Thursday, January 7, 2016



 A Long Dream of Home
(The persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits)

(Editors: Siddhartha Gigoo Varad Sharma)

Publishers: Bloomsbury Publishing India
Pages: 300
Year of publication: 2015
Price: Rs.499

Chronicling human pain and suffering is a formidable task that demands enormous objectivity, conceptual clarity, compassion, sympathy and truthfulness. A writer of this genre does not need the deftness of balancing to conciliate or the skill to incite.  He needs to speak what is true. When truth is spoken,  it takes no sides and passes no judgments .  To a reader, it is more acceptable than packaged and dressed facts.  A writer, who remains faithful to truth, acts like a mirror. And a mirror alone reflects truthfully whatsoever is brought   before it. Somehow, I have a feeling that in a civilized society, no man is shy of looking at  these mirrors  that neither doctor  nor dress up facts.  At least they   create   a  scope   for  knowing what we  are, what we   could have been   and what we  should be .

Three young Kashmiri writers who have  written on  what happened in Kashmir during the past many years are Basharat Peer, Rahul Pandita and  Siddhartha Gigoo. But after reading the book A Long Dream of Home I have found twenty-nine more writers of painful memoirs belonging to three generations of Kashmiri Pandits. They are the chroniclers of human pain and have proved themselves as masters in their art of writing.  

 Fear, mistrust, violence, death, destruction and failure of leadership led to tearing apart the Kashmiri social fabric that had tolerance and tradition as its wealth. When Angry and misguided youths took over a  movement against India  at someone’s behest, promising  poor natives the light of independence, they actually  threw them into the fires of death and destruction. They gave nothing beyond    killings, bloodshed, empty houses and a fearfully meaningful silence. This dark period   has been aptly summed up by Poet  Rehman Rahi in the couplet:

“Na chhu daa'ri alaa'n pardh'a ta na chhu braandh'a dazaan tso'ng,
Vaavus  chhu  vanaan kaaw tse moloom karukh na..... “
(Neither is there any movement in the window curtain
Nor does any lamp burn in the courtyard.
The puzzled crow requests the wind to move in and enquire. ..)

The armed militancy arrived with fear and fright for Kashmiris... Fear in the  city,   villages, lanes, fear hanging from doors and windows, fear visible and invisible  on the roads,  fear programming   our thought processes, and finally    fear arriving in  courtyards.  About this fear, Farooq Nazki wrote:

“Chhu khoaff daarien barrun awezaan,
chhaa aanganuss munz naqaab laagithh balaayee praaraan”
 (Fear dangles from doors and windows,
While the masked devil waits in the courtyard)

And unnoticed went the woes of the miniscule minority (Pandits) when they became soft targets. What option did they have when the newly acquired guns were brazenly directed towards them for no fault of theirs? They left in panic and fright, unsure of themselves.

The book under review has twenty-nine memoirs, each memoir is a class apart from the other.  To begin with Indu Bhushan Zutshi’sShe Was Killed Because She Was An Informant; No Harm Will Come To You” is a spine chilling narrative. Here we read that the killing of the nurse Sarla Bhat initially evokes resentment among Muslims in her home town Anantnag. But then comes a diktat from the local militant commanders for boycotting the family of the girl because according to them, she was a ‘police informant’. In fright the sympathetic Muslim neighbours suddenly disappear from the scene. It became extremely difficult for the Pandits to cremate the girl who had also been sexually abused in captivity for four days. The family of the victim continued to look for sympathy and support from their neighbours and friends but fear, mistrust, suspicion and  an atmosphere of hate stopped them from coming forward. It is a moving tale of helplessness, humiliation and betrayal.This  narrative by Indu Bhushan Zutshi ,comes up  as painful  knock at human conscience. 

Pran Kishore comes up in his inimitable style to present his eyewitness account of the filming of his tele-serial Gul Gulshan Gulfam in an atmosphere charged with terror and threats. His portrayal of the elderly houseboat owner Haji Samad Kotroo, with whom he had personal relations, is moving. Contribution of B L Zutshi and his colleagues in the establishment of camp schools and colleges for the Kashmiri  Pandit  students was a  very great effort at that point of time. These details are given in Zutshi’s Camp Schools and Colleges for the Displaced Students. And Ramesh Hangloo established the Radio Sharda to preserve Kashmiri Pandit language, culture and tradition. Presently  this  Radio Sharda is a household name with  Pandits   and is a part of each family.   

Arvind  Gigoo  in his Days of Parting uses small sentences  with simple English words to create an everlasting impression. His style is  effortless and focused and comes closer to Sadat Hassan  Manto.  This memoir contains a story within a story, a diary within a diary and  an episode following another episode when mistrust was the only  language of communication. The anecdotes  intensely  convey  the apparent and the veiled. I quote some anecdotes of Arvind Gigoo as they appear in this Book  :
(a)     “Shaha , the old Muslim woman in our neighbourhood , tells me on the road “ What nonsense is this ! we are fed up .” A Muslim gentleman joins us . Shaha  now shouts ‘ We are prepared to die one by one for Independence .”’  Searches and searches.  Deaths. Killings . It is horrible . A Muslim neighbour tells me in confidence “ I am afraid of my  own son. Strangers are his friends .I have never seen them “
(b)     “ I am in a Mini Bus that is going to safa Kadal. In karan Nagar there is a dead body on the road .Nobody says anything . When we reach Kak saraai , the conductor of the vehicles gets down and shouts ‘ Hum Kya Chaahtay ‘ People shout back ‘ Azaadi ‘.Aslam my neighbour , looks at me , smiles , shakes his head and moves his lips . I also move my lips .”

(c)     “ People are running in the lane .I am standing near the gate of my house . I ask a running neighbour :’What is the matter ‘ He replies : ‘ Prithvi Nath Tiku has been killed .’ I tell my mother , father and wife that Prithvi nath Tiku has been killed . They are terrified . Nobody allows me to go to Tiku’s place .When my mother and wife come home , they raise a hue and cry . There is total rebellion now. They want that we , too, should leave . Wife tells me :’ Why don’t you understand ? We have two children . Babu ji is old .’
‘Give me a minute to think ,” I tell them .
In that one minute I decide to leave .
We pack our things . Father is weeping . I ask Hafiz to arrange a truck for us . He says :’ Go home . A mini Bus will come to you in twenty minutes but don’t talk to me on the road  henceforth .”

(d)     “We put other things In the Minibus very quickly. One almirah full of old books belonging to my Grandfather remains untouched .I will come some day and carry them.These are rare books which my Grandfather had bought in  Italy , Turkey  and other countries . Through the window the daughter in law of Mohi Ud din tells me :’ Forgive  us . Go wherever you want  to go . May god protect you.’  She is weeping .”
(e)     “ One evening , Fazi , Our neighbour , says in a very low voice :’ Uma -Shori  Uma-Shori , Don’t drink water . Poison has been mixed with it.There is gloom in the family. Some persons continue to shout from the Mosque during the Night.”

.I quote how closely he describes life in downtown srinagar:

“Pandits have an ideal relationship with Muslims living in the locality .Very wealthy and poor families live side by side . The street urchins pelt stones on the houses of Pandits when a cricket match is played between India and Pakistan. Nobody takes  such things seriously. Educated and illiterate persons rub shoulders. All steal electricity . Pandits celeberate marriages in the houses of those Muslims who have big houses .Carpets and Furnishings are lent to Pandits for use all the day.Shias Sunnis and Pandits live in  harmony.Many Muslim families have leanings towards Pakistan.On Two Eids , Most of the Pandits go to Eidgaah . My Muslim  friends come to me on Shivratri days and have lunch with me. Pandits and muslims play cricket in Eid Gaah. Others fly kites over there . In the evenings , some Pandits smoke charas in the Janam Bhumi Temple or in the compound of Ram Mandir. A handful of Pandits gamble in Ram Mandir. A few Pandits and Muslims drink in stealth.The quarrel of boat women lasts for days  together . For onlookers , it is an entertainment of the highest type.Some young Pandits and Muslims steal hens and cocks belonging to few Muslim families , kill them , cook them and eat them.The owners of the hens shout curses on “ Cock Thieves “ .   The lanes , Kochas and roads in our locality are filthy and covered with garbage . faeces flows in the dirty drains . People are not ostentatious .Very wealthy muslims also believe in simple living . Jagan Nath Saqi , the well known Radio Artist sits in the shop of Shamboo Nath ( Shomb Kak ) and talks about his past.  Pandits who now live in New Colonies wonder how we Pandits live in the down town”

 In this book , Arvind Gigoo ‘s  narrative has two letters addressed to Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims. These letters  are like Manto’s letters to Uncle Sam.
Adarsh Ajit in Ya Allah, they have killed them; pour some water into their mouths, shows how his relation with Muslims turned   bitter. He writes about some gruesome killings that he saw . His depiction of  the changing character and personality of his neighbours and    friends is painfully realistic.

Dr.Kundan Lal Chowdhury in his diary/narrative It is For Your Own Good to Leave describes his life of pain and uncertainty from 1989 up to 1990. Sushant Dhar in Summers of Exile paints the horrors of camp life. The first page of the article is loaded with meanings where the author is talking of his permanent address. And Santosh Kumar Sani in From Home to Camp paints his horrible life as lived in camps and the cause of his running away from Kashmir. Rajesh Dhar in his Knights of Shiva describes some  painful incidents of those dark days. PL Waguzari and Kashi Nath Pandita in their narratives describe the mental condition of the Pandits in the nineties and how they fled the valley out of fear and terror created by the militants and jihadis. The description of Tika Lal Taploo’s death and the subsequent exodus is painful. Maharaj Krishen Naqaib’s description of the morning in Srinagar is like  a tense scene from the TV serial Tamas. Badri Raina’s Remembering the Unforgettable: Kashmir as She Made Me is nostalgia of the highest order. He records how Kashmir shaped him into what he is. He writes about his visits to Kashmir with feeling and conviction.

 Siddhartha Gigoo in his memoir Season of Ashes describes the Alzheimer’s disease that his grandfather developed out of Kashmir and the death of his grandmother who died  in Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital in 2012. He writes:
‘The ward staff saw us off at the Hospital gate. They hugged us.                 Some cried.  She died in her home. We immersed her ashes in                the Chenab . Where does this river go? I ask myself? I remembered    that the river flows into Pakistan.’

Siddhartha is an ace narrator and writer in his essay. He has a perfect and full view of the happenings that he has witnessed and described. ‘For many of us, it would take years or even decades  to fathom the impact of the loss of a generation, which traced its ancestry to a unique people who originated from the land of rishis (sages) more than 5000 years ago.’
My House Of Stone  by Neeru Koul  is brilliant in conveying her nostalgia beautifully in excellent prose. Other narratives that I enjoyed reading are Pomegranate Tree  by Namrata Wakhlu , Why I Established Radio Sharda by Ramesh Hangloo, The Day I Became a Tourist in My Own Home by Minakshi  Watts and Inheritance of Memory by Varad Sharma.   Roses Shed Fragrance by Prof. Rattan Lal Shant comes so  beautifully that it leaves you thinking.  It has all the ingredients of a master story. Shant writes: ….
 ‘My grandmother, parents, and my younger brother, Ashok, and his wife and daughter, joined us. Then came the eleven members of the three families of our two neighbours---the Kauls and the Hakhoos. They had nowhere else to go in Jammu and we made room for them to stay in our father’s unfinished house….’ 

Prithvi Nath Kabu in Seasons of Longings talks about his life in exile when his son was killed in Gool. Nikhil Koul in An Imaginary Identity says that memory of Kashmir lives in the consciousness of young Kashmiri Pandits. Tej N Dhar in Dear brother, our part in this story is over says that he was forced to leave Kashmir because he was being watched by the militants.

This book presents a range in  pain and suffering,  a pain that has been experienced and felt and   presented truthfully. Albert Camus  once said:
‘Lying is not saying what isn’t true. It is also, in fact, especially saying more than is true and, in case of the human heart, saying more than one feels.’
I observe that all the narrators in this book have not said anything that is not true or that has not  been felt or  experienced by them. Most of the stories  are overflowing with  emotions conveyed from depths of human heart. This is  a  book  for  all the  readers----Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris---- since it tells them what precisely  happened and how it all began. There is neither fault finding nor blame game. For this reason the book shall, for sure, have a wide readership in spite of the religious divide. MJ Akbar rightly says that A Long Dream of Home is a moving history of a collective nightmare.  And the story of Pandits is a very dark chapter in the history of India.

An attractive aspect of the book is the photographs of the camps, abandoned houses of Pandits, of the dilapidated temples and of the Pandits living in the camps. They form the visual history of the pain and suffering of a community of neglected people.  
The crisp Preface by the editors is informative and presents the history of Pandits under Muslim rule in Kashmir. 

More people need to come over and speak what befell the inhabitants of the beautiful valley of Kashmir in 1990.  Shall  this  pain and suffering have a common voice?  We also  need chroniclers who will write about  our unsung  heroes, those who demonstrated  courage of conviction  when sharp   lines were drawn and when by guns , bombs , grenades, hate and mistrust put an end to human relationship and age-old ethos.   Till that happens let us welcome all chroniclers of human pain and suffering. A Long Dream of Home does not preach hate. It is an unbiased social and political document about the causes that led to the exile of Pandits. 

I close this review with the words of the Bulgarian poet Nikola Vaptsarov (1909-1942 ):

“History, will you mention us
In your faded scroll?
We fattened you with news,
And slaked your thirst so richly,
With the blood of slaughtered crowds?
Was it a life worth noting,
A life worth digging up?
Unearthed, it reeks of poison,
Tastes bitter in the cup.
For the hardship and affliction
We do not seek rewards,
Nor do we want our pictures
In the calendar of years.
Just tell our story simply
To those we shall not see,
Tell those who will replace us –
We fought courageously.

( Autar Mota )

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