In Pandemic, Contemporary Kashmiri Writers Getting Added Audience

Some of the finest contemporary Kashmiri writers in English language have passionately used the medium of writing to inspire and bring forth the untold, unheard stories of their homeland. While their writings have been widely recognised and acclaimed, they’re finding a new and improved readership during pandemic lockdown in the valley.

Rakshanda Afrin

FOR last five years, Seerat Wani would wrestle with her procrastinating personality to read Curfewed Night, the book she bought from New Delhi’s famed bookstore, Bahrisons, tucked in legendary Khan Market. But the 28-year-old MBA degree holder from Srinagar’s Peerbagh would always find distractions, until the pandemic lockdown came and ended her impasse.

“We aren’t new to lockdowns in Kashmir,” Wani said, with an assertive tone. “But then, this lockdown is different. It’s about mandatory home sitting, and maintaining social distancing. And this is when I finally found time for Basharat Peer’s acclaimed book.”

Calling it a “time machine trip”, Wani said that Curfewed Night took her back to her ancestral home in downtown Srinagar, where as a kid in nineties, she would often peek through her window to witness the turbulent streets.

“The book maps your feelings and circumstances without resorting to make-believe literary twists,” she said. “I’m happy to finally read it.”

Wani is not alone to break ice on her tardy reading willpower in viral lockdown.

Like her, Hubaib Aslam, 29, would hardly pick up a book to read, despite having his father’s rich library at home.

“Honestly, I was never a book person,” Aslam, a contractor from Srinagar’s Bemina, said. “But then, I recently read Mir Khalid’s Jaffna Street on the recommendation of my friend. It was such a delight as well as a dread to relive my childhood through this book. I read it from cover to cover.”

Capturing some of the starkest stories of the nightmarish nineties in Kashmir, Jaffna Street, Aslam said, makes an attempt to humanize the otherwise demonized stories of the valley.

“At a time when Indian media is unabashedly spewing venom on Kashmir and hides its realities with their biased coverage, book like Jaffna Street reassures you that truth can’t be silenced with shouts and screams.”

Even as many Kashmiris, especially youth, can be seen today reading and discussing the classic and fashionable writers of the world, most of them are picking up the native authors for understanding their troubled past. The trend, it seems, has only grown in lockdown.

“As I’m reading The Collaborator by Mirza Waheed these days, I’m literally reliving our harrowing past,” said Sajad Bhat, a media graduate from Baramulla. “Though fiction, the book transports you into the dark underbelly of the valley and makes you wonder of the place you live in.”

To gauge the literary mood of Valley in lockdown, Kashmir Observer spoke to many valleyites to know about their reading preferences. They named the following contemporary Kashmiri authors, for their “unbiased, truthful depiction of Kashmir events”.

Basharat Peer

Author of the much-acclaimed book, Curfewed Night: A Frontline Memoir of Life, Love and War in Kashmir, Peer started his career as a reporter in New Delhi but had lived and seen much of the turbulent time in the valley during nineties.

Winner of the Crossword Prize for Non-Fiction, Peer wrote a firsthand eyewitness experience to the constant conflict and crossfire the ordinary people from the valley are caught in.

Curfewed Night, which won many International accolades and reception, is a moving memoir and ode to Peer’s strife-battered homeland, where he tries to bring forward a poignant yet brutally honest and grim realities of people facing the tensions for nearly decades now.

Though he identifies himself as a Kashmiri, Peer claims that his ‘nationality is a matter of dispute’.

Currently working as the Opinion Editor of The New York Times, the author of Curfewed Night has written extensively on South Asian politics in many reputed international publications like The Guardian, Foreign Affairs, The New Yorker, among others.

Nitasha Kaul

London-based academician, Kaul is an author of Kashmiri-origin. Her debut novel, Residue was published in 2009. It marks the first novel written in English by a Kashmiri woman.

Nominated for the 2009 Man Booker Prize, Residue is a tale of two young Kashmiris who meet and their lives get intertwined by their shared history and identities outside Kashmir. It is a story of startling discovery and explorations.

Her latest work ‘Future Tense’ published in 2020 is based on the political fiction of Kashmir.

Currently, Kaul is an Associate Professor at the University of Westminster and her other interests include issues concerning Kashmiri women, political economy, neoliberalism, economic violence. She is the co-editor of a recent special volume on ‘Women and Kashmir’, which is the first ever such collection by Kashmiri women scholars themselves.

Mirza Waheed

Born and raised in Srinagar, Mirza Waheed is a celebrated novelist and scribe of International repute who has authored three books.

His debut novel, The Collaborator (2011), was the Guardian First Book Finalist, where Waheed wrote about war-torn Kashmir and the devastating times during the early 1990s through the first person narration of its unnamed protagonist. The writer tells a striking tale of Kashmir caught in violent conflict.

His second novel, The Book of Gold Leaves (2014), a love story between a Sunni and Shia set in the 1990’s Kashmir, was Shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2016.

The author’s third novel, Tell Her Everything (2019), is a compelling, dark story of an Indian doctor’s letter to his daughter.

Currently based in London, Waheed is now devoted to his writing career full-time.

Shahnaz Bashir

Author of two award-winning books, Shahnaz Bashir is an academician based in Srinagar. His maiden novel, The Half Mother published in 2014, won Muse India Young Writer Award 2015. Widely reviewed and critically acclaimed, the book is a heart wrenching, deeply troubling story of Haleema who does not know whether her son is alive or not.

With the French version of it published in March 2020, The Half Mother is the “first novel from Kashmir to be translated in a foreign language”.

Scattered Souls, published in 2016, marks the second book of Bashir. It follows the hard-hitting, troubled stories of the Kashmiris during the violent nineties. It has been reported to be “the best selling fiction book (English) in Kashmir till date”.

Currently, Bashir teaches Narrative Journalism and Conflict Reportage in the Central University of Kashmir.

Mir Khalid

A modish medico from Downtown Srinagar—the tag he wears as a badge of honour—came out with his Kashmir memoir, Jaffna Street, in early 2017. The book written in a stirring narrative style captures the lives of the people who suffered history in Kashmir.

It offers deep insights into the characters caught in the throes of the drawn out discord in Vale.

Mir’s Jaffna Street, borrowing title from a faraway hotspot, captures the pulse of the times through different personalities who found themselves at a crossroads of the history. Despite getting brickbats for his “brutally tell all” book, the doctor’s storytelling prowess won him many admirers.

A voracious reader known for sharing his readings on social media, Mir is working on his new book capturing human crisis far away from his home.

Feroz Rather

Doctoral student at the Florida State University, Feroz Rather has already made a remarkable name for himself in the world of literature through his stories, essays, and interviews published in many international journals.

As a Kashmiri novelist, he marked his debut with The Night of Broken Glass (2018) which won widely acclaimed reviews from all corners.

His novel is about the horrors and violence in Kashmir which the author tries to bring forward through a series of interconnected stories in a work of fiction.

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