…and still bleeding. Silently.
To be honest, I’ve never given much thought to the issue of Kashmir Pandits. Mainly because it is one of the Whatabouts that the rabid rightwing on Twitter invoke everytime anything about anything is discussed. That argument when you use the atrocities against one minority to negate the atrocities against another minority. But now, after reading this book, after reading this book in two extended sittings because it was so gripping, I realize that this is a story that needs to be told in louder voices. Louder, saner, sensible voices. Voices like Rahul Pandita’s.
I’m on a voyeuristic journey these days, reading about wars and genocides. Humanity’s greatest mistakes, history that should teach us lessons. But this exodus of the Kashmir Pandits is not yet history, it is just two decades old. It is not a horror that happened in another era to another people. It is something that happened during my lifetime, in my country to people from my generation. It is a wound that is still raw, bleeding. No, the blood has not yet clotted.
All that time when I was living a carefree life in the safe south, complaining about the ‘same old’ Kashmir headlines in the news every day; laughing at the old woman who watched Ulaga Seidhigal for news about Kashmir, where her grandson was posted, thinking that it was not part of India ;romanticizing Azaadi based on Pankaj Kapur and Aravind Swamy, a boy almost my age was uprooted from his home and thrown into refugee camps where he would be handed half a tomato as part of the rations. He would then be shuttled from room to room, hotel to hotel, house to house more than seventeen times over the next two decades, never finding Home again. Just because he was not one of Them.
Rahul Pandita’s Hello, Bastar was good. It was to the point, well researched and well written. But it was someone else’s story. This book on the other hand is his own story. A story of the teenage boy who lived in the house with 22 rooms and the apple tree. A house with the kitchen garden and the soon-to-be-renovated attic full of ‘costly deodar wood’. A house he would return to after years, and seek permission from strangers to enter. A house where he would then search desperately for traces of the life he was forced to leave behind. The story of the teenage boy with a cousin he hero worshipped, the cousin whose death he dreamt of a decade before it happened. The story of a teenage boy who was Kris Srikanth to his best friend Javed Miandad, best friend before he did something to break them. The story of the teenage boy who looked out of his window one night and saw people dividing up the neighborhood among themselves, laying claim to his house while his whole family cowered with fear inside. The story of the teenage boy whose mother grabbed a kitchen knife, ready to kill his sister and then herself if those people outside entered the house. A chilling story of a people caught inside someone else’s fight for freedom. A people killed for no reason other than the fact that they were not one of Them.
No hate is spewed in the book. It is largely neutral, actually, too neutral given that it is a first hand account of the exodus. He is allowed some hate. But there is so much dignity in the writing.There is pain in each word and that pain is more powerful and effective than hate. Facts are laid out, clean and clear. Names of the people killed, how they were killed. Plain facts enough to let the reader decide what is right and what is not, who is right and who is not. And who is to blame. It is such a shame that the people of the country’s first Prime Minister are living in exile for the past two and a half decades, largely ignored by both the media and political parties. I won’t blame the rightwingers now for being vocal about this. They seem to be the only voice for these people.
The Visitor summed up the KP Conundrum perfectly here