by Kuldeep Raina
Every member of the victimised community has his own experiences- horrific and non-horrific to relate to. Yet it needs Parineeta Khar to weave these experiences into pieces of great literature. She was not part of the great exodus the Kashmiri Pandit community had to resort to in early 1990. But as a socially responsible writer she had a keen ear to listen to the experiences her relations and the members of the community underwent during the turbulence of 1989 and 1990 that left the Pandit community totally uprooted with permanent rootlessness staring it in face.
Parineeta Khar has succeeded where others members of her writers’ tribe have failed the community. A genocide and a situation of exile is no dinner party. Jose Marti, the famed Latin American poet of 19th Century once said ‘Now is the time of furnaces, and only light should be seen’. Exile is no time for writing ‘nostalgic tracts’ or engaging in ‘devotional escapism’. The literature of exile should help link exile with consciousness of exile and raise the social awareness in the victimised community to facilitate reversal of genocide and exile. What distinguishes Khar from others is that she is courageous enough to depict social realism as it is, unmindful of whether it is part of the political correctness. Her deep insights into the sociology of Kashmiri Pandit society, the pride in Kashmiri ethnicity and its subset-battagi and the love for homeland has helped her produce a masterpiece-an anthology of short stories – “We were and We will be”. The title is taken from the first story.
About it she writes,” we are the children of legary eleven families who tenaciously refused to accept anything, other than battagi (being a Kashmiri Pandit).
I have an uncanny belief; the tyranny of bigots will abate, the contempt and conceit will sometime and somewhere.
The bruised and pulped up battagi will come out of the debris of ruined mansions, peep out of the heaped up rubble, and stand erect again. Hence, we were and we will be”. Parineeta Khar is not only a superb craftswoman in the art of short story writing, she brings new innovations as well. This is the hallmark of originality in a writer. Her earlier work ‘on the shores of the Vitasta’ (1994) reflects on the social milieu of Kashmir when terrorism was an alien concept among Kashmiris.
The stories in that collection emerged out of after-dinner sessions in Kashmir’s dreary winter.
The present book, the author writes, “is the manifestation of inundating currents of ferocious magnitude ebbing in my own psyche”. She is candid in saying, “I have not chronicled the history of atrocities meted out to Pandits, neither did I enumerate the gruesome killings of the people of my community at the hands of terrorists. My tales allude to circumstances of distinct nature, some strange and others intriguing. These stories are an attempt to depict how terrorism affected and influenced all of us, one or the other way…My stories depict a celebration of life – a continuation of life”. The author uses the setting of a society gripped by terrorism, fundamentalism and social conflict to explore the human psychology – its frailties as well as strengths. She does not construct a fictional scenario about a social milieu. The society, is depicted as it is, with no theorisation or building imaginary scenarios to tailor it to the needs of political correctness. The generational conflict in Kashmiri Muslim society where two generations hold varying views on pluralistic coexistence and toleration when terrorism enters into the social life of Kashmiris, is delineated beautifully. Urban stereotypes about rural Pandit society, ger exploitation in an exted family system, psychological state among Pandit exiles and their passing into regression by turning to Godmen and soothe sayers, the devastation suffered by Pandits in the wake fundamentalism and terrorism, the dilemma- roots or pragmatism and the essential goodness of human beings, all these themes touched by the writer have not been explored before by Kashmiri Pandit writers in exile with such sensitivity and freshness. With the publication of this excellent book, literature in exile among Pandits comes of age.
Exile haunts Parineeta Khar.
She says, “we had left Kashmir, for the betterment of our individual lives…She (ever pardoning mother: our Kashir) waited for long and then discarded us with the bitterness of a mother who disowns her children after being left to dereliction…Now, when I am alone…the treasure drove of the reminiscences is my haven. I close my eyes, delve deep and peep into the days of my childhood, my early youth and my bridal days – in Kashmir”.
The pain experienced by the author when her husband’s family decides to sell the house in Srinagar is described by her in ‘A Lost Paradise-Home’. She writes,” He and his siblings had the legal authority to liquidate their property, I felt helpless. The thought of having no home in Kashmir made me feel like an orphaned and lost child. Their pragmatism called the unfortunate house a helpless liability. To me, it was a natural bond with Kashmir for us and our posterity”. Parineeta is bitter not only against the brokers and the terrorists but also against her own community. In a tone of indictment, the author says”, The brokers, who traded in disposing of the matriarchal edifices, sought out my husband’s family and succeeded. The terrorists had vandalised it, but never could claim a genuine hold on our lovely home, but alas, we, the original inhabitants, sold it for a song. My moonlit glassroom smashed to smithereens; the homestead wept bruised and lacerated.
The phone call (from the broker) left me agonised and agitated.
The walnut tree, under which lay intertwined my children’s baby hair, was auctioned.
The Kalpavriksha marked wall that had supported the dreams of a young bride and seen me through an unripe youth to a mellowed womanhood, had slipped from behind me. My husband calls my sentimental attachment to Kashmir and home, an exaggerated romantic outlook. I ask him why his eyes catch the cool degrees of temperature in Srinagar first watching the weather report”.
Five stories in this tome under review deal with displacement and exile as its theme. The other two stories – Yati and the Apsaras, The Deity of the Chinar are meant for that generation of Kashmiri Pandits who never saw/or lived in Kashmir.
Kashmiri Folklore abounding in such supernatural characters – dyav, Sheen Mohniv etc. comes alive in these stories.
We were and we will be
The story is set in a migrant camp in Delhi. A young physician, Dr Raman Raina, scion of a millionaire Kashmiri Pandit family that had left Kashmir four decades ago, while on his visits to the migrant camp to provide medical help, falls in love with a refugee girl, called Tripora Sondari. This fructifies into matrimonial alliance between the two. This is not accepted by the boy’s mother, Khema. Through this conflict the author explores human psychology of characters.
It is not the class but the human frailty that is the cause of the conflict.
In Invincible the impact of terrorism is shown more directly.
The family of Poshkuj Kaul lives in a village, not far from Srinagar.
Poshkuj’s family lived in perfect harmony with their neighbours of the majority community.
This harmony is reflected through two chracters – Mala and her son Rasool. Terrorism raises its head in the village through the appearance of a character-a foreign mercenary who succeeds in brainwashing Rasool’s son. Mala resents the presence and behaviour of the alien – the bearded mercenary who had no respect for values and ethos of the land. Rasool shows helplessness when his son begins to trouble Poshkuj’s family. But Mala hurls curses on her grandson. One day this Pandit family’s cowshed and barn are set on fire by a frenzied mob, Shamboo and his wife go out to save poor cows. They never return.
Mala comes to her fri Poshkuj. She is accompanied by her son Rasool. He tells her that she should immediately leave the village alongwith two daughters of Shamboo. Rasool had been watching the misdemeanours of his son, first enthusiastically then with a disgust. He feared for the safety of Shamboo’s daughters, and advises Poshkuj to take the daughters to Mumbai.
Rasool arranges some space for ladies in a Jammu-bound truck carrying cattle. Subsequently, Rasool’s family contacts Kauls at Mumbai through a phone call and seek a bargain. Remains of Shamboo and his wife could be given back only if Kauls agree to give them the entire property they owned in the village.
Poshkuj wonders why had the fris turned predators.
Poshkuj tells them that remains of their son and daughter-in-law needed to be kept in Kashmir itself as they belonged to Kashmir’s earth. She reminds them that ‘selling their property in Kashmir was like selling one’s mother’. Poshkuj, unable to bear the phone call, passed away the same night.
Look who got Azadi
An exted (joint) family in traditional Kashmiri society was the norm rather than an exception.
It provided security-emotional and financial to the members of the family. With economic empowerment of the woman and their social emancipation the two major flaws of the exted family came to the fore-undemocratic atmosphere and social repression in the name of preserving ethos of the joint family.
‘Look who got Azadi’ is situated in this ambience.
Beg your Pardon
This is not only the finest story written in the collection, but also the best original story ever written by a Kashmiri writer.
In terrible times of 1989-90 some of the Kashmiri Pandit families adopted an ostrich-like mentality and decided to stay back despite threats and provocation.
They paid for it and lost their near and dear ones. The survivors overwhelmed by the guilt lapsed into severe reactive depression.
Parineeta Khar has presented the four case stories.
In one family a six year old girl is the only survivor. Her father had braved every provocation to stay put in Kashmir. This was taken as challenge by the predators on the prowl. He began receiving threatening mail.
One evening he was shot dead while returning from office. The little girl’s shrieks who was witness to the killing brought her mother out. With her mouth agape a bullet consumed her also. Neighbours, taking pity on the little girl, s her to Jammu.
The girl, who saw her parents dying, landed in severe depression.
The only word she spoke was “Khotsan” (I am scared). A migrant psychiatrist tries a strange remedy for her. He uses ‘auto-suggestion’ to cure her and through her the other members of displaced community suffering from the same syndrome. The Psychiatrist tells her that she was a goddess who had no business to fear men with pistols. He told her she was Sharika, the doom for the sinners and the messiah of sufferers. The girl slowly comes out of depression. She is then trained to help other guiltridden Kashmiris.
A hut temple with supernatural setting is built on the upper heights of Kud. The child goddess goes there on the first day of every dark fortnight in the dark hours of night. People turn up to seek child goddess’s “pardon” for atonement of their “sins”.
There are three bone-shaking case studies narrated in the story.
The girl’s therapy is simple. She asks them to narrate their “guilt”, and go for atonement and repentance.
This she says would rid them of their guilt. The child goddess prescribes treatment which is itself unique-helping the miserable ones in the Pandit refugee camps.
It focusses on reconciliation.
Parineeta Khar’s narrative style is easy, reflecting command over vocabulary, usage of words and distinctively Kashmiri metaphors.
She profusely uses colloquial Kashmiri expressions. Her female characters bear names after Kashmiri goddesses – Tripora Sondari, Ragniya, Shri Chakri, Sharika etc. The plots in the stories are well constructed and the characters are full of life.
The ings culminate in reconciliation, rather than in conflict and uncertainty. With two anthologies already under her belt one wonders when would she bring out her first Historical Novel. We wish her goodluck.
Title: We were and We will be
Author: Parineeta Khar
Price: Rs 300 (Cloth Bound)
Published by: Utpal Publications R-2, Khaneja Complex Main Market, Shakarpur, Delhi-110092