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On Kashmir, Literature, and the Shroud of Political Correctness

An author travelling to Kashmir after two years reflects on the Valley’s past and the deepening divide today.

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All that we seek from art, from literature, from all our endeavours is merely a reflection of our deepest desires that we are aware cannot be fulfilled. Kashmir for me has been that reflection ever since it entered my imagination. As a young girl of 14, I dreamt of living the hard life of snowy winters. It was a wish to embrace beauty with all its cruelty. In my teens, I often travelled to Kashmir in my imagination. Fourteen years later, I made my first visit to Kashmir for real, to forge my bond with the land of mystics and fanatics. No, I don’t wish to be politically correct. Possibilities of a better tomorrow rot under the rock of political correctness. Kashmir is a classic case.

I was invited to participate in the Gulmarg Literature Festival that took place on 27 October. To me, it was nothing short of a dream come true. Kashmir is the ground of my creative pursuits, my karmabhoomi, and rangabhoomi, too. We make sense of what is inside of us by trying to understand what is outside. We attempt to look at the atomic structure and the solar system alike. I tried making sense of myself by trying to understand the complex saga that was Kashmir. Hesitantly, I wrote my first novella in 2019, and of course, it had to be about Kashmir.

An author travelling to Kashmir after two years reflects on the Valley’s past and the deepening divide today.

The Gulmarg Lit Fest was organised by the J&K government.

(Photo by Pradeepika Saraswat.)

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Getting Over an Intense Trip

And two years later, I was attending the first Gulmarg Literature Festival. I felt thrilled and honoured. Honoured by the providence itself.

On Sunday, 24 October, I was flying to Srinagar after two years. The last trip I took to Kashmir was in October 2019. After which, I wrote Gar Firdaus. This trip was intense. I had interviewed too many people, young girls, boys, old men, mothers, fathers and so on. It was too much to take. To you and I, what were stories were the heartbreaking realities of people I interacted with. No rationale could placate that suffering. I ran away.

I decided to move on from K. For these two years, I did not follow the news, did not speak to my friends in Kashmir. Whenever I would hear of Kashmir, I would try to stay unaffected, as if with an old love gone sour. I felt helpless.

Then the ominous news came of the recent targeted killings of non-Muslims and non-locals living in the Valley. It was disturbing. I couldn’t ignore it.

I was torn between this urge to go back to the Valley and to stay away from it. And then happened this literature festival. I had to go.

Flying from Goa to Gulmarg, with a suitcase unsuitable for the destination, I kept thinking of my first impression of K.

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The 'Forever' Divide

Those of us who grew up watching the evening news on DD during the 90s would remember what K meant to us. I don’t remember if the newscasters called the men with Kalashnikovs ‘terrorists’ or ‘Mujahids’. But I remembered the images of guns and grenades laid out to be photographed after encounters and surrenders. It all felt unreal, as if it was from the movies. It was hard to believe those things happened, that those incidents were real.

Hurriyat was a word that belonged to an alien dictionary. While newscasters spoke of Hurriyat declining, the Centre’s offers for talks, me and my sister looked at those men donning Pakols and Karakulis and Pherans in awe. At that age, we couldn’t imagine what was happening to children like us. We couldn’t imagine that real people were being killed, that a lot of them had to leave their homes forever. ‘Forever’. The word falls on my consciousness as a hammer as I write this. ‘Forever’.

On this trip to Gulmarg, what tortured me the most was this ‘forever’. The forever divide between two communities.

When I met my friends in Srinagar after the lit fest, they all said the same thing in unison: “We didn’t expect you to attend such an event.” Since the event had government sponsorship, I shouldn’t have participated. If you have something to do with K, you are either a terrorist sympathiser or an agent.

The sentiment is so polarised that you have to be sticking to either pole to gain some credibility. You are either with us or with them, without realising that this us and them makes you blind. You can’t cross the line drawn between us and them if you want to be politically correct. And If you don’t, there is no hope.

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Literature as a Refuge

Visiting K like a tourist this time, I felt what a Pandit travelling to Kashmir would feel. It was devastating. You belong to this place and yet you can never belong here. What’s more painful than visiting your own home as a tourist? Losing home is like losing a life, thousands of lives of your ancestors who belonged there. And now, that home is taken away from you while you watch your hopes to go back home losing their meaning. I cried when I entered Srinagar.

I tried to speak to my friends in the Valley about these dying hopes. But the wall between their us and them was so hardened that I couldn’t hear what I wished for. I’m not the right person to talk about the money and the stakes involved, but the years of political correctness practised by so-called representatives of these hopes have only demonised the two communities in each other’s eyes. Demons can’t bring peace. Demons only threaten and kill.

The Gulmarg Literature festival established one thing, if not more. Literature is the only refuge for any hope when despair is the order of the day.

The festival was attended by some of the best writers from the country, but the show belonged to the opening panel. It was very heartening to see three young Kashmiri writers sharing the stage with Siddhartha Gigoo.

Anushka Dhar, a girl of 16, Mahapara Khan and Manpreet Kaur, also in their teens — these amazing, amazing writers were the hope that the Gulmarg Literature festival brought to me. Anushka, a Kashmiri Pandit born and brought up in Mumbai spoke of her dream to be home to Kashmir. Mahapara spoke of her fantasies, defying the prison that was the conflict zone she was born into. And Manpreet gave voice to the most earthy emotions that define life (and also K) — love, loss, and longing. These young writers weren’t greedy, they didn’t need approvals, neither did they care about being politically correct. Literature was the light that had enabled them to see beyond us and them.

This is why the Literature Festival was an honour to attend.

(Pradeepika Saraswat is an author and independent journalist. She is the author of the novella Gar Firdaus. This is a blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Jammu & Kashmir 

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