Monday, January 24, 2011

Bonsai Garden of Collective Memory

I took my weekly winter bath, packed my stuff into a travel bag and headed for my mother's place. On the way I planned to pick up this book from a store in CP inner circle, close to MakDee outlet outside which on any given weekend you are likely to find young teenage Kashmiri Muslim boys hanging out in groups of three or four. The store was closed.  Realized it is always closed on Sundays. I still had this book to pick, so I looked for it else where. There are two Jain Book Depots at CP, both of them claim to specialize in 'Law Books'. I must have been desperate. I walked into the first one, the one right on the circle. Two steps into the shop and I felt like an intruder. It was full of people carrying little chits that had names of  course books scribbled furiously on them, chits which the buyers tried to hand out to a busy looking person behind the counter. Two minutes later I was out of that place. The display window of this shop certainly didn't lie. They were serious. The other Jain Book Depot looked slightly more promising with a bit more variety of books on display through its glass windows.
'Which Book?'
'gardenofsolitude.'
'Hmm...'
'It's a new book,' I added trying to be helpful as the shop help led me towards 'Gardening' section.

There was still one hope. The book store in Noida at GIP. A great place. Last winter while picking up Basharat Peer's Curfewed Night from the store I witnessed this incredible sight: a women in blue jeans, purple sweater and these golden dejhoors let loose, slow-dancing, hanging from her ear as she walking down an aisle of books. Couldn't see her face.

With its great population of Kashmiris, and not just Pandits, I was sure this was the place to be for this book. And indeed they had the book. I was told to wait, someone was going to fetch it for me. Half-an-hour later, I had picked up an extra - The Absent State, read half the chapter on Valley but still no news about the Garden. I walked to the counter. One of the guys at the counter, kindly taking a break from his paying customers, checked the system, typing gigu, hitting Backspace-Backspace-Backspace-Backspace, typing g-i-g-o-o on a keyboard with loose, rickety keys; in microseconds a decade-old-but-already-monolithic blue screen revealed that the book was certainly present in the store. But where? I was directed to the guy who was searching for the book.
'I hope you are not looking for it in gardening section.'
'What kind of a book is it?'
'Fiction.'
'Chetan Bhagat type?'
I must have cringed as I thought to myself - I hope not - because the man went on to explain what he meant even as he kept going through various piles and boxes of new arrivals.
'I mean the size. What is the size? Is it Chetan Bhagat size?'
I had no ready answer as I spit a, 'pata nahi.'
'Someone else was also looking for it a couple of days ago,' added another guy who had joined our search. 'That customer bought one and I think we still have four more. '
'That was the copy kept at the counter. Another customer who came looking had to return empty handed. I think he left his phone number at the counter in case the book is found. Sir, why don't you leave your number with us?'
'I am here only for the weekend. I don't know when I will be able to pick it. Where could you guys have kept it. This is the 'Rupa' corner, right?'
'We looked there but it is not here...You, where did you put...'
The conversation went on as we looked for Garden of Solitude in piles of books stacked without any rhyme on shelves. I had spent more than an hour in the shop now. I was kind of enjoying my little quest. Sometime later, while I was going through a book of bad poetry, someone exclaimed, 'Found it' while  pulling out four copies of the book buried under debris of Chetan Bhagats.
' It is Chetan Bhagat type'
-0-

'What will you do with my things after I am gone?' asks an ancestor in a book within this book.

In the Epilogue to this book, the protagonist reads out a passage from his book, a book titled 'The Book of Ancestors', to a gathering of Kashmiri Pandits. 'A strange silence' falls into the auditorium. Not one pandit whispers - ' Ye gaya Naval' - as the protagonist steps out of the auditorium holding the hand of his wife and his two-year-old- daughter, and walks to a bus stop, even as far away sleep 'the town he would never forget for the rest of his life.'

Even though this ending ties perfectly with the 'Buddhist' opening lines of the novel - For the exile who said,'All I dream of now is a garden of solitude, where I get a morsel of rice in the morning and a morsel of rice in the evening.' - the end had me thinking some thoughts. First the trivial: Still no sex. Sex is still out of reach for Kashmiri writers. It is ironic in a way given that the mating rituals of Kashmiri people, in its perverse form,  hit the seedy underbelly of the Internet first and are yet to find place in lines of modern literature created by people hailing from the region. And by mating ritual I don't mean dreaming about holding hand of your beloved, thinking about her, sticking to describing her above neck region, she not even thinking about him, him writing about her cherry lips in an all assorted style picked from ancestors. But then that would be deemed very unkashmiri. Basharat Peer in his book wrote about a guy whose sexual life is destroyed because of torture. Siddharth Gigoo writes about perverse sexual thoughts inflicting an old migrant living in a camp. So in a way the conflicts of that space have started finding place in this modern English literature being created by Kashmiri people but the actual space itself is still out of reach, undocumented, untouched, untouchable. There is no need. A protagonist can suddenly at the end of the story get a wife and a kid, find peace and not just 'a live happily even after'.

Bab'a, Moj'a, ti Bakay kya, Cha'ya, Cigarette'ta, ti Bakay kya.

Father, mother, tea and cigarettes, what else do I need. That can be a parallel Kashmiri reading of the opening quote of this book. Cigarettes bring me to the really interesting bit about the book. Protagonist walking aimlessly at night, leaning against lamp-post, deep dragging his cigarette: this might all seem very dramatic, in fact too dramatic, even irritatingly trifling, he could as well be singing Sahir's 'Na Tu Zameen Ke Liye' to himself but this scene reminded me of a Delhi camp boy I once knew (and whose 'friend request' I still decline) who one day had a very strange thought. While walking down a road, on seeing a fast approaching truck, he somehow got into his head the idea that the truck had no power over him, it was his version of a definitive universe - 'that truck cannot hurt me'.  And just to prove to himself that he was not mad to think such an idea, he stood in the middle of the road on a definite collision course with that truck. He lived, jolted out of his deep meditation by a profanity spiting truck driver.

There are experiences in this book with which the Pandits of a certain generation can relate. Author gives us pieces from the collective memory of a community and weaves them into a story. It seems the displaced community was having the same dreams, nightmares, fears, biases, hopes and aspirations at that period in time. They even seem to have the same fads. And not just the Pandits. Kashmir people in general seem to have common fads, or at least common bouts of inspiration. In Peer's book you find a person who at one time in his youth was in grip of Ayn Rand, as a late remedy the author offers his friend Orwell's Homage to Catalonia (1938). This I find interesting because of a personal experience - in my teenage years I got Fountainhead from my father and a couple of years ago Catalonia from a cousin - and not because Orwell is the fad among Kashmiri people these days. Orwell and Russian writes. Last summer, the summer of 'fresh unrest', I picked a Kashmiri newspaper, found it full of quotes from Pushkin and Co. and news reports written in Turgenevian style, reports which are basically accounts in which even crossing a street has elements of passive resistance and then  writing about it is passive resistance. And when it first came out Peer's writing was described as Turgenevian.
When I was a kid the fad among my friend was reading books of 'Unsolved Mysteries' brought out by a publishing house in Delhi. We were young and the real world wasn't mysterious enough I guess. One of the mysteries presented in one such book was about a strange learning pattern allegedly observed among mice. A mice was left in a maze, a puzzle, in which it had to figure out the way to a piece of cheese. The time it took mice to figure out the problem was timed. Overtime it was observed that in a new mazed the first mice always took the longest time to  reach the piece of cheese while the mice that went in later kept taking less and less time. The information, the solution, was somehow telepathically getting transferred. Mystery.

I believe things are simpler among humans. Thoughts come to a community in waves, they appear as fads, people learn and adapt and believe. History of people can be traced in these fads. And Sridhar of Siddhartha Gigoo bears witness to some of these fads. He stays silent when Pandits around him talk about their Kashmir and when they talk about bitter things. Interestingly the only real conversation that he has in this book is when he is back in Kashmir among his people, on a pilgrimage, and for rest of the book we mostly have his thought and his ancestors' thoughts and what he would do with them. He writes a book - The book of Ancestors. And somehow it is this book that one yearns for in the end. A book of definitive collective memories. A story in which a man travels to foreign lands and a woman slaps a lion right in the face. A story told many times while having shalfa in winter. The fact that this is not that book tells you everything about 

-0-

P.S. Every Kashmiri knows at least one mad Kashmiri. Much to the horror of Sir Richard Burton, Afghans are still very much sodomites. When a conversation turns to difficult subjects, Kashmiris tend to skip talking about it out of love and respect. And when a Kashmiri protester screams 'mot*******er', one wonder what is the actual Kashmiri word used by him.

-0-
Purchase link:

Buy The Garden Of Solitude from Flipkart.com

2 comments:

  1. Warning to readers: This blog site is a serious distraction; I have neglected my work for the last three hours. Read and browse through at your own risk.

    That having said, 'Search Kashmir' is exceptionally refreshing and scintillating. I am quite hooked by the bits and pieces put together by the blogger. Thanks Vinayak for your posts and pictures. Really loved your commentary on all things "unKashmiri". :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have been asked to put a 'warning and disclaimer for the blog' by readers a couple of times but that would make things too interesting :)
    Thanks for reading!

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Content protected by

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. Which it basically means is: You are free to share anything you may find here. No need to seek permission explicitly. Also you are free to re-use it for non-commercial purposes provided you let others use your work for free non-commercial purposes. This blog was started with the intention of sharing information for free. But, in case of commercial use, do seek a permission first. In all cases, giving proper credit to the blog/source is the proper decent thing to do, let other people know where you found it. Do not stifle information.

Categories

10th century (1) 12th century (1) 15th century (1) 1760 (1) 1770 (1) 1821 (1) 1823 (1) 1835 (1) 1840 (1) 1851 (1) 1854 (3) 1858 (1) 1859 (2) 1862 (1) 1864 (2) 1866 (1) 1868 (2) 1870 (2) 1874 (2) 1875 (1) 1877 (4) 1879 (1) 1881 (3) 1882 (1) 1883 (1) 1884 (1) 1885 (1) 1888 (1) 1890 (1) 1891 (2) 1892 (2) 1893 (1) 1895 (6) 1897 (1) 18th century (1) 19 January (2) 1900 (2) 1901 (1) 1902 (2) 1903 (5) 1904 (2) 1905 (1) 1906 (5) 1907 (4) 1908 (4) 1909 (2) 1910 (1) 1911 (2) 1912 (2) 1913 (2) 1914 (1) 1915 (6) 1916 (2) 1917 (2) 1918 (1) 1919 (1) 1920 (10) 1920s (10) 1921 (1) 1922 (3) 1923 (1) 1925 (2) 1926 (4) 1927 (2) 1928 (1) 1929 (2) 1930s (4) 1931 (3) 1933 (1) 1934 (3) 1935 (2) 1938 (2) 1939 (1) 1940 (1) 1940s (3) 1944 (4) 1945 (2) 1946 (4) 1947 (13) 1948 (14) 1949 (1) 1950s (9) 1951 (2) 1952 (3) 1953 (2) 1954 (1) 1955 (2) 1956 (5) 1957 (8) 1958 (3) 1959 (1) 1960 (2) 1960s (6) 1961 (1) 1962 (1) 1963 (1) 1964 (1) 1965 (1) 1967 (1) 1969 (5) 1971 (1) 1973 (1) 1975 (1) 1976 (1) 1977 (2) 1978 (2) 1979 (1) 1980 (1) 1980s (3) 1981 (1) 1982 (1) 1983 (4) 1987 (1) 1988 (1) 1989 (4) 1990 (18) 1992 (1) 2010 (2) 2014 (11) 21 January (1) 26 January (1) 70s (1) 7th century (1) 90s (1) 9th century (1) A Kashmiri Tourist in Kashmir (67) A Kashmiri Tourist in Ladakh (7) abhinavgupta (3) afghan (3) aishmukam (1) Akhnoor (3) Ali Kadal (3) all Kashmiris (1) amarnath (4) Amira Kadal (2) ancient (12) angrez (68) angry (2) animals (2) anomalous dreams (55) archeology (4) architecture (21) arnimaal (2) art (49) astronomy (1) audio (1) autumn (3) avantipur (5) azad (2) baazigar (3) back log (1) bagh-i-sundar balla Chattabal (16) Bakarwal (1) bakers (1) Balti (1) bandipora (1) bangladeshi (1) Banihal (2) baramulla (6) bc road (1) bekal kalaam (51) Bhaderwah (2) Bhand Pather (7) birds (3) Biscoe School (10) bits and pieces (88) boatmen (6) bookmarks (1) books (68) border (1) bot (3) bridges/kadal (16) british raj (1) Bu'nyul (2) buddhism (7) budshah (6) bulbul (1) bund (2) Burzahom (3) cave (1) census (1) chanapora (1) change log (4) chapyin khor (2) cheen (3) Chenab (4) children (3) children's books (5) Chinar (7) Cinema Hall (3) collectible (11) comedy (5) comic (7) communists (2) confused art (5) confused ethnicity (2) confused geography (6) confused history (5) confused language (1) confused names (2) confused people (1) confused religion (2) copy for tourist brochure (12) culture (10) dal (4) Dal Lake (17) dance (17) darbarmov (1) days (2) death (1) dilli (2) discovery (1) doon (3) downtown (2) drama (1) dress (8) duggar (1) engineering (1) environment (1) erotica (5) fakir (4) family albums (7) family histories (17) farmer (2) farsi (23) fashinas'foo't (3) Fateh Kadal (3) feast (2) festival (3) first war (6) flowers (1) folkdance (1) folksongs (9) folktales (8) food (58) forts (1) free books (29) fruits (1) funny (19) Gabba (3) gad (5) game (7) Ganpatyar (2) Garden (28) ghat (2) Ghost Stories (7) Gilgit (1) glass (1) Good man the Laltain (1) gor boi (1) graffiti (2) guest posts (107) guide book (5) gujjar (1) Gulmarg (19) Haar (2) habba kadal (11) Habba Khatoon (6) haenz (4) hair (1) hakh (1) Harwan (5) hazratbal (7) Henri Cartier-Bresson (1) herat (5) hindustaan (21) hindustaantiPaekistaan (8) History (125) hoho (2) hoon (2) house (21) houseboat (13) Hunza (1) hypertextuality (5) hyundTiMusalmaan (13) id (1) idols (1) illustrations (29) immigrant tales (18) in Kashmir (20) index (1) indus (1) inscriptions (1) interview (2) iran (3) Ishber (2) Jammu (75) jeeliDal (5) jesus (1) jewiz (1) jhelum (13) kabalis (2) kafirs (1) kakaz (2) kalheer (1) Kali Mandar (1) kandur (14) kangir (9) Karan Nagar (1) karewa (1) kargil (2) karr'e (2) kashmir in summer (2) Kashmiri Beauty (28) Kashmirispotting (18) kashmiriyat discourse (1) kashmirstrotram (1) kaula charsi (1) Kausar Nag (1) Kaw (3) khandar (3) Kharyaar (3) Khilanmarg (1) khos (1) khrew (1) kirkyet (1) Kishtwar (2) kitchen (1) kong posh (1) Kongdoor (1) kotar (1) kral (1) kralkhod (3) kul (1) Ladakh (25) lafaz (1) Lake (4) Lal Chowk (4) Lal Ded (18) land (1) language (45) leelas (1) leh (1) letters (1) liddarwat (1) list (3) literature (1) live (1) location (1) love (7) lyek (5) lyrics (38) maaz (1) madin sahib (2) Mahjoor (5) Mahmud Gami (5) mahrin (1) manasbal (3) mapping Rajatarangini (5) Maps (36) marriage (18) martand (8) mas (1) masjid (2) mattan (1) me'chu'na'koshur'tagaan (3) mekhal (1) metaphysical star wars (16) migrant (9) Militia (1) missionaries (7) Mix Bag (8) Mohra (1) money (2) Morning (1) mosque (2) mountains (5) mout (1) mughals (18) museum (3) Music (54) naag (3) naav (1) Nadim (7) nadru (2) naga (2) nagin (5) nalla-e-mar (2) namaaz (1) Namda (1) nautch (9) news (5) newsreel (1) NH1-A (13) nohor (4) nostalgia (3) notes on Shalimar the Clown (4) numbers (2) Nund Ryosh (8) odd (21) old hotels (2) oral bits (16) originals (1) ornament (9) pahalgam (1) paintings (53) Pakistan (3) pampore (2) pandit affairs (7) pandits (63) Pandrethan (1) panjyeb (1) parbat (10) Pari Mahal (1) parihaspora (1) parsi (2) partition (1) pashmina (1) pattan (1) pawer'cha (1) persons (4) phaka (2) pheran (1) philim (48) photo (120) pilgrimages (1) pir panjal (3) poem (26) poets (1) polo (1) poonch (1) posh (1) posha (1) postal (2) postcards (20) Prem Nath Bazaz (1) prePaekistaan (2) project (7) proverbs (6) puj waan (2) qazigund (1) questions (1) radio (3) Rahi (1) Rajatarangini (15) Rajouri (2) ramayan (1) rare articles (1) rare out-of-print (6) rasul mir (2) read (5) recording (1) reenactment (8) religion (19) remembrance (4) renovation (1) reshi (1) Residency Road (1) retracing (1) riddle (1) riddles (3) rituals (2) river-life (9) rivers (9) road (1) roos (3) rop bhavani (1) ruins (5) sacred spaces (1) saints (4) salesmanship (1) samad mir (1) samawar (1) sangam (1) sanghi batta (1) sanskrit (6) saqi (1) saruf (1) School (9) sculpture (6) second war (1) See (3) Shadipur (2) shafa (3) Shah Hamadan (1) Shalimar Bagh (7) Shankracharya (3) sharda (4) shaveratri (2) shawl (8) she (1) shikara (1) shikari (2) shiraz (1) shiv (6) shivratri (4) Shorab (2) shrine (4) Sikandar (1) sikhsardar (2) snakes (6) snow (6) Sonamarg (2) songs (12) songsforexile (4) sound (3) spring (1) srinagar (12) stamps (2) stones (3) Strange Tales from Tulamula (4) stupa (1) Su (1) sufi (3) swim (5) sylab nama (11) t'song (1) tailor (3) talav (1) talk (7) tanga (1) tcharpoke (1) tchoor hasa hey (2) tea (8) temples (29) The Eternal Pandit (4) then-now (19) they write (1) things that crossed over (14) thingsthatremindmeofkashmir (11) tibet (4) top (1) tradition (7) travel routes (1) travellers in time (2) trees (1) trekking (1) tulmul/khir bhawani (20) tv tyeth (1) udhampur (1) undated (1) Uri (3) vakh (2) valley (1) varmul (1) Vejibror (2) verses (9) Video Dastangoi (3) village (1) Vintage (37) Vintage audio (2) vintage magazines (2) Vintage photos (153) vintage video (13) walnut wood (1) wasteland (1) wazwaan (1) weavers (3) wildlife (2) window (3) winter (8) wodwin janawar (2) wolar (3) women (8) words for paradise (10) Workmanship (35) ya ali (1) ya-khoda-ti-bhagwaan (2) yaarbal (1) yach (1) Yarbal (1) you tube (26) zaar (2) zabarwan (1) zafur (2) Zaina Kadal (5) Zeethyaar (4) zenana (1) zoon (2) zor-e-talwarTiBandook (2) zu (2)