Kashmir is an exotic place for its serenic beauty, humility of its people and for its heartwarming health resorts. The centuries old social fabric interwoven by the shared cultures of both Muslim and Hindu communities enriched the cultural pride of Kashmiris as assimilative of feast of viewpoints and absorbent of divergent opinions. It is a place of romance for the foreign travellers who often find a reason to visit this scenic paradise for the reasons not unknown to any tourist who visited this scenic valley once or twice. But apart from its serenity and world famous tourist attractions, Kashmir is home to one of the bloodiest conflicts of the world, which has devastated the lives of its people both in their political and personal capacities. Since the late 1980s, an intense political conflict is going on in Kashmir, which is taking a heavy toll in both human and material resources. There have, however, been many bold attempts by some Kashmiris to narrate the fairy tales leaving behind by the conflict in its intrusion into the life of the ordinary people. Besides paintings, caricatures and documentaries, fiction has been used widely to narrate the daily lives of the people bruised by the war. Even though much has been written about the place, its beauty and its people, but what has been written was written in non-fiction from Kalhana’s Rajtarangni to Chitralekha Zutshi’s Languages of Belonging. Over the years, however, we have seen some marvelous attempts by some young Kashmiri writers to depict the struggle of the people and their daily encounters with death, betrayal and loss. These writers deployed fiction to narrate the traumatic tales of war by giving a fictional character to the real-life situations.
The new literary trend in Kashmir started with a journalist turned writer, Basharat Peer. As a student he used to feel a sense of shame each time he walked into a bookshop, because there were books written by people from almost every conflict zone of the age but none of his own motherland-Kashmir. In his memoir Curfewed Night (2009), he portrays the horrors of violence and the incessant agony and torment of the Kashmir conflict. This was followed by Siddhartha Gigoo’s The Garden of Solitude (2010), which is about the painful migration of Kashmiri Hindus.
The names which immediately strikes one’s mind are Mirza Waheed, Basharat Peer, Shahnaz Bashir, Siddharth Gigoo, Rahul Pandita, Nitasha Kaul and Zamrooda Habib. These writers wrote some of the finest and internationally acclaimed novels which had their subjects the war-ravaged people of Kashmir. Almost all of these novels were set in the backdrop of the armed insurgency that started in the 1990s, they dealt mostly with the war and the life of the people in such a political turmoil.
Today, Kashmiri writers are of all forms. They write folklore, journalism, novels, blogs, poems, ghazals, nazms: literature can be found scribbled on trees, on social media, in notebooks kept in attics. They write across languages: in Kashmiri, Urdu and English, and within Kashmir lie distinctions, of class, caste and language. Writing in Kashmir is not only a question of importance, says Kashmiri novelist, Shahnaz Bashir in an interview with Wande Magazine but “a question of duty.” Bashir’s fiction is set in the decade of the 1990s, where Kashmir saw a series of human rights crimes by the Indian armed forces, including incarceration and mass arrests of young civilian men. Claiming that it was aiming to curb militancy, the Indian military rampaged through the region, arresting and torturing Kashmiris on sight. Bashir’s first novel The Half Mother circles a woman’s life as she waits for her son, who is taken by the Indian army, to return. It reflects on the realities of many such women who are denigrated to “halves”—half wife, half mother—when their male family members are disappeared.
Some of these novels, like Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator and Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night, were an international bestsellers. Others like Shahnaz Bashir’s The Half Mother and Siddharth Gigoo’s The Umbrella Man were national bestsellers which won many national awards. Siddharth Gigoo’s The Umbrella Man and A Long Dream of Home, Rahul Pandita’s Our Moon Has Blood Clots and Nitasha Kaul’s Residue have been written about the pandit migration from the valley and their plight and yearning for their home. These beautifully written novels were critically acclaimed for their subject, narration, lyrical prose and the delicately drawn characters. In places like Kashmir, where conflict has occupied an undeniably important prominence in the daily lives of the people, fiction emerges as the most sophisticated tools to describe the ordeals of the people and their terrible encounters with the injustices of the conflict. The way the conflict in Kashmir has been beautifully crafted through fiction, we expect more to come from the celebrated writers and the budding fiction writers to give a fictional voice to the longstanding conflict that has perverted the public sphere of Kashmir for many decades from now.
The author is a political commentator and a researcher.