By Yash Daiv
FARAH Bashir’s new book, Rumours of Spring, is a memoir of a teenaged girl, who grew with the turmoil. It will be out in April 2021.
She talks to Kashmir Observer in an exclusive interview.
YASH DAIV (YD): Rumours of Spring is a voice that is never-before heard: That of a teenage girl. What prompted you to write this memoir?
FARAH BASHIR (FB): To articulate the silences of a young girl who is navigating her life in a war and confronting it when all she wanted was to escape it.
YD: In your mind, what is the first picture of the siege? What did you see and how did you understand that something was not right?
FB: The year was 1989 and I was a few months away from becoming a teenager. It was on the eve of Eid. The day that started on a happy note ended in an interminable night. The opening chapter of my book comprises that memory.
My sister and I had gone to a salon to get a haircut and by the time we came out, the world as we knew it had completely transformed. The celebratory air had turned funereal. A strange bluish hue had descended upon the city; there were shards of glass and squished toys on the streets. Streets were deserted as a curfew had been announced.
After that metamorphic hour, the years that followed became a series of sharp contrasts: of love and loss, life and death, uncertainty and hope.
YD: What were the little changes you had to make when Kashmir was militarised? How did it invade your domestic space?
FB: The memoir documents most changes, both internal and external, that were brought about by the insurgency and dense militarisation.
Parts of our home became inaccessible, bunkers became the new landmarks, the way young girls dressed was no longer the same, some food habits changed, the games that we played as children changed too. Newer rituals were formed in homes. Old ones vanished.
The book documents juxtaposition of the old and new realities.
YD: As a teenage girl, what fears did you feel?
FB: The fear of returning home to a dead family member loomed at large. It had happened to a few friends of mine, who lost their parents and grandparents to stray bullets or to motivated assassinations.
That fear of losing a loved one at any time, brutally, cast a shadow even before I had turned thirteen.
I grew up on a bustling street in the old city of Srinagar that was rarely quiet. When the night curfew was imposed for nearly a decade, I struggled to fall asleep to the quietude in the neighbourhood. And, the silence that nights carried had the heaviness of the events that had happened during the day.
Rubaiyya Sayeed’s kidnapping was one such incident that haunted me for weeks. I kept wondering about her — her powerful father couldn’t save his daughter from being abducted. I wondered what she must have felt.
A couple of years later when our relatives started talking about rapes in hushed tones, I couldn’t ask anyone about it. I didn’t know what and how to ask. But, the probability of something bad happening to me kept growing inside me.
As a young girl, the first time I grew conscious of my body that was changing its contours into a young woman’s body, was when I had to walk through a crackdown.
That day, I didn’t hang my bag on my shoulder but I hugged it as if adding an extra layer of protection. I felt being attractive could mean serious trouble, so I stopped caring for myself or the way I looked.
And then there were times when I wanted to become invisible. I also developed a habit of pulling out my hair, about which I have written in one of the early chapters in the book.
Amidst all that fear and anxiety, I also fell in love, wrote letters, found a neglected room in the house to dance stealthily in and listened to the songs from banned radio stations.
YD: Was it frustrating to counter outsiders’ views of Kashmir as a place for ‘honeymoon only’ or ‘infested with terrorism’?
FB: When I was growing up, I was of the belief that the events happening on the global stage in 1989 had been rather too big for the world to pay attention to what was happening in Kashmir.
There were the Tiananmen Square protests and their aftermath, the fall of Berlin wall and Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — all in the same year.
Because of which, I naively thought the world was too busy elsewhere, so the onus was on us to tell our stories.
Initially, I’d speak to people, patiently, than feel frustrated when talking about Kashmir. Later, when I realised that there was enough reportage on Kashmir for people to see how the situation on ground was, I did feel disillusioned. I spoke less and started writing more.
YD: How does Rumours of Spring address the conflict over decades?
FB: One text is not enough to contain the multitudes of the decades of conflict. The period I have written about is from 1989-1994 and there is still more to write.
The book is not only about the conflict or causalities but also about a way of life that no longer exists in Kashmir.
It is about the transformation of a teenage girl into a young adult that coincides with the transformation of Kashmir.
YD: According to you, what kind of other voices should talk about the conflict? Do you think as more people speak from their experiences, it will be easy for the world to connect to the struggles?
FB: We need to hear all the voices. The conflict has impacted everyone differently.
Let’s hope the world sees beyond the binaries and acknowledges the struggles of survival that the people, especially that of women and children, that they endure on a daily basis.
YD: What can be done to sensitise people about Kashmir?
FB: Facts are out there aplenty. To awaken and reawaken a sense of empathy, compassion in times like these when dehumanising of a people is the narrative driven on purpose, when even the blinding of children seems normalised.
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