Thursday, February 7, 2013

Our Zoon isn't Cheese enough

“Either it brings tears to their eyes, or else -"
"Or else what?" said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.
"Or else it doesn't, you know.”

I still recall that late night phone call. Someone, a relative, had been killed in Srinagar. That killing became a vindication for my parents that the decision to move to Jammu, a decision much contested by my Grandfather, was right. A storeroom on roof of a relative was the right place for us, it was our refuge.

The stories of Pandit migration that most people read and write, is a story of a single night, and it goes like this, 'And then that morning our family left in a ...' In my family's case, it didn't happen in a single moment. It wasn't just one morning. We moved in parts. And there was more than one such morning. First one to leave was my choti Bua, who back then I used to call Didi. This was the time when threats to Pandit women were openly advertised. Then a few months later, as the frequency of killings increased, it was the turn of wives, children and some essential goods, mostly clothing and gold. My grandparents stayed back. After dropping his wife and children at a relative's place, my father and some uncles went back for their respective parents. They got stuck in the city for a few week. It was the time when Srinagar experienced some of its first few long spells of curfew. During a brief pause in these spells, they too reached Jammu. My family reached Jammu from Chattabal.

And all this time, feeling of fear was unknown to me. In a way, my feeling of normality was protected by my parents and grandparents even as they were experiencing a situation that was questioning their sense of normal. In Srinagar, a city burning under a thousand guns, I was busy chasing cats and dogs. In Jammu, a city burning under a thousand suns, I got busy tracking toads and frogs.

Even that late night phone call didn't change much for me, except for seeding a feeling that something terrible was in fact happening. That it all was not a game that gods were playing. That it was a game of men who believed in gods and paradise. That maybe I should remember it all.

The stories of those days arrived much later. Only after we learnt to speak again. As we learnt to revisit our memories. I heard these stories, over and over again, and because I was listening carefully, I saw them change and evolves, tales getting appended and deducted from the narrative  Till they achieved a definitive narrative form. Rahul Pandita's Our Moon Has Blood Clots captures all the major points of this narrative. It's a narrative that most Kashmiri Pandits believe in and hold close to their heart. And now for some families Rahul Pandita's 'Our Moon Has Blood Clots' too will become part of a family heirloom and an inheritance that consists of books like 'My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir' by Jagmohan, 'Converted Kashmir by Narender Sehgal  (Utpal Publications, 1994) and some old issue of various community magazines. Based on one's political position, one can judge whether it is a good or a bad company of books to keep. But one can't deny that this book is trying to do what these older publications were never even aiming to do, or had no chance of doing. Trigger a debate, bring the narrative of Pandits into the mainstream, even perhaps rescuing it from right-wingers. A few years ago, the possibility that a Ramachandra Guha or a Patrick French should be interested in the story was there, but that they would openly talk about it, or even back it, wasn't. So, I do think it is an improvement. It is something that Pandits were waiting for a long time. A public telling of their personal sorrows.

On page 86 of the book are the details of that phone call. Description of that killing which I grew up listening to in much more brutal details. A story recounted many times by my mother. It goes like this: They say when the killers shot him down on that bridge, the man fell to ground. His killers, with pistols in hand, came around to check on him and to make sure he was dead. The man on ground, in pain, raised his one hand and told his killers, 'Bas. Be ha Mudus. Stop. I am already dead.' A killer shot him through his hand.

The dead man's son, a distant cousin of mine and more of a friend, just about the same age as me, went to a college only miles away from the college that I went to. Even during college days he remained one of the most decent guys I knew.  The decadence of college life barely touched him. They say he is a copy of his father, a man about whom a poet friend (in a poem quoted in the book) asked:

"I used to ask him every time
why doesn't he possess the cunningness of Srinagar
I still await his response
My friend! Yes, I changed my address
since after your murder
it ceased to exist
the bridge of friendship, this Habba Kadal"

The son of that man is not online trolling Kashmiri Muslims, asking for their mass-killing at the hands of Indian Army. He is busy working, building a life, raising a family. He isn't clinging to any sense of victim hood. But that doesn't mean that the killing on that bridge didn't take place. It shouldn't be brushed aside just because it complicates an already complicated situation. Usually at this point, it becomes a question of who suffered more: 'A lot of innocent Kashmiri Muslims, not just one, died on these bridges at the hands of Indian security forces.' And then the usual. 'True.True. But in this case, the perpetrators of these crimes are known to you. You know where to put your anger. The Security forces. The State. But who were killing the Pandits? Men with a dream. Men funded by another State. Men with orders. Men who were worshiped as saviors. Men who inspired at first fighters and later writers. Men who after spilling blood of innocents in the day, at night went back to a life of wives and children. Together dreaming of a bright future. Of course, Pandits question this dream itself. They curse the men who were dreaming. This idea of a religious state that will be a paradise. They point at the present and ask if this is the future they wanted. They point at the state of the State that funded it. They curse the idiot who first labeled these killers 'Secular'. Then they curse the 'Sickulars'. They curse the idiots who formed cozy narratives about what transpired.'

A million things transpired. You need a microscope, not a telescope.

In a world where victims, to prove a point, are increasingly either setting themselves aflame or blowing themselves up along with a few more people, it is not surprising that even well meaning people find it difficult to understand Pandit response (or even a lack of it). They fail to see a possibility that it is a community in which I can still have the freedom to argue with relatives of a dead terror victim about the political nature of help offered by Shiv Sena. I can critique their single track narrative of 1990s. It is a community in which I can keep asking my father questions, uneasy questions, till he acknowledges that he did see an innocent Kashmiri Muslim die at the hands of Security forces on a street outside his home during the weeks he was stuck in Srinagar back in 1990. Yes, this free space is at times shrinking and at times expanding too. It is a community always evolving. Always changing. There are Pandit writings from 1920s in which old men complain that the young are not following the ways of the old! That a way of life is dying. Of course, it is dying. But something new is always born.

What Kashmiris ask of each other, ask of the world, ask of the written text, is something that they themselves, the world in general and the text itself, seldom offers. They ask for an absolute truth.

Me, I am only interested in nature of text and its relativity. 'Our Moon Has Blood Clots' provides some interesting twists to the known text about the events of 1947. From my family, I had already grown on stories of an earlier pandit migration, flight of relatives, from the border towns of Princely State of Kashmir to the capital Srinagar during the Kabili raid . But I first read about the scale of this migration in a Pandit community magazine some years ago. It was an entire series documenting the hardships faced by these people, all told mostly in personal narrative. I believe bits of these have gone into 'Our Moon Has Blood Clots' in the section dealing with 1947. Here, in this section I found an interesting bit. In most of the historical texts dealing with the events of 1947, destruction of Mahura power grid by tribal men and the subsequent plunging of Srinagar into darkness is one of the most dramatic events of Kashmir story of that time. But in 'Our Moon Has Blood Clots', we read that the Mahura power grid may well have been switched off by an unnamed Pandit to signal fellow Pandits in a nearby village that their lives were in danger. Isn't that interesting. Is it a literary invention? Is there space for invention in memoir? Or did the earlier texts miss this detail because no one even back then asked migrant Pandits their end of the story?

This book is letting the Kashmiri Pandits connect their stories and experiences in a way that no other book has done before. Rahul Pandita's house was in Chanpore. Chanpore was my Matamal, the place of my Mama and Massi. I know that place. It too have taken walks along Doodhganga. Walks organized by my Nani, who would sometimes take the kids to a Gurudwara too. Rahul Pandita mentions the evening when the mosque got stuck by a lightening. I was there that evening. I was in the crowd that had gathered in front of it. Rahul Pandita mentions the night of 19th January. My sister was in Chanpore that night. Only six, and about two years younger than me, she doesn't remember but when the mosques started playing the 'Jihadi Tapes', my Massi stuffed her mouth with Parle-G biscuits to shut her up. Rahul Pandita in Jammu went to Luthra Academy, it was the first school in Jammu that I too could find admittance in. I lost a school year in the process. Rahul Pandita changed 20 homes in Jammu. For me the number is more like 5. He writes about living at a place called Bhagwati Nagar. My Matamal, my Massi's place in Jammu for a couple of years was Bhagwati Nagar. I know the sweet spot along the Neher where the water falls off with a gush. He writes about not belonging anywhere. I have spent last ten years moving from one place to another, living out of a bag. For him Kashmir is home, rest are all a house. And so it is with me.

In 'Acknowledgments', among many other people, Rahul Pandita thanks me and this blog for triggering memories of home. I am content to say that my contribution to this saddening book has been addition of some happy memories. Memories that I can't truly call my own. I was delighted to see Deen'e Phila'safar's 'Man in the river' proof used in this book to embellish a sentence. It's a story that I can't call my own as it was shared by a friend of my father. I am told Professor Dinanath's progenies are now settled in Germany. I was delighted to see the sentence that mentioned the play of bursting fish bladders. It's a game I have never played, it was a memory shared at this blog by a reader, Arun Jalali. 

While I am on nature of memories, isn't is wonderful that bits and pieces from this blog have already gone into an Indian Publication, into Kashmiri Muslim publications and now a Pandit Publication too.


Buy Our Moon has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from


  1. This is a searing book. I am not entirely surprised that your blog has acted as a trigger. So many of us re-live our Kashmir memories through it.

    1. Not a trigger, more like a late addition of some sugar. Some of these stories by Rahul Pandita have been around for quite some years on his blog (don't think they are still available online), some of them from a time when he was planning to finish the book as fiction. I first read his story of 'Green Haired Hippie' around 4-5 years ago after accidently finding an untitled printout among old notebooks and books of a cousin who was born in Chanpore. The place described in the story sounded so familiar that I thought my cousin had turned a writer.

    2. Though not a Kashmiri myself(but born in the Shahar), I keep revisiting events of those days. One thing I have noticed is that like in all these years, other places have changed so much - like news shops, swanky malls, big houses...but Srinagar looks much the same if not a little dull. Gulmarg looks a lot better though. I hope the life comes back to Srinagar. Makes me sad. My mother also begs me to go there again. Last time she went was in 88. I always tell her we will...

  2. I cannot read my own book, Vinayak. That burst of lightning that I witnessed in Chanapora in the 80s, it passes through my chest now.

    1. I too visited my home. I too didn't cry. That's all I can say.

    2. Well i could never, at least so far muster 'courage' to visit my home. Always found it too soul renching. Having lost my elder brother who was only 24 at the time to the madness that engulfed the valley at that time and having lived 4 years in Muthi camp tenaments with other 'victim' families and the parents who have not forgotten their son even now ( no parent can)- i can say been there seen that.

      Have always kept myself away from such "bad company of books" though have read Jagmohans Frozen Turbulance. Still based on your beedback have ordered a copy today.
      As Carl Sagan said qoute "it is not religion or race but pure majorities hagamony" end qoute i have made my peace with the past and hope i have made the right choices. Dinesh

  3. Thank you, Vinayak. This is all I can say. Your blog is a developing book. Such an important online reference library for a historian/researcher/journalist on Kashmir.

    1. I do what I can. Last night I helped an aging Linguist find pdf versions of some old Kashmiri books that I had earlier compiled into an easy readable format. Last night I helped a foreign student write an article on the thought "If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this" by providing her with a simple link to a post where I had earlier compiled most of the obscure historic references to 'Kashmir-Paradise' in a single post. I do what I can.

  4. Brilliant ! I am so relieved that there are young persons who are gifted richly to present to the current and future generation of Kashmiris, both Pandits and Muslims, in such engaging detail, the poignancy of what befell them in different ways. It is like Mahabharat where, in the end, every one suffered both the sides ended up as victims irrespective of the legitimacy of their positions on a Dharmic scale.

  5. I am Sonali,and what Aditya Raj Kaul calls a researcher on Jammu and Kashmir. I ordered Rahuls book today.I dont know the details of what he has written,but as a 20 something in 1990, I saw the moon wilt in front of my eyes.Through the life of a dear friend from Kashmir.I still remember the first time i set my eyes on her when she got into the ladies spl taking us to LSR in Delhi.I had never seen red apples on a human beings cheeks before.One harsh summer and the apples wilted.The skin erupted into festers and boils,life slowed to a stupefied daze. This comment will run into pages if i go on.Lets land back to normalcy.I need to talk to you,Rahul and Aditya.My research is on Kashmiri narratives.How can i get talking to you boys??By the way what do you mean by Zoon having no cheese??Was that just a wild one??

  6. I am trying to get hands on book asap now that the book has memoirs of Chanapora its got more yearning now... I too remember the day when lightning stuck the local place of worship..It was terrible weather on that day ..I had gone to a Family picnic to Chasmashai (Zeethyaar & Pari Mahal added by default)..the rain & winds turned so bad that we had to take shelter in the care takers room[perhabs the room where Dara Shukho's tutor once slept]....finally when rains ended we drove back to Chanapora....I am not sure how in those days in absense of Mobile phones news reached of the incident in Chanapora ...(btw the place of worship was a stonethrow from my house)...the weather phenomenon had turned into incident..and i being a child spectator was a witness of a mutual family descision to go to my Matamal instead of Chanapora..perhabs the electrical frenzy turned into an emotional frenzy.....

  7. Vinayak...I read the book a few days back...for five consecutive nights I havent slept or slept fitfully. You and Rahul have at least done their least gone back into those lanes even if to return empty handed. I on other hand lived in complete my refusal to go to my aunt's funeral till tenth day.Maybe it was still is too painful or personal....maybe it was better to be numb to it. When you let the wound open festers and then heals....maybe I never wanted it to heal. From last few days something changed.....


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