Kashmiriyat – review of ‘Jihad in my saffron garden’
Kashmiriyat which is about ‘true respect, of all people, of all religions’ existed and thrived much before militancy made its dramatically violent entry. Those were times when everyone, including Roshina Kapoor or Rosha Jaan to Aafaq Quzmi believed that ‘butterflies hover above us, and the birds flap their wings merrily. We have all been etched from a common divinity.’ Jihad in My Saffron Garden written by Dr Roxy Arora partly belongs to times when Rosha’s ‘Saffron Garden was a playground for Farishtey and Djinns. The tiny flora in the lush meadow tiptoed upwards as lithe as ballet dancers while they hobnobbed with tinted winged butterflies. The gentle breeze would loan a quiet momentum to all of God’s creations.’ The remaining part is about her resilience, fighting spirit, and belief that she wasn’t really ‘fighting a lost battle’.
Oh yes, there is Aafaq too, who in Rosha’s eyes is ‘splashing all sorts of antiseptics over me. I didn’t feel the sting at all but out of the corner of my eye, I saw Aafaq wince. I realised then that he loved me, too, and though we were two bodies, we were one soul, like in all those fairy tales.’ Aafaq, whose life and moments lend a cold-blooded caress of a thriller to the pages and who actually remains an enigma until the last page, enters the heart of militancy in Kashmir and, like any capable character in a novel must do, presents that reality in as many hues as possible. And we, as readers, do appreciate that he does have a lot of clarity on the situation at all times… and yet stumbles when he shouldn’t have. Though he does win my heart because Roshina admits that ‘he would never even request, leave alone insist that I convert.’
I know I am probably making the story sound like a painting by Picasso, but then this one is about a complex state of mind. Though let me admit that Roxy has simplified it a lot but at times the narrative tended to ramble on like the text in a sarkari file… or as texts seem in a textbook. But I loved even those bits as the insight there couldn’t possibly be shown and only told.
The story is about the harmony that existed in Kashmir once and everything in the first half ambles along like a zephyr and the author brings along everything together with her bent for melodious expression. And then, just as I had started enjoying the Kashmir that it was once, Jihad enters… and we all know that ‘during Jihad, the Kalashnikov replaces the water gun and blood pours into the Dal Lake.’ The tone of the book does a back-flip as we read that ‘Hindu houses were marked, defaced and sabotaged. That would be a warning to leave or pay a price’ and that ‘most of those boys have gone the way rogue. They have him hook, line and sinker now.’ Aafaq’s sister Heena gets brutally raped and commits suicide… and the love songs between Aafaq and Roshina are forced to go mute. Militancy does have this strange habit of being a pest and a spoil-sport all the time… anywhere in the world.
It isn’t as if Roxy has focused only on ‘radicals and hardliners who had distorted their wonderful religion for their own selfish needs, and were being played like puppets by neighbouring countries.’ It isn’t that the book is only about lovers forced to part ways. It isn’t that only the evils of minds led astray feature on the pages. What I really loved in this book are all the other little stories that pop up suddenly and fill the narrative with emotions that range from cockiness to tearfulness, from misery to unbridled joy, and from ambition to ruthlessness. This is also one of those exceptional books where even a minor character has a vital role to play and does it with aplomb. I particularly loved the story of Basheer Ahmed Khan, the Muslim who sang bhajans in a temple and then Roshina ‘sat in his tenement, the Kafirs and the Muslims and cried for the lost Kashmir and the flower beds of saffron that were no longer ours.’ There is then the incident where Roshina’s mother tells her school-going girl about the ‘pleasures of the flesh. Mum had sweetly yet firmly reinforced they were pleasures only at the right time, with the right person and when the heart is involved.’ There is another from the refugee camp in Jammu where the protagonist meets her rich friend from Srinagar and is emotionally charged at seeing that ‘none of them had a single frown on their face. Nor could I hear a whimper or snivel leave their lips. I observed in Surabhi and her sisters the extreme gratitude for being alive.’ And then there is also the story of Meena who has a lot to say on the way women need to be prepared. She is the one who educates Roshina as she tells her that ‘there are two ways a woman can get to the top. The first being on her back. That is the easiest but unsatisfactory way. The other is by crushing those balls, when they try to overpower her. And by balls, I don’t mean eye-balls.’ Such are the stories that make the entire narrative pulsate with life.
The book cursorily touches upon the role of the Indian Army in Kashmir though it stays away from pontification and being judgemental. It stays on well observed and well documented facts and doesn’t shy from saying that ‘your lot told us to get out, lest our women are taken as prostitutes and our men are shot in cold blood. Your creed is persecuting my creed and that, too, in my own state and you are acting as if it is our fault.’ Bravo! The author does her bit when she writes: ‘Why is it only in this country we don’t think twice before condemning our military?’ and then goes on to wish for ‘our articles and columns to be read by statesmen and policy makers. If only we all took one common stand throughout the globe and didn’t have vested interests in our hearts…’
The one thing that I am really unhappy about is the shoddy production of such a brilliant work. Though the paper used by Prabhat Paperbacks is reasonably good, the cover is unimaginative and lacks class. I say this because if I were to enter a bookshop and choose a book to read, the cover on this would certainly put me off. And Roxy, it is not essential at all to fill the rear cover with so much text… and so many randomly numbered dots. Some editing is also needed at places… so I guess the next edition needs a few changes.
Despite the lack of efforts from the publisher, I am in love with the way this book has been written. In fact, I’d love to read this story from Aafaq’s point of view someday. And, Dr Roxy Arora, as a reader I agree that it is ‘better to be God-fearing rather than religious’.
Title: Jihad in My Saffron Garden
Author: Dr Roxy Arora
Publisher: Prabhat Paperbacks
Price: Rs 25o/- (in 2016)
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17 November 2016