In his memoir, Night, Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor wrote, “For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living...To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” The Kashmiri Pandits and their exodus from Kashmir in 1990 has become a topic of debate in every Indian house this year.
It is important to listen to Kashmiri Pandits as witnesses of the violence and atrocities committed against their community from late 1980s till 2021. They are speaking up and being heard more than ever now, and one of their vehicles is books. Here’s a list of works by Kashmiri Pandits on their lived experiences, the 1990s exile and the present as witnesses and survivors.
Our Moon Has Blood Clots, Rahul Pandita, 2013
“… my memory must come in the way of this untrue history.”
As the first memoir on Kashmiri Pandits in exile, Pandita’s book remains a definitive account for anyone who wants to understand their way of life, how history knocked on doors, threatened lives and livelihood, and dragged members of the community out of the valley, and the atrocities of the refugee camps. Conveying the impressions of a young man, this remains the only book to contain testimonies of witnesses and survivors of the violence inflicted on Kashmiri Pandits since the 1990s and earlier. Pandita relied on both personal experiences and the medium of journalism to narrate the personal and collective trauma of the Kashmiri Pandit community. It is a deeply personal and moving account of the loss of one’s family, home and what it is to be a Kashmiri Pandit in exile.
The Saga of Satisar, Chandrakanta, translated from the Hindi by Ranjana Kaul, 2018
Chandrakanta is a Kashmiri Pandit who dedicated her life to writing about Kashmir, becoming a formidable force in Hindi literature in the process. This book is a magnum opus, drawn from her real-life experiences of having born and brought up in a Kashmiri Pandit family in Srinagar. Chandrakanta begins the book in 1930s Kashmir with the birth of a child in a Kashmiri Pandit family and ends it in 2010s, following that child’s future generations in exile. Dubbed a feminist text, the novel focuses on multiple generations of women in a single family, their trials and tribulations while also touching upon other communities in the valley and the community’s everyday interactions with them.
The author shows how intricately bound and tightly woven the communities were before the years of violence, and the pain of losing one’s home – providing a subtle yet powerful narrative of Kashmir, yet to be explored by any other writer in any language. Folklore, myths, history and personal impressions come together to make this novel an enriching experience.
The Garden of Solitude, Siddhartha Gigoo, 2011
One of the earliest works of fiction written on the lives of Kashmiri Pandits since the 1990s, Gigoo’s book comes across as a semi-autobiographical novel given that the writer, like his protagonist, grew up in Srinagar and managed to escape the violence in 1990 and moved to a refugee camp in Jammu. Gigoo captures minute details of growing up in the camps and explores the heat, the grief-stricken families, the deprivation and the dementia that set in during that period.
His protagonist attempts a return to Kashmir and to these past memories to write a book with the hope of capturing the plight of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits. Gigoo’s short film, The Last Day, was adapted from this book, and is set in a refugee camp where a demented man yearns for home and waits for the last breath to leave his body.
Kali Barf, Chandrakanta, Hindi, 2013
This collection of short stories by Chandrakanta is based on the lives of Kashmiri Pandits and the 1990 exodus. She dedicated her life’s work to writing stories about ordinary Kashmiris and worked for years on her magnum opus Katha Satisar (The Saga of Satisar) and short stories that formed various collections including this one. Kali Barf or Black Snow contains many stories of the Kashmiri Pandits’ exile, helplessness, homelessness, despair and being invisible to Indians elsewhere despite having been violently ousted from the valley.
A Bit of Everything, Sandeep Raina, 2020
The novel follows Rahul, a literature professor, and his wife Doora from their quiet and peaceful years of living in Varmull, and the violence in 1990s during which they lost loved ones and had no choice but to flee to distant Delhi. Here, Rahul finds himself increasingly distanced and alienated from his home, his wife, his family, his neighbours and their ways.
The book travels with Rahul from Varmull to Delhi and then to London, even as the past keeps catching up to him. In this detailed portrait of an exile’s life, Raina has transformed the complexities of being a Kashmiri into a heart-breaking plot. If you want to understand Kashmiri Pandits, the 1990s, the lives lived, lost and never recovered, regrets, guilt and the hopelessness of ever finding a semblance of peace or resolution while carrying this identity, this is the book to read.
Faith and Frenzy: Short Stories from Kashmir, KL Chowdhury, 2012
KL Chowdhury was a renowned physician and social activist who moved to Jammu in 1990 during the exodus. There, he provided free consultations and set up medical camps to assist those in exile for many years. He regularly encountered Kashmiris from all walks of life as his patients and their eccentricities, worries, traumas, ailments, despair and stories found their way into his fiction. In this collection, he writes about the Kashmiri Pandits’ way of life before and after the 1990s, the horrors they faced and the trauma they carried as they continued to live in exile.
A Street in Srinagar, Chandrakanta, translated from the Hindi by Manisha Chaudhry, 2010
First published in Hindi as Ailan Gali Zinda Hai, this is a significant novel by Chandrakanta and depicts the lives of the residents of Ailan Gali in Srinagar during the time when Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims were neighbours and the violence of 1990s was still in the future. There are hints of the looming years of violence, but at the heart of the book are the small-town characters such as Avatara, Anwar Miyaan, Dayaram Master-ji, Sansarchand, and others, and their everyday struggles.
There is a constant tug of war between life and values in a small town and a big metropolis. Written with minute details, this novel captures a moment in Kashmir’s history that is all too easily forgotten – when Kashmir wasn’t a debated topic, when Kashmiri Pandits weren’t homeless, when Kashmiri Muslims weren’t vilified, when Kashmir was slowly waking up from a lull into a century that would keep the region on everyone’s lips.
The Greatest Kashmiri Stories Ever Told, translated from the Kashmiri by Neerja Mattoo, 2022
Curated in a manner that provides a chronological history of the tradition of short-story writing in Kashmir, this translated collection features both Kashmiri Muslim and Kashmiri Pandit writers. Some of the stories are heart wrenching portraits of the lives of Kashmiri Pandits before and after exile – such as “The Call” by Roop Kishen Bhat, in which an old Kashmiri Pandit woman constantly hallucinates about her lost home, and “The Search” by Dheeba Nazir. in which a Kashmiri Pandit man goes back to Srinagar in search of his long-lost “sister”, who belonged to a Muslim family.