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When ‘Literature of Exile’ turns into ‘Exile of Literature’

by Kuldeep Raina

The corpus of literature produced by Displaced Kashmiri writ ers during the past seventeen years remains substantial.

Much of this literature belongs to the realm of poetry, where nostalgia for the lost homeland and religious devotionalism form the main theme. With few exceptions, Displaced Kashmiri writers have steered clear of the option of addressing the core issue i.e. ethnic- cleansing and its varied dimensions.

They have shown reluctance to focus - the forces responsible of Kashmiri Hindus' displacement, the social milieu which facilitated the genocide, the cultural effacement in the wake of cleansing, the state response and the futuristic vision etc. No wonder, the mass of the Displaced Community finds this literature irrelevant, redundant and delinked from their actual life and aspirations.

Displaced Kashmiri writers have not contributed much by way of short story writing/fiction to dilate on the theme of displacement.

Just two works of fiction - ' In the shadow of Militancy', by Prof. Tej Nath Dhar and 'Dardpur' by Kshema Koul have appeared in this prolonged exile. Besides this, there are two collections of short stories-- 'Atank Ke Bheej' by Avtar Krishan Razdan and 'We were and we will be' by Parineeta Khar and few short stories by Hriday Koul Bharti.

Lottey Huvay' (While returning - Sheeraza October 2004-January 2005, by Gouri Shankar Raina, has all the ingredients of a good short story and is written quite artistically. The story is set in post-1990 Kashmir, ravaged by terrorism, where from the indigenous Kashmiri Pandit community stands banished.

The victims of cleansing are unable to visit their homes.

Nevertheless, their yearning to see again their 'fallen homeland', remains constantly alive. 'Kshir Bhawani Yatra, conducted under strict security, becomes an occasion- not only to pay obeisance to the Goddess Ragniya but also to steal a glimpse of their homeland.

It is a torturing experience for the people that they cannot visit their homes where they have been living since ages.

In 'Lottey Huvay' Kashi Nath, the protagonist in the story, too decides to avail the opportunity of 'Kshir Bhawani pilgrimage'.

He visits Kashmir in the company of his son, Pushkar. The latter was a student of 5th standard at the time of displacement.

Kashi Nath used to live in Tankipora locality in the vicinity Habbakadal, once the hub of Kashmiri Pandit community.

Pushkar presently was serving as a bank employee.

For centuries, Kashmiri Pandits have been living on the banks of the Vitasta. This river was a part of their religio-cultural folklore. They used to celebrate its birthday, a phenomenon unique to Kashmir, 'Vyeth- Truvah' with great pomp, gaiety and sanctity. They would conduct elaborate rituals and the river would wear a festive look on this occasion. Even till 1990, most of the localities along the shores of the Vitasta in Srinagar city were predominantly Pandit and permeated with Pandit ethos.

Kashi Nath had intended to cover yatra in two days. While returning from Tulumulla, the pilgrim’s bus halted at Dalgate for refreshments. Aftab Mir, spots his neighbour and friend Kashi Nath among the pilgrims.

When Kashi Nath tells Mir that he had come on pilgrimage and was on way to Jammu, Mir asks him if he would not like to see his home. Kashi Nath turns grim and is unable to decide. Finally, Mir takes Kashi Nath and his son Pushkar with him to Tankipora.

The members of Mir's family receive 'the guests' warmly. The two families ruminate about the good old days when they shared each others' joys and sorrows. As the dusk set in, Mir carried Kashi Nath to his house across the compound. In the abandoned house, Kashi Nath showed to Pushkar the room where the family used to conduct rituals - the Thokar Kuth. Young Pushkar was lost in deep thought while looking at what once used to be his sweet home. In evenings every Kashmiri Pandit family used to light an earthern lamp (Sandhya Chong) to honour the memory of the dead. In a flash of moment Kashi Nath went to fetch a packet of candles and lit these on the platform where once his wife used to wash the clothes.

Neither Mir nor Pushkar could comprehend the significance of what Kashi Nath was doing.

At dinner time Mir brought all the valuables which Kashi Nath had kept in his safe custody at the time of departure. For Kashi Nath, the only things which still retained value were the pictures which used to be hung on the walls of his house.

The following morning -Pushkar decides to visit his colleague a Jammuite, recently transferred from Jammu, at Amirakadal.

When Pushkar does not return in time, it gives tense moments to his father. Pushkar was a precious child, born 15 years after marriage when Kashi Nath was past 40. Bad thoughts keep churning in Kashi Nath's mind.

He wonders whether the city had devoured his son. He moves to the river bank and stares at the direction leading to Amirakadal.

In old times the river bank used to be full of life. Kashi Nath recollects the day of 'Vyeth Truvah', when endless streams of lit earthern lamps would be seen floating in the river. Today the entire surroundings looked desolate, even the Vitasta lacked energy and seemed sad. There were no boatmen waiting to ferry across college/office going Pandits to their destinations.

On learning that a bomb blast had taken place at Amirakadal, Kashi Nath presumes that the worse has taken place. He cries and sobs for his dear son. Aftab Mir tries to reassure him that nothing untoward would happen to his son. Before Aftab's family could contact the hospital authorities to know about the identity of the casualties, Aftab's son accompanied by a police cop land in Mir's house. The cop tells Mir that a blast had taken place in Koker Bazaar and the police had taken Pushkar, who was passing by the street at the time of blast, for questioning to collect information about the terrorists involved.

Reassured that his son was safe, Kashi Nath while looking at his house, begins experiencing hallucinations. He sees the lit Sandhya chong in his house and his wife, carrying lotus flower and milk in a plate, going to the river Vitasta to thank her for safe return of her son. She puts lighted earthern lamp on the lotus leaf and puts it down on Vitasta. What once used to be an endless stream of lighted earthern lamps, the lone earthern lamp, carried by the calm Vitasta symbolises the turbulent times Kashmir was passing through. The writer wonders how long even these visits, symbolised by the lone lamp on the Vitasta, could go on.

The author succeeds in making his point-be it the 'Vyeth Truvah', thanks giving ceremony to the Vitasta or the 'pictures, depicting social heritage -  that Kashmiri Pandits valued their 'Kashmiriyat' more than anything else.

The sad part of the story is that it leaves two bad impressions, which negate the reality.

One, it conveys that intercommunal relations had stood the test of times even in the times of ethnic- cleansing. This is simply not true. If the majority community had played a rational role, there would have been no displacement.

Nearly, seven thousand houses of Pandits have been damaged/destroyed, hundreds of houses usurped fraudulently, localities after localities razed to the ground. Even Salman Rushdie, the noted writer, in his 'Shalimar the clown', concedes that the looted goods from Pandits' houses used to be sold in an open market regularly for many years, with no sense of outrage from Kashmiri Civil Society.

May be there might be few families who have played a commendable role. Does a single swallow make the summer? If the behaviour displayed by the Mir family was the general sentiment, why should then the sensible Kashmiri Pandits be rotting in worse conditions in Jammu and elsewhere? Secularism cannot be built by according respectability to communalism. It can survive only when intercommunal relations are crafted on the basis of equality, toleration, humanism and respect for each other.

The other point, equally sinister, is that security forces' emerge as the villains, who do not spare even the pilgrims of the minority community. Aren't we adding grist to the propaganda mill of the anti-national elements.

It is the security forces' who are combating the forces of disorder, lawlessness, intolerance and helping Kashmiri Civil Society to slowly shed its fear.

When literature becomes a device to camouflage the reality the 'literature of exile' metamorphoses into 'exile of literature'.

Displaced writers could do better.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

 
 

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