By Shilpa Raina
Title:From Home to House: Writings of Kashmiri Pandits in Exile; Edited by: Arvind Gigoo, Shaleen Kumar Singh and Adarsh Ajit; Publisher: Harper Collins; Pages: 216; Price: Rs.350
The year was 1990 and the date was January 19 when shrill voices through loudspeakers pierced the dark winter night, saying that if Kashmiri Pandits wished to stay in the Valley, they would have to follow the rules laid down by the Islamist militants that included “Kashmir mei agar rehna hai, Allah-O-Akbar kehna hai” (If you want to stay in Kashmir, you have to say Allah is great).
This announcement, however, changed the contours of the dynamic relationship between Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims, who till then had happily coexisted and shared great camaraderie – a virtue based on mutual trust. But that night changed everything, even the future of Kashmiri Pandits.
The turbulent displacement of over 300,000 Pandits from the Valley has been seen as one of the biggest human tragedies and many aspects of their hardships have been kept alive through memoirs, articles and documentaries. Even today, the Narendra Modi government is committed to bringing them back to their homes, keeping the debate very much alive.
But how many aspects have various mediums been able to cover through multiple channels? It is impossible, after 25 years of displacement, to view the situation with the same old prism. The lens needs to be upgraded to approach the subject from a different perspective – and this is where the new anthology perfectly fits in.
Essays, chapters and personal narratives in the anthology “From Home to House” are an eclectic mix of stories penned by a wide range of writers – young, old and contemporary. They touch upon pertinent existential threats the community is facing after being exposed to a wide range of religions; recollect the time when a family packed up their bags in a hurry with the hope to be back when the situation becomes normal; also the time when the sense of betrayal and mistrust enveloped Pandits, who blindly trusted their neighbours; and recounts the misery of Kashmiri Pandits who managed to survive after braving torrential rains and deaths due to heat stroke and snake bites.
The role of Muslims has always been questioned in Pandits’ unexpected departure. Many believed they were a part of the scheme of things, while many saw them victims of this tragedy. Some of the narratives highlight how the older Muslim generation was genuinely disappointed with the winds of discord in the Valley, whereas the young Muslim blood was diabolic in its action.
Divided into fiction and non-fiction sections, various voices make this anthology an interesting read. On one side, we have Rashneek Kher’s “The Unfinished Story” that introduces the reader to the lesser-known prevailing world of “nicknames” among Kashmiris and ties this tread to a story which he couldn’t finish. Then, we have an extremely powerful critique on Kashmiri Pandits’ lifestyle and ideology in Deepak Tiku’s “Exile or Rejuvenation”. It raises many relevant questions about the Pandits’ diplomatic attitude towards the Kashmir issue.
There are stories of a survivor who is undergoing psychological treatment to overcome the nightmares that continue to haunt him ever since he left the Valley; of a man re-visiting Kashmir with his family only to find out there is nothing left for him to go back to; narratives of living a miserable life in deplorable conditions of tents and the stigma of being a refugee.
Narratives are indeed a sound medium to reach out to a larger audience and this anthology offers a perfect route to an overview of the situation through various verticals. Not all stories here are interesting, but many of them do paint the plight in the right hue. It is the grey hue of exile which is gloomy and can’t be seen through rose-tinted glasses.
Thus the book offers a glimpse through the rear-view mirror.