Kashmir’s new-age storytellers are bringing out love, life, longing and decades old long conflict-ridden sto- ries in a series of books that have hit the stands over some time now.
Debutant author, Shakoor Rather, who comes from south Kashmir’s district Kulgam, was musing the other day on what separates highest comedy, love, longing and pristine past.
Talking a stroll along the Bund side in Srinagar, the writer observed that “there are stories everywhere in Kashmir. Kashmir is a storyteller’s abode. I grew up lis- tening to legends and stories from my early years. Everyone has some tale to share. It is just you have to find out the right time to tell your story.”
“There are definitely some traumas that are so powerful that there is absolutely no way you could use humor to dismiss it,” he says. “For every story based in Kashmir, you have to have a different setting elsewhere.”
“I have vivid memories of my college and university days. I have memories engraved in my mind about the lanes and historical places of downtown Srinagar where the book is based. Matador rides, searching up history and listening to people about mundane incidents and anecdotes formed the foundation for the book,” he says.
Recently when publisher, Speaking Tiger Books announced the launch of Rather’s debut novel ‘Life in the Clock Tower Valley’, a book about Kashmir’s pristine past, its grievous present, and always uncertain future, Rather got overwhelming love and response from his restive homeland.
Rather says, his debut novel is set in the picturesque Srinagar, the novel provides an insider’s view of everyday life and emo- tions in Kashmir.
The book, published by a well-known Speaking Tiger Books, also highlights fas- cinating historical and political informa- tion about Kashmir as well as environmental issues that are seldom talked about.
‘Life in the Clock Tower Valley’ is a book that satisfies the reader’s curiosity about how everyday life in Kashmir progresses during uncertain times.”
The book gives quick glances at small life-capturing moments. It’s about Kash- mir’s pristine past, a grievous present, and an uncertain future. Through its myriad characters, the book subtly reflects on the relation between Kashmir’s changing seasons and constant politics and how they affect day-to-day life. The issues are depicteded through symbolism, wit, and humour.
Rather says many past books have shone a light on the conflict in Kashmir, however, “Life in the Clock Tower Valley takes a different approach by depicting the life that we all live amidst this conflict. It highlights the uncertainty in our lives.”
Readers, especially those who reviewed this literary work of Rather, say that conflict generates content and Rather has done remarkably well with his first book. “The content generated during conflict has to be tapped by journalists, poets, artists, authors, storytellers or even by craftsmen,” says Anzoo Wasim, a friend of the author and a reviewer. “It is an art to present it before the world in varying formats people are interested in. They like to savour it according to their preference for certain genres of art and literature. So the people going through it are under obligation to produce every sort of artistic and literary work to document the phases of their strife. It ameliorates the quality of their lives, makes it less regressive besides telling outsiders what they don’t know about it.”
The restive Kashmir region has over the years, especially from the last one decade, seen a new breed and new-age authors and storytellers, who successfully penned down accounts highlighting one aspect or other of this long ensuing conundrum.
‘WE ARE WHO WE ARE THROUGH THE STORIES’
Storytelling is not a tradition in Kashmir. The way we communicate is through stories, says Onaiza Drabu, who retells the folklore of Kashmir in her book ‘The Legend of Himal and Nagrai and Other Stories.’ Her book received accolades from Kashmir, especially from the Kashmiri diaspora.
“We are who we are through the stories we are told and the stories we tell,” she says. “I would be curious then to know what our stories say about us Kashmiris. We Kashmiris love our stories.” Drabu says that “Kashmir being cut off from the rest of the world, in this multicultural, multilingual potpourri of customs and traditions, we have spun our own yarns to live by.”
In her book, The Legend of Himal and Nagrai and Other Stories, ethnographer and writer Onaiza Drabu has put together a retelling of some of these Kashmiri folktales.
Drabu says Kashmir has many stories of its own to tell beyond the visible political ones, though these have not been brought to the forefront because of the way New Delhi has treated the place and its inhabitants over the decades.
“In 2014, I had started a project that looked at the aspects of Kashmiri history, heritage and folklore. I did a bunch of research on the heritage trails of dif- ferent religious spaces in Kashmir, different devotional spaces and monuments, etc because a lot of that wasn’t happening. I also started a blog that illustrated Kashmir proverbs and quirks in the language. What I was doing that time was researching Kashmiri poetry, Kashmiri language, Kashmiri folklore,” she says.
“Kashmiri folklore has been very close to my heart for a really long time, it’s something I really associate with my childhood. I make this distinction between folktales and folklore in the introduction, where I am saying that everything about folklore is intertwined with a very superstitious core, which I find very intriguing. It’s something I use in my everyday life.”
‘RUMOURS OF SPRING’
Farah Bashir’s new book, Rumours of Spring, is a memoir of a teenage girl, who grew in turmoil. For Farah Bashir, the fear of returning home to a dead family member was a haunting spell that loomed large. In an interview, she says that ‘Rumours of Spring’ is a voice that is never before heard. She says that in order to articulate the silences of a young girl who is navigating her life in a war and confronting it when all she wanted was to escape it.”
“The year was 1989, and I was a few months away from becoming a teenager. It was on the eve of Eid. The day that started on a happy note ended in an interminable night. The opening chapter of my book comprises that memory,” she says.
“My sister and I had gone to a salon to get a haircut, and by the time we came out, the world as we knew it had completely transformed. The celebratory air had turned funereal. A strange bluish hue had descended upon the city; there were shards of glass and squished toys on the streets. Streets were deserted as a curfew had been announced.”
Rumours of Spring is an unforgettable account of Farah Bashir’s adolescence spent in Srinagar in the 1990s. As troops and militants battle across the cityscape, a young schoolgirl finds that ordinary tasks – studying for exams, walking to the bus stop, combing her hair, falling asleep – are riddled with anxiety and fear. With haunting simplicity, Farah Bashir captures moments of vitality and resilience from her girlhood amidst the increasing trauma and turmoil of passing years – secretly dancing to pop songs on banned radio sta- tions; writing her first love letter; going to the cinema for the first time – with haunting simplicity. This deeply affecting coming-of-age memoir portrays how conflict surreptitiously affects everyday lives in Kashmir.
Kamila Shamsie, the author of Home Fire, writes, ‘Extraordinary – this memoir of growing up in Kashmir in the 1990s is illuminating, heartbreaking, and beauti- fully told.’
‘This is an unforgettable work that refuses silence. It is an urgent, brave call for justice.’ Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King
Author of Homesick, Jennifer Croft, “I couldn’t put it down, and even after it had ended, the people and their stories – wonderful, horrific, familiar and unfathomable – stayed textured and formidable in my mind.”