Exiling is an enigmatic and a proverbial phenomenon. It is not just a mere dispossession of political territory, but an annoying process of loss- loss of community, loss of old friendships, loss of identity and even loss of sense-of-self. An exiling life is just a faded image of memories which haunt it like a wild ghost. The alienation of a person from his native land brought him into direct encounter with endless pain and unwanted memories. His longing for home turned out to be a nightmare, an object of constant reminder of fear, sorrow and profound grief. The mass-exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley in the wake of turbulence of the 1990’s is a grim reminder of how painful and oppressive is the exiling of people from their land. Kashmiri pandits were equally subjected to the worst human tragedy that has engulfed Kashmir in the final decade of the previous century. Like muslims, the pandits also fell victim to the wrath of oppression and political marginalization. Their physical migration from the valley has left them bereft of identity, community, culture and even nationality.
Over the last few years the agony and pain of this forced migration come alive in the writings of young pandit writers. These aspiring writers deployed fiction to narrate the uprooting their community has faced during the turbulence of the 1990s. Siddhartha Gigoo is a new and bold voice articulating the pain of the pandit community. His two books of fiction are passionate political works which are marvellous in their style, narrative drama and characters. His latest novel, A Fistful Of Earth And Other Stories, is an emotionally exhaustive and deeply disturbing story of dispossession, betrayal and suffering.
Set in a land ravaged by political upheaval and war, A Fistful Of Earth And Other Stories depicts a surreal world where people find themselves in circumstances over which they have no control. A Fistful Of Earth And Other Stories is a collection of short stories which takes you to the world of turbulence and banishment. The short stories are about the loss of human lives, longing for home, the resurrection of exiled people, old friendships, memories, desolation and suffering.
The book begins with The Search which describes the life of a researcher interested in histories and biographies of banished people. His study in the museum library leads him to discover Kashmiri pandits. The author is delving deep into tracing the roots of Kashmiri pandits and their profound impact on culture, history and identity of Kashmir. He refers to the time in Kashmir, centuries ago, when only 11 pandit families survived in the valley during foreign Islamic rule.
Another story titled The Last Haircut is the depiction of time in Kashmir when the pandits were facing persecution. Two boys are given
The task of killing their school teacher who is a Kashmiri pandit. The story highlights the period in Kashmir in 1989-1990 when pandit families were leaving their homes after selective killings of their community members. In Poison, Nectar, the author poignantly narrates the story of a family of Kashmiri pandit refugees living in exile away from their home.
There are, in total, 16 stories in the book which portray the different aspects of the life of human beings. The book ends with A Secret Life which is about a monk who upon having a chance encounter with a young man at a railway station, doubts his own knowledge and understanding of human nature and life.
Siddhartha’s stories are allegorical. Even without mentioning Kashmir explicitly, he narrates the varied narratives of people caught in the turmoil. Through fiction, the author has tried to paint the cataclysm of the land he belongs to. His stories unravel the predicament people face in the conflict regions. Written with great sympathy and affection, A Fistful Of Earth And Other Stories is a brutally honest and deeply devastating tale of displacement, despair and suffering. Siddhartha’s ability to portray a full range of human emotions and his artistic narration of human tragedy is what makes this novel a fantastic read. Literally speaking, the novel is a terrible read for its humor, delicately drawn characters and narrative drama.
Kashmir is an abandoned place of romance and of exotic beings. The tragic outbreak of popular war in the 1990’s has communalized the social relations and infected the social fabric that was bedrock of the state’s rich communal harmony. It was a time when conflict, or to say struggle against conflict, was compartmentalized into Muslim and pandit components and an inter-community feud was created to weaken the insurgent social uprising against the oppression, the tireless efforts for which were going on even today as well. Since that political camouflage, the pandit question is coming headlong on the political scene of this fragile political entity. Siddhartha’s novel raised an important and considerable political question- what is now painstakingly termed as the pandit question.
Siddhartha’s book came at a time when Modi’s Hindu brigade is flexing its muscles and making noises to turn this pandit question upside down. Pandits are an integral part of our rich cultural ethos and social fabric. Siddhartha Gigoo’s beautifully crafted stories have testified to these grim realities which need to be addressed without flocking the state’s political system and demographic structure.
Recently. The Umbrella Man, a story from the book, has won the Commonwealth Short story award for the Asia region. A Fistful Of Earth And Other Stories can be termed as a bio political novel which speaks up for a community whose political and personal have been so vociferously Intermingled that both have become equally dangerous and penetrative political flirtations. The book is a must read for its beauty, agony and especially for Kashmir.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Bilal Gani is a Research Scholar at Central University of Kashmir and writes regularly on Kashmir Conflict and human rights.