Read To Win

Eight books for those of us who cannot live in Kashmir

The stories and the poetry behind the videos and the news cycle.

“Where are the happy books on Kashmir?” I ask a friend. She replies, “I don’t think there are any. Not in English. It might be an oxymoron.” The eight books collected below span genres and cover much of the personal and political conflict of living in Kashmir, including military violence, forced disappearances, exile, the expulsion of Kashmiri pandits, Kashmir’s tourism industry and more.

The Half Mother, Shehnaz Bashir, fiction

Set in the 1990s, The Half Mother follows the story of a mother, Haleema, whose young son, Imran, is taken into custody and disappears into the void of Kashmir’s missing people. Haleema knocks on every government official’s door, seeks out relatives of other missing people to try and form a united effort to find missing family members, and approaches a journalist in her quest to find out what happened to her son. Even as she receives no answers, she holds on to hope that if she keeps looking she will find Imran. The novel, which won the Muse India Young Writer Award in 2015, is based on an estimated eight thousand forced disappearances in Kashmir. Male disappearances are so common that the terms half-widow and half-mother are used to refer to women who do not know what happened to their relatives.

Do you remember Kunan Pushpora, Essar Batool, Ifrah Butt, Munaza Rashid, Natasha Rather, Samreena Mushtaq, non-fiction

“That one night has become my life” says one of the women in the book, “My family feared no one would marry me. I never married. It’s not that I don’t want to but my health does not allow me. I am not fit to marry. I don’t want to ruin someone’s life.” In February 1991, a group of soldiers and Indian army officers raided the village of Kunan Pushpora. The men in the village were locked into a building and as many as 31 women were raped that night. More than twenty years later, the protests sparked by the Delhi gang-rape of December 2013 inspired a group of young Kashmiri women to document the stories of the women from the village and re-open the case. Do you remember Kunan Pushpora is an exercise in trying to revisit and document trauma, stigma and the culpability of the state in military violence in Kashmir.

Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir, Malik Sajad, graphic novel

Malik Sajad has written an autobiographical graphic novel about his childhood in Kashmir where Munnu (Malik) is the youngest child of the family, who loves sugar and drawing cartoons. Munnu says of his home state, “It is not breathtaking here.” Of his four siblings, his brother Bilal is his favourite.

Munnu sketches everyday life in Kashmir – his father and Bilal are taken by the military to identification parades where informants point out terrorists without needing any proof, Bilal’s classmates head to training camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir to resist the “occupation”, a simple visit to the doctor is accompanied with checks and harassment, Munnu’s school is closed. This deeply personal account shows how a regular childhood plays out against the backdrop of unrest and violence.

The Country without a Post Office, Agha Shahid Ali, poetry

Agha Shahid Ali anticipates the destruction of his homeland, Kashmir, in the 1990s as seen in the title poem in this collection,

I have returned in rain
to find him, to learn why he never wrote.

“Come before I’m killed, my voice cancelled.”

“Nothing will remain, everything’s finished,”
I see his voice again: “This is a shrine
of words. You’ll find your letters to me. And mine
to you. Come soon and tear open these vanished
envelopes.”

The poem is based on the 1990 Kashmiri uprising against what was perceived as Indian occupation, which culminated in violence. The country’s post offices were shut for seven months. Writing from America, Ali’s sense of exile is only exacerbated by the slow destruction of Kashmir in reality and in his imagination.

Gul Gulshan Gulfam, Pran Kishore, translated from the Kashmiri with Shafi Shauq, fiction

One of the 1990s’ most loved TV shows on Doordarshan, Gul Gulshan Gulfam, returns in the form of a novel. The turmoil of the 1990s has caused the tourism industry in Kashmir to take a big hit and Malla Khaliq waits in vain for guests to turn up at his three houseboats (lovingly named Gul, Gulshan and Gulfam) on Dal Lake in Srinagar. Malla Khaliq tries to keep his three sons together but not everyone is convinced that their family business remains viable. The novel, whose English translation is out soon, is the story of a changing Kashmir and an ageing man who tries to hold on to the symbols of his youth.

Our Moon has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, Rahul Pandita, memoir

Kashmir witnessed a violent ethnic cleansing in 1990, when Islamist militants forced Kashmiri Pandits, a thriving Hindu minority in a Muslim majority state, to leave their homes. An estimated three-and-a-half-lakh pandits were displaced, and hundreds were tortured and killed. Rahul Pandita tells the story of his family’s ordeal in Our Moon has Blood Clots. He was fourteen years old at the time of the exodus and after twenty years in exile, he wrote the little-told story of Kashmiri Pandits.

The Tree with a Thousand Apples, Sanchit Gupta, novel

Sanchit Gupta’s novel follows three childhood friends, two Muslims and one Kashmiri Pandit, in Srinagar who are separated by a night of intense, insurgent violence in January 1990 despite their families’ desire to shield one another. Their paths cross after twenty years of violence, suffering, poverty and exile. Deewan is devoted to the displaced Kashmiri Pandits who are forced to live in refugee camps. Bilal and Safeena are allied with the Muslims, who have suffered violence for decades. As they come together again, they are forced to confront their ideas of right and wrong.

The Book of Gold Leaves, Mirza Waheed, novel

The Book of Gold Leave is a Sunni-Shia love story set against the backdrop of escalating violence. Faiz, a Sunni Muslim, supports his family by painting hundreds of pencil boxes every month that are shipped to Canada. He meets and falls in love with Roohi, a Shia Muslim. Their relationship is deemed impossible by the bitter feud between the two Muslim communities. After Faiz sees a minibus full of children get caught in crossfire, he becomes radicalised and travels to a military camp in Pakistan to join the uprising. Eventually Faiz finds his way back to Roohi and Kashmir where the reality of war breaks down the social barriers that have kept them apart.

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