His People, His Story
‘I WANT TO DIE IN MY HOUSE IN KASHMIR AND BE CREMATED THERE’; SHAFI A ATHAR REVIEWS SIDARTH GIGOO’S GARDEN OF SOLITUDE
Eminent broadcaster and writer Bashir Shah0nce met me at the residence of a common friend in New Delhi. He conveyed to me that I have rightly analyzed that Kashmiri Pandits respond to the events with their pen. And this has helped them reach their woes to a larger cross section of the people across the globe. On the other hand Muslims have more than enough painful stories yet to tell the world.
While Ashok Pandit’s film “Sheen” was provocative, recently published novel by Sidarth Giggo titled as “The Garden of Solitude” is an attempt by a Kashmiri Pandit to narrate his side of the story to the masses. Gigoo has expressed his story through a young boy Sridar who migrates with his family from his ancestral home in downtown Srinagar to the plains of India and returns to satisfy his nostalgia by meeting the old neighbours and walking inside the house he was born in.
Sridar and his family lived happily with their Muslim neighbours till they become Jagmohan’s “frightened pigeons” after eruption of armed militancy in Kashmir. And they are “forced” to leave the valley to take refuge in very inhospitable conditions in Jammu. Moving from tented colony to a dingy room, the family goes through all kinds of humiliation along with other community members who also left due to the same circumstances. Much has been written and argued as to the responsibility of who engineered the exodus and the debate continues to find the real culprit. Without going into the nitty-gritty of the situation created by the forces behind the migration of KPs from the valley, the human aspect of the crisis can not be ignored. But Siddhartha has pronounced in no uncertain terms that the exodus was the handiwork of those who took guns to liberate Kashmir from the clutches of India. He repeatedly uses instances to reinforce his side of the story. Though Muslims have many stories to tell when their youth were used as human shields by the army (one such incident narrated by Basharat Peer in his Curfewd Night) but Gigoo narrates ‘in Sopore militants kidnapped a Pandit youth to be used as human shield while infiltrating’ (Page 39). The “frightened pigeons” are so terrified by the situation that sons and daughters-inlaw leave their old aged parents who are, subsequently, at the mercy of a local Muslim neighbour (page 63). The old parents live with the hope that good sense will prevail and their son shall return and take them along.
Repeated instances have been quoted by the characters who feel that Muslims won’t be safe if Pandits leave the valley. “Lasa, Muslims are safe in Kashmir as long as the Pandits live here. Once the Pandits leave, the Indian forces will kill us.” Said Ali (Page 65). An old man descended from the stairs of a nearby mosque…………………. “Pandits, do not leave your motherland. It is a conspiracy by our enemy to separate brother from brother. We all will be slaughtered like sheep now. It will rain bullets on innocent Muslims…….”(Page 67).
Post migration the story of characters is of victories and defeats. Defeat for the exiled who said, “All I dream of now is a garden of solitude, where I get a morsel of rice in the morning and a morsel of rice in the evening”. Or for the person who grabs a discarded plastic bottle, containing few drops of water, used for the toilet and empty the drops into his parched mouth. And possibly victory for the one who cursed the government, the militants, the separatist politicians but managed to get half a dozen ration cards on fake papers to receive six thousand rupees monthly compared to five hundred by others. Siddahratha is successful in telling the world the story of ‘exile, migration, killings, condition of migrants in the camps at Jammu, the community on the verge of extinction, the loss of identity and homeland’ as advised to his hero Sridar by Dr. Zadoo the office bearer of Panun Kashmir. But there is another side of the story which remains untold for which people from Muslim community shall have to make an attempt.
As we all know that the words of old man in Qazigund market come true that Muslims will be killed like sheep. Killing one time or dying every moment are two different experiences. As goes the Kashmiri proverb ‘dazne khota ada dood sakh’ (half burnt is more painful than full burnt). “At the Tihar jail…….their lives are destroyed now. I wish they had attained martyrdom while fighting so that their mothers did not suffer every day. Now they languish in dark cells, and die every moment.” (Page 133).
I personally appreciate the migrant families that they did not let the circumstances affect their children’s education but some of their expressions deep from the heart were lost in the din during their efforts to highlight their agonies across the world. Gigoo’s finds expression through his characters; ‘The Muslims are better. At least, they understand us’ (page 104), ‘To this day, I am thankful to my neighbour for warning us in advance that there was threat to my husband’s life’ (page 129), are forgotten words in his community.
I pray to God that the last wishes of Dina Nath and the people of his ilk are blessed by the Almighty as ‘I want to die in my house in Kashmir and be cremated there.’ I appreciate efforts of Gigoo to highlight the side of the story of his community but am deeply pained by showing my community in very poor light.
“These Afghans are helping us in our struggle……………….They too deserve a night of passion sometimes.” (page 39).
No Kashmiri Muslim can stoop so low!
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Lastupdate on : Fri, 25 Feb 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 25 Feb 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 26 Feb 2011 00:00:00 IST
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