Rahul Pandita revisits scars from his childhood in ‘Our Moon has Blood Clots’ and hopes to turn the spot light on Kashmiri Pandits during his US visit
Scars of displacement and loss are rarely forgotten. They lie in the recesses of memory, only to return with a force that’s hard to ignore. Rahul Pandita was 14 when he and his family fled the Kashmir Valley. Years later, after he established himself as a journalist and wrote his first book ‘Hello, Bastar’ on the Maoist movement, Rahul felt it was time to re-visit stories from his childhood. ‘Our Moon Has Blood Clots’ is a moving account of the plight of Kashmiri Pandits who were forced out of their tranquil homes. The author, scheduled to deliver a series of lectures at the University of New York, Michigan State University, Carnegie Endowment of International Peace among other educational institutions, talks about the challenges in writing the book. Excerpts from the interview:
‘Our Moon Has Blood Clots’ is written in first person, from your memories in Kashmir. You’ve also given insights into the social-political turbulence of the period. Tells us about the research that went into the book.
The book is part memoir, part reportage. I was aware that I was writing about events that occurred 23 years ago. So, every incident I describe has been confirmed and reconfirmed in a strict journalistic manner. There, my training as a journalist helped a lot. The research was extremely tough because the episode of our exodus is painful. Many people I spoke to were reluctant to talk. It was challenging, for example, to make a person called Vinod Dhar speak to me. He was young when he lost his entire family and other Hindu neighbours in a massacre by Islamist terrorists in a tiny hamlet in Kashmir Valley. I don’t think I’ve persisted more on any interview than I have on his.
Many writers tend to base their first book on a personal account, but your first book ‘Hello Bastar’ was on the Maoist movement. Was it the need for more time for research that made you write ‘Hello Bastar’ first?
‘Hello, Bastar’ happened because of my assignments in central and east India. My own homelessness took me to these places, to chronicle other tragedies. In a way ‘Hello, Bastar’ took my mind away from my own story. When I returned to it later, I was able to force my way through some painful moments of my life.
What made you finally decide to write about the displacement of Pandits?
This is the first book I’ve ever wanted to write but it was a difficult one. I started thinking of it when I was in college, and over the years, I wrote whatever I could remember. Many times I gave up. I had to wade through periods of darkness. But the images stayed with me. It was a wound I kept on touching so that it remains festering. In the last few years, I became angrier at the way our story was ignored by the media. When academics and filmmakers spoke about Kashmir, they either chose to bypass the story of Kashmiri Pandits or lied through their teeth about the circumstances that led to our exodus.
While writing on an issue you’ve been witness to, how tough was it to draw a line between getting emotional and maintaining objectivity?
It’s tough to maintain objectivity when you are writing about what you or your family has gone through. How do you write objectively about a young man who was dragged out of a bus and shot dead? I guess the only objective way to writing is to write truthfully, without exaggeration, but also not unnecessarily mellow it down.
Later this month, you are scheduled to speak about the book at a few universities in the US. What issues do you plan to address?
I’ve been invited by some American universities and institutes to talk about my book. It has generated a lot of interest there as well, especially at a time when nations all across are grappling with the issue of Islamist extremism. I think the story of Kashmiri Pandits has lessons for the international community. It must realise and understand how we were brutalised and forced into permanent exile from a land where our ancestors had lived for thousands of years.
What was the feedback you received for the book? Has it helped more Kashmiri Pandits come forward to share their stories?
The feedback has been overwhelming. I’m flooded with emails and other messages from people who’ve read it. They are writing to me to say that they never knew this side of the story. I’m receiving feedback from researchers and academics from all over the world. Also, the response from my own community has been overwhelming. I am glad youngsters are reading it. I am hoping more people will come forward and tell their stories. For example, it is important that someone who has stayed in a refugee camp should write about her experiences. The response from Kashmir valley has been discouraging, but that was expected. Most Kashmiris in the Valley are still in a denial mode about the events of 1990, and through them a lot of abuse lands up in my mail inbox.
Would you consider writing fiction?
I have much more to say about the Maoist insurgency. May be, someday, I will write it in form of a novel. I also have a love story to write. So, yes, fiction is very much on my mind.