The discourse on the exodus of nearly 350,000 Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in the late 1980s has been commandeered by Hindu fundamentalists to justify their own excesses against Muslims. Pandita’s book is a story of the people who actually lived through those times, and the times they faced after that.
January 19, 1990. The day defines the author’s life, and the book. It is the night mobs surrounded his home in Srinagar, the night his mother stood all night with the kitchen knife in her hand, ready to kill her daughter and herself if they breached their home. That night his family makes the decision to leave their home, and the sorrow of displacement permeates the memoir. Woven through the personal narrative are the stories brutalities against other Kashmiri Pandits- loot, murders, rapes, lynchings. As the tragedies hit closer to home, Pandita’s mother goes into a slow decline, mirroring, in part, the decline of her home state.
Pandita’s story, of a teenage boy losing his home and seeing his world crumbling around him, cannot fail to move you. He shows numerous instances of Muslim neighbors being complicit in the atrocities, and it is those stories that I found most disconcerting, of how an ideology permeated so much into a community that they were willing to turn on people they had known most of their lives. My knowledge of history, of that time’s events are shaky, and this book helped provide some perspective into one of India’s under-reported events.
Pandita’s story is not without its flaws. It is exclusively one-sided, but to be fair, it is a personal story, and the one-sidedness would be inevitable. Even so, I would have liked some commentary on how the violence against the Pandits fits into the entire picture of violence in Kashmir. And not to sound insensitive, but Pandita did have it easier than other families. He did lose his home and some of his close family, but his parents did have a steady income due to their government jobs, they never had to live in a refugee camp, and they managed to regain some semblance of their lives. I would have liked a bit more light shone on the lives of those who lived in the refugee camps; one of their voices would have strengthened the narrative.