The soul-stirring memoir of a community forced into exile in their own country. Of a government that shut its eyes to save some votes and after 20 years has now very effectively swept the whole matter under the carpet. Of a media that refuses to share the unbiased truth about the gross injustice suffered by a section of the people of our country simply because they belong to the majority religion. How can the world view of the most intellectual citizens of one of the most intelligent civilizations be so warped, unfair and blinded, laboring under a continued misconceived notion of righteousness?
Kashmir is a topic that will invariably incite inflammatory viewpoints in every Indian; either for India or against. Being an army officer’s daughter and having known the number of lives lost to terrorists in the region, it becomes very hard for me to take an objective look at the situation as a neutral commentator must do. I was most surprised by the stance of some highly educated Kashmiri Muslim women I came across who professed to be staunch supporters of Pakistan; did they not realize that, if they were in Pakistan, they would find it very hard to receive higher education, let alone go out of the house to watch a movie, to scream a slogan of independence, to walk with a group of girlfriends, or even to show off their new suits? What can you say to convince someone when the elemental need for self-preservation takes a backseat to fanaticism?
Reading Rahul Pandita brought back all the memories and discussions of our teenage years, only in sharper focus than ever before. I tried to imagine being huddled in a dark room, listening to someone announce on a loudspeaker outside my home that they were preparing to murder my family and me the next day and found myself immediately paralysed with fear and indecision. What would you do if something like this happens to your family? How would you decide on the wisest course of action, knowing that staying in your home makes you a sitting duck and going out just changes that situation into becoming a moving target? How did the people caught in such situations spend their nights and days, knowing full well that no police and no army would be taking any action against this terrorizing situation? Maybe if the government had taken swift action all those years ago, today the people of Kashmir, Hindu and Muslim alike, would have been living without the fear of dying at the hands of a terrorist or of being accused of being one.
I think only an Indian can truly appreciate the hardship and pains that go into erecting one’s own home and the sense of immense pride and attachment one feels for it. As Pandita narrates his father’s emotions on leaving his hard-earned home, I found myself standing beside them outside the gates of their 22-room house, weeping in commiseration, knowing that they will never come back to this home again. The story of a lost home is repeated over and over again in the book, emphasizing the pain and complete desolation of the exiled families. Reading of the developing tensions through a child’s eyes was frustratingly heartbreaking; his confusion at his friends’ betrayals, the first realization of his parents’ very mortal struggles, the suffocating confinement in four walls after growing up in the fresh open air of the mountains and that ever-elusive promise of ‘going back home’.
The prose is anecdotal, with a stark simplicity to the narrative. The helplessness, the loss and the heart-breaking nostalgia leap out of almost every sentence in the book. It is the story of a way of life lost through fanaticism and political greed. It is not an easy read and it makes you question our government policies and the apathy of our appointed leaders to human pain and suffering. It is also the story of human nature, the refugee underdogs and the petty landlords with the power over them as well as the courage and kindness of people living in fear. The author comes across as an extremely disillusioned youth and a cynical adult right up until the last few pages. I pray that he continues to live in hope, because in his own way he will certainly make a difference to the journey of Kashmiri Pandits back home by providing them a voice that can be heard and understood all over the country, which may in turn help to pave the way for achieving peace and stability in the valley.
This book also made me bow my head in thankfulness for the sense of security that my life provides to me by virtue of my birth, selfish though it may seem.
I definitely recommend this book to everyone.