Kashmir: Two narratives, one tragedy

I recently finished reading Rahul Pandita’s Our Moon Has Blood Clots. Together with Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night, it makes for traumatic – and dare I say necessary – reading about a beautiful region mutilated by gunfire.

Peer’s is the older book, and in some sense the better written of the two. (Not that the quality of the writing is what I was looking for in the first place anyway.) He does a good job of detailing how militancy seemed like a perversely “glamorous” option to a while bunch of kids back then, and how those same kids grew into bitter, traumatised adults (or sometimes didn’t even make it that far).

It is also true that some of them became militants along the way — the casualness with which the phrase “attacking army convoys” is bandied about is a little galling sometimes, to be honest. As traumatised as some of them were, as much as they might have considered themselves freedom fighters, it is also true that they were fighting a guerrilla war that cost lives on both sides. Peer does mention this (there is an interesting section late in the book where he finds himself hesitant to ask a friend and former militant whether he had ever killed anyone), but his focus is on the everyday reality of living in a war zone, and this reality impacts both those who took to the gun as well as those who did not.

Pandita’s book, on the other hand, is written from the point of view of a community that was exiled from their own land as a result of this struggle. Much of the recent critical discourse around this book seems to be centered around the precise factual accuracy of what has been written (“such-and-such couldn’t have happened the way he says it did because…”). Or its one sided portrayal (“what about what happened to the Muslims left behind in Kashmir?”). Or the politics (too complex to merit a summary in parentheses).

Truth be told, I have no basis to comment on the factual accuracy of his account. Or for that matter Peer’s. However, I strongly suspect that, barring maybe some specifics, the general story is probably correct. “It sounds true” doesn’t seem like much, I know. But consider this: With any conflict of this nature and this magnitude, every narrative we hear is going to have its own set of issues.A chronicler might find it surprisingly difficult to get people to agree on whether a particular event happened, and if so, when and where. And this is before we even get to who did what and why. Perhaps the deeply personal ones, even with their alleged inaccuracies, are the ones best trusted.

As far as the one sided nature of these accounts goes, isn’t that the whole point of a personal narrative? For either party to walk a mile in the other’s shoes, we first have to agree that the shoes cannot – should not – be made by committee.

Both stories need to be told. Both stories need to be heard.

History is complex. It cannot be otherwise. But historical accounts, for lack of a better option, have to simplify the narrative to some extent. We have to trust in the collective wisdom of historians to not oversimplify, but I suspect, sadly, that we will be disappointed. But at least today, we have the choice of absorbing as much of the complexity of what is happening around us as our brains would allow. Like reading Curfewed Night and Our Moon Has Blood Clots.
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4 thoughts on “Kashmir: Two narratives, one tragedy

  1. Vijay says:

    I remember reading Curfewed night when it first came out a few years ago and it completely opened my mind about Kashmir .I will try and read Pandita’s account ,
    “it makes for traumatic – and dare I say necessary – reading about a beautiful region” – the same description would hold good for Samanth Subramaniam’s This Divided Island about the Sri Lankan Civil war. Sensitive and poignantly written book ! It took me several weeks to finish the book as I could not bring myself to read more than few pages at a time .

  2. maybe the movie ‘Haider’ would be the visual narrative of all the fears, anxieties and hopes of Ramsu. A holistic and metaphorical presentation that seems to say that the larger whole is greater than the sum of the parts.Exactly how Ramsu suggests of the particular leading to the universal.History is not only interpretation but also about verifiable data.But we do live in troubled times when truth lies hidden and framed as not only’classified’ but chained within the hushed and also sometimes loud debates of what is ‘patriotism’ or ‘terrorism’. Objectivity like always is in the greys though life is tragically about taking sides.Else the nails of ambiguity get into the soul :for the clever and mischievous to win !

  3. S says:

    I haven’t read either book and don’t suppose I ever will, but something the commenter above said fascinates me: “life is tragically about taking sides”
    Think it beautifully captures the quintessence of (emotional) conflict. Interestingly enough, just the kind of thing I was thinking about watching the 2015 installment of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, structured as an origins story about friends’ exploring the Fourth Dimension and its exploding green lava causing a permanent fissure between them (Fantastic 4 and Dr Doom). Quite the periodic fable.

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