptive. She also has a deep connection with magic. She was born into it. The house that she lives in is fantastical—life thrums through its wooden walls—and she can talk to everything in it, from the armchair and the fireplace to the books, pipes and portraits! But Zoon doesn’t know that her beloved house once contained a terrible force of darkness that was accidentally let out by one of its previous owners. And when the darkness returns, more powerful and malevolent than ever, it is up to her to take her rightful place as the Guardian of the house and subsequently, Kashmir.

My Take On The Book:

After reading all the heavy and tough books listed above, here’s one magical one to refresh your mind. Written by a 15 year old girl, “The House That Spoke” is the debut novel of the author, Zuni Chopra. The book is a magical journey and is not written from any political standpoint. The book is about how darkness makes its way into the valley in the form of a demon that haunts Zoon’s (the protagonist’s) house as well as the growing socio-political tension in the region courtesy of militants.

The story is about a 14 year old girl, Zoon Razdan who stays in a magical house in Kashmir with her mother. A house that speaks. Speaks to its special Guardian, Zoon. The other objects in the house are also alive and can converse with Zoon. The house is guarding a secret evil that escapes and then unleashes evil. The house itself is one of the characters and all objects have a voice.  The story is set in a Kashmir where Pandits were still part of the community. 

The author has captured the beauty of Kashmir very nicely with the help of vivid imagery and metaphors. I loved the setting of the story. Kashmir is a lovely setting and Zuni talks about kehva, Dal lake- everything that defines Kashmir. I also enjoyed the conversation between the household objects because their personification was interesting to observe. However, there are many loopholes and plot holes in the story but considering the fact that the book is a debut novel of a 15 year old, it’s worth a read.

The book cover is gorgeous. It also has many lovely illustrated pages. Zuni is a young writer with a lot of potential.

Overall, with its flaws and strong points, the book is an enjoyable read packing history, fantasy and mystery. Recommended for young readers. 

About The Author:

Zuni Chopra is a fifteen-year-old author. Who has published two books of poetry. This is her first novel.

Buy The House That Spoke from Amazon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *