Post 1989, the dispute in Kashmir isno longer territorial and neither merelya backdrop for fiction. Manisha Gangahar

Your story is definitely not mine, but it matters as much. Ordinary people of Kashmir, but they might just make a difference; their stories might just help. A similar thought made Kashmiri writer Basharat Peer pen his memoir— “I would take stories of Kashmir to the outside world”— and his Curfewed Night did tell a story, the story of an ordinary Kashmiri who grew up amidst a conflict.

All of us, by nature, agree to a structure. Plain and simple. Breach of a daily routine is troublesome. We fear being isolated and we dread to see the world we are so accustomed to fall apart. In Kashmir, it’s not just life as people knew it that has been a casualty but their sense of self has also been fractured. In Kashmir, what happens on the street doesn’t just stay there; it enters people’s homes, their minds, and forces them to go in search of answers only to be left with many more questions. Reality isn’t a constant, they suddenly realise. Perhaps, fiction could be more real.

Conflict produces its own zone of literature, the written word. And there too the conflict continues. The words, thoughts, anecdotes and perspectives, all are shaped by myths, history, politics and ideologies. And, in a story of and from Kashmir, all of it is interwoven. Rather, entangled. Ask a Kashmiri what makes him a Kashmiri, and the answer will be kashmiriyat. Ask what it means to be a Kashmiri, the answer will be ‘practising kashmiriyat’. Try again and ask what kashmiriyat is and you just end up wondering when the reply comes: it is unique to the Kashmiris. Of course! Central to any discourse on Kashmir is the idea of kashmiriyat, which is understood to be a tradition unique to the region and which transcends religious trivialities, while upholding cultural harmony. Well, till here the story is still straight; or was that way. Post 1989, the script changes and the dispute in Kashmir is no longer territorial and neither merely a backdrop for fiction.

In Shashi Warrier’s The Homecoming , when the elderly man says, “he no longer knows what it means to be a Kashmiri… he doesn’t know what Kashmir is, and he doesn’t know where he belongs”, he is not just hinting at the conflict outside, but the one within him.

Kashmiri identity

The incidents of stone-pelting in Kashmir, the armed insurgency, the Hindu exodus and the Indian security’s presence in the Valley all revolve around two words: Kashmiri identity. But when concepts like ‘nation’, ‘religion’ and ‘region’ come into play, the idea of self gets complicated and problematic. So the Gujjar boy protagonist in Mirza Waheed’s novel The Collaborator grapples with the idea of being a Kashmiri. He is told that he isn’t a proper Kashmiri , come to think of it. Fine, a Muslim then. But he hasn’t followed or practised Islam in the ideal way. So, he is just a minority. For him Kashmiri identity means nothing; he would still be a minority, within it and outside. Well, he overhears these names, Jammu, Kashmir, Delhi, India, Pakistan even Azad Kashmir, but they too are vague ideas to him. He relates to none. He has never stepped out of his border village and neither does he aspire to cross in any direction. Yes, he ‘collaborates’ with the Indian Army commanding officer, not out of choice but because there is no other choice. If the officer is doing a job, the boy is also doing just that. Right or wrong, it is the thing to be done. Or, should he be more sensitive to the ‘cause’, he is left wondering. The conflict is not about what is right, but is the Right also right for him. 

Well, no political theorist could debate nationalism better than Salman Rushdie. When Col Kachhwaha, in his novel Shalimar The Clown calls ‘Kashmir for Kashmiris’ a moronic idea, he means to say that nation-state comes first and nationalism can follow later. And then, he goes on to justify: “Kashmir was an integral part of India. An integer was a whole and India was an integer and fractions were illegal… Not even the truth could be permitted to dishonour the nation.” For men in uniform, nationalism is easy to comprehend, but for Kashmiri, the national consciousness is awakened by a knock at his door in the middle of the night. The jihadis or the Armymen? With whom does his integrity lie? But when more than the flag, the Friday prayers and protest calendars bring some order in life, the conscience stops worrying about guilt. Yet, on another day, it is ‘maybe’ that is overwhelming, as Basharat Peer recollects: “Delhi was beginning to be a second home.” The essence of India’s nationalism is diversity, but isn’t it the same for Kashmiri nationalism? Jammu and Ladakh are different ethnic regions, with people practising different religions.

No larger agenda

As for kashmiriyat, the fabric is no longer the same, as Ashok Kaul, in his novel Kashmir: Nativity Regained , brings out the estrangement that the Hindu Pandits felt when they were asked to pack up and move out, leaving their homes behind.  Kashmiriyat ceased to exist when they received threats from their fellow Kashmiris. They were stripped to being just Hindus in Kashmir and in Jammu, they were not Indians enough. The conflict has brought the fissures regarding Kashmiri identity to the fore. While kashmiriyat as a historical entity is debatable, the literary narratives bring out the ambivalence regarding Kashmiri identity.   At times, there is no larger agenda, just a manifestation of a thought and feeling and anger, if left to linger, becomes an agenda without meaning to. And soon, it is too late to let it go and the man on the street finds his meaning in it. Romanticism and disillusionment punctuate the narratives on Kashmir, and any middle space is mostly looked upon in Kashmir as a giveaway to the others.