How embattled is my Valley

Divya Trivedi | Updated on April 28, 2011

The Collaborator By Mirza Waheed Publisher: Penguin Books India

The Garden of Solitude By Siddharth Gigoo Publisher: Rupa & Co

If the recent writings in English on Kashmir by Kashmiris do not jolt readers out of their complacent reverie that continues to negate the mournful realities of the Valley, nothing else will.

Three writers tell us heart-wrenching tales of Kashmiris through the 1990s, when unrest in the Valley escalated.

With the publication of Basharat Peer's much-acclaimed memoir, Curfewed Night, two years ago, a precedent was set. Since then, effectively utilising the creative licence afforded by fiction, Siddharth Gigoo, a Kashmiri Pandit, and Mirza Waheed, a Kashmiri Muslim, have told real stories of real people from the Valley.

Stylised as ‘truthful fiction', Gigoo's Garden of Solitude charts the loss of a community that considers itself to be on the brink of extinction. Published by Rupa & Co, the novel is an insightful commentary on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits who struggle with migration and the loss of the familiar. Narrated as the story of Sridar, the central protagonist, the style is restrained and strives to be apolitical.

Waheed's novel, The Collaborator (Penguin Books India), on the other hand, is partly surreal and capable of unnerving a sensitive reader.

All three writers live outside Kashmir and traverse similar ground interspersed with evocative personal accounts and depictions of lives thrown out of gear. While innocents get killed routinely in the name of insurgents, Indians, informers or intruders, even as the world turns a blind eye to their plight, the sense of helplessness and despair are palpable.

Yet, there are important differences. While Gigoo's Sridar is able to escape death, Peer's Arif, Pervez and Tariq have no escape. The young Muslim men in Peer's account are tortured and many die, regardless of whether they enlist to fight or not. The shrivelled women in Waheed's account offer their crushed honour for the sake of some milk, an act that in a twisted way they believe will extricate them from a worse fate.

While the Pandits are able to salvage a part of their lives by leaving the angst-ridden Valley and find shelter in other parts of India and the world through Government concessions and generosity, the Kashmiri Muslims are condemned to humiliation with their existence threatened by both the military and the militants.

While life inside Kashmir is anything but rosy, elsewhere too, as Muslims from the Valley, they are subjected to the suspicious gaze of the world. Waheed's fiction, with its graphic description of human rights violations by the Indian army in the strife-torn region, is deeply disturbing.

While all three books will make ‘outsiders' squirm, they steer clear of attempting solutions. One is left with the feeling, as Gigoo puts it, ‘the truth did not matter, the truth did not exist'.

All three books are a must-read for those who wish to understand what is happening in the Kashmir Valley.

Published on April 28, 2011

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