‘The house where I was born had seven windows, But its door is closed to me...’ James K Baxter’s words resonates with you as you read about Kashmiri Pandits written by Kashmiri Pandits. From Home to House is a collection of short stories and essays by Kashmiri Pandits as they write about their memories of their motherland, <g data-gr-id="49">its</g> about nostalgia, about recounting the migration, about the terrible pain of leaving home forever, about hope and despair and a hundred other things.
The book edited by Arvind <g data-gr-id="48">Gigoo</g>, Shaleen Kumar Singh and Adarsh Ajit is an attempt to bring out stories from hearts of Kashmiri Pandits who were forced to leave their homes in 1990 due to the shadow of militancy in the valley. It hopes to introduce the literature of Kashmiri Pandits in exile to readers in India and abroad, and the book serves this purpose perfectly.
‘I want to sit in the shade of the <g data-gr-id="76">chinar</g>. I want to cook on the <g data-gr-id="77">hearth</g> of my home. I want to lie down with all my limbs stretched.<g data-gr-id="84">’</g> The cry of a <g data-gr-id="78">seventy </g><g data-gr-id="81"><g data-gr-id="78">five</g> year old</g> woman who has spent 25 years yearning for home brings to you the cumulative pain of leaving home, leaving culture behind and of living in cramped refugee tents. The words are part of Veena Pandita Kohl’s essay, Impact of Exodus on Elderly Kashmiri Pandit Women. But it is not just one section of society that has been affected by the migration. If the elderly live with constant nostalgia and sorrow, the young find it hard to connect with their roots after being away for so long.
Life in the Camp by Maharaja Krishen Koul <g data-gr-id="73">Naqaib</g> is a collection of interviews with an old Kashmiri Pandit man, a <g data-gr-id="74">middle aged</g> woman, a <g data-gr-id="72">21 year old</g> boy and a <g data-gr-id="75">school going</g> girl. One can see the stark difference in their stance where the elders are still dealing with the pain of exile and revisiting the horrible days of living in the camps, the young talk about optimism and of creating a better world for themselves and their parents. While the old are bitter and depressed, the young want to forget the history and write a new one. But forgetting is a two sided sword. It can be a balm but who are you really if you have forgotten <g data-gr-id="70">your</g> identify?
In the <g data-gr-id="68">essay</g> Humour in Exile Shyam Kaul quotes his friend who <g data-gr-id="67">says, ‘</g>...Would you call it life if the hapless community, used to cleaner surroundings, has to live in the midst of dust and filth, with almost total absence of adequate water, drainage and sanitation? Would you call it life if, in spite of your properties back home, you have to survive on pittance from the government, a share which you have to pass on to the clerks of the relief department every month.’ The author argues with his friend if life is better in sorrowful tents than being shot back home simply because of what you are?
Many essays talk in depth about the Muslims who once upon a time were neighbours to the Pandits. While many essays and stories reflect bitterness, <g data-gr-id="59">other talk</g> of brotherhood in those days. Many also talk about the long lost Pandit-Muslim brotherhood that survived against the bitterness. Maharaja <g data-gr-id="55">Krishen</g> Santoshi’s story The Kidnapping is about a Pandit man being kidnapped by a <g data-gr-id="56">muhajid</g> who once was a friend. The story progresses with confusion and distrust between the two, arguments and bitterness and even threat to life are exchanged but the story ends with the kidnapper revealing that he had kidnapped the man simply because he wanted to talk like the old days. The conversation between them touches you and you cannot help but wonder how people who have spent lifetimes together can suddenly turn into enemies?
The pain of revisiting the homeland as a tourist, of losing touch from the culture because the younger generation is marrying outside the community. The book is <g data-gr-id="64">a homage</g> to exiled Pandits and to those suffering the pain of exile around the world. The translations are a little shaky, but one tends to ignore when the story being told touches a chord. No one knows or when the Pandits can ever go back, but it stresses that the issue needs to be addressed more, not just for political gains but to apply a <g data-gr-id="62">much needed</g> balm to a community that has suffered betrayal for years now.