Kashmir is that mythical beast that nearly every writer, poet and film-maker craves to ensnare and immortalize in his/her work but even as he/she is coming close to interpreting this indescribably beautiful place, it has slipped from the grasp and taken on an entirely new flavour. Such is the paradox of this particular patch of paradise. Edited by Arvind Gigoo, Shaleen Kumar Singh and Adarsh Ajit, From Home to House brings together 27 fiction and non-fiction pieces written entirely by displaced Kashmiri Pandits.
Thus, in ‘Air You Breathe’, Omkarnath is making a trip back to Srinagar for the first time after fleeing his birthplace. A dialogue concerning a reconciliation between the exiled Kashmiri Pandits and their Muslim ‘cousins’ is scheduled to take place. Omkarnath runs into his friends Asadullah and Mohammad Yaseen but the old camaraderie is missing. Radhika Koul’s ‘Fall’, a charming sliver of a story flutters around falling snowflakes and superimposes maple leaves over a carefully preserved chinar leaf while in ‘The Kidnapping’, a story set against the gurgling waters of the Lidder, the bonds of friendship between a Muslim abductor and his Hindu captive are tested. K L Chowdhury recalls the details of the Nadimarg massacre, cloaking them to form a chilling short story. Many a story speaks of the unspeakable living conditions of the Kashmiri Pandits in migrant camps, descriptions of cramped tents, common toilets, filth, snakes, mosquitoes, tents that leak and blow away in the winds, sickness and death, leave an indelible mark on the reader.
Some young migrant voices, however, delight with their optimism. So much has happened to an entire community and so little of it has permeated out to the outer world. In that, this book is a brave venture throwing light on the magnitude of atrocities faced and the indifference of the country’s administration towards their plight. Khema Kaul and Adarsh Ajit trace mundane conversations in a Kashmiri Pandit’s life, discussions fuelled by hairline demarcations between being Communist and Indian, Hindu and Muslim, Muslim and fanatic, Kashmiri and Indian, and halal and jhatka meat.
It is in the non-fiction section that this book really comes into its own. Fearless voices, dispassionate analysis and searing anger render this section very crucial. K N Pandita’s piece stands out with its bold stance and revolutionary take on the emancipation of women. The community needs to “put under wrap its saga of exile and exodus” writes Pandita, and carve themselves a new history. Film-maker Ajay Raina’s stroll down a cinematic boulevard is steeped in nostalgia while Veena Pandita Koul makes a scholarly study of the breakdown of the old communal way of life.
The incident on January 19, 1990, when the towers of every mosque in Kashmir simultaneously began to spew messages of hate reads like an eerie bit of science fiction in R N Kaul’s recollections. Jammu was the land most Kashmiri Pandits fled to and the welcoming attitude of its inhabitants—the Dogras—and the eventual cultural merging are well brought out by Shaleen Kumar Singh. What stays on in the mind is the angry piece by Deepak Tiku in which he denounces the elderly for leading “a life of sloth in the valley feasting on Rogan Josh and Yekhni and fish”, and expecting the younger generation to be ATM machines!
A mixed bag, some stories are too brief to make any impact but others go for the jugular. What could have been a very special collection is sadly marred by sloppy editing; Jamila in one page becomes ‘Jameela’ in the other, Kulmam becomes ‘Kolmam’, besides other irritants. At the core of every piece lurk common emotions; of being alienated, marginalized, ignored and victimized, yet there are flashes of hope. An insightful, informative and disturbing read, the book is sure to evoke unstinting sympathy for an exiled generation.