Our Moon has Blood Clots – Rahul Pandita

An interesting part of  the experience of reading this book was that I had just finished reading Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer. So it was an engaging exercise to see how one account filled another’s ellipses, and points where the two converge and diverge. Peer and Pandita are contemporaries, and grow up in Kashmir as the period of conflict begins to unfold. Both are journalists, and both long for Kashmir.

[I’m inspired to do this henceforth when I read accounts of strife, to read from two different view points. This is not to say of course, that if I were to read a Maya Angelou, I would want to read a first person account of a Ku Klux Klan-er]

Pandita traces how Kashmiri Pandits have been regime-after-regime ethnically cleansed for centuries. This made me wonder about what it means to be tied to a land. What makes people stay? What is it about a location that gives people a sense of home, even though this location may have been fraught with brutality and systemic violence? What does this “home” mean for people in exile? For those who have lived whole lives elsewhere, who have barely escaped  annihilation, what does it mean to say I am a Kashmiri?

Pandita’s story provides persuasive clues . For his mother, Kashmir is the land where she had a house with twenty windows and this becomes a tic that she keeps repeating through her life. Poignantly, Pandita notes, she says this for the first time, the day after suffering the indignity of someone coming to their refugee accommodation in Jammu and handing over a plate of food as charity.

While I was compelled by Peer’s account to sympathise strongly for the separatist cause (see this moving song for Azadi, Tum Kitne Jawan Maroge), I am swayed by Pandita’s account which accents how Kashmir has always also been the land of the Pandits, the rest of India and its customs being as alien to them growing up, as it was for the Kashmiri Muslims. Pandita decries the apathy of the media and the intellectuals and regrets that, “It has become unfashionable to speak about us [the Pandits], or raise the issue of exodus.” As he rightly questions, where are the fellowships and grants to understand the exodus? Rejecting positions that Pandits who chose to stay in the Valley have been unharmed, Pandita draws on Primo Levi:

In a Paris Review interview, holocaust survivor and acclaimed writer Primo Levi is asked, ‘Are they still anti-semitic in Poland today?’. ‘They’re not any more. For lack of material!’ he replies.(page 220).

As a teenager trying to make sense of his conflict-riddled existence, Pandita finds escape through comrades who read Gorky, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Camus, Chekhov, Flaubert, Weston La Barre, Avataar Singh Paash and Shiv Kumar Batavia. I like anyone who reads Paash.

Both Peer and Pandita provide compelling accounts. They are brave lives, speaking out in courage, in defiance, and in hope. Yet they remain the accounts of middle-class men, reminding us that there are several unheard, untold, silenced voices.

 

Post Script: After reading Warsan Shire’s phenomenal poem Home, it is the Kashmiri Pandits I think of, expelled, spat out, exiled.

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well1

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.51

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land224
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

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Reading Curfewed Night

Last week in book world, I travelled with Basharat Peer to Kashmir, the most militarized zone in world. Peer leads the reader into the warmth and comforts of his privileged childhood, as the son of a bureaucrat, grandson of a village school teacher (as Kashmiri introductions go, you are the son of, and grandson of…). Idyllic childhood days, marked by Eid celebrations and making homemade  ice-creams with his brother  (by mixing icicles with milk and sugar) remain dotted with a sense of alienation bordering resentment towards India. Cricket matches between India and Pakistan, imply cheering for Pakistan. A cricket match between India and any other country, implies cheering for the other country.  Peer  traces how  Kashmir, always restive,  transforms into a site of relentless, brutal, all-pervasive war that permeates and dehumanizes each living being it comes into contact with – militant, military or the “innocuous innocent”.

The Curfewed Night weaves a stirring account of Kashmir over the last three decades, an account intimately woven with Peer’s childhood, youth and career as a journalist.  In this account, there is no euphemism of political unrest; Peer describes a state of perennial war. Militants who are  martyrized, love-lorn Pakistani infiltrators, teenaged boys who sport Kalashnikovs because they must and because it is cool, cousins who cross the border to come back doomed with short lives, teachers and friends who flee, uncles in paranoia, mothers mobilizing for “disappeared” sons, boys turned into human grenade launchers by the army. Heavy militarization has thus displaced, dispossessed, deprived and denied any semblance of a human life. Indelibly etched in my mind is Peer’s narration of a Kashmiri writer’s story called the “New Disease”. Every man in Kashmir walks up to a gate or a door, pauses for a moment and then turns away and walks. So internalized is this routine of frisking and searching that unless he is frisked and searched at the gate or door of his house, no man passes through.  The writer advises that the only cure for this  New Disease is that family members must frisk and search their men as they enter their house.

Peer thus paints Kashmir today as dialectically a place of great beauty – of walnut trees, apple orchards and chinars, a serene dal lake, and women in bright pherans,  and as a site of tanks, kalashnikovs, ashes, rubble, charred skeltals of bridges and buildings, and Papa-2.

In my readings over the last year, I have come across Agha Shahid Ali’s poems from A country without a postoffice, which hauntingly beautiful as they are,  barely scratched the surface of my understanding given the lack of familiarity with metaphors and colloquial usages. As Peer himself repeats, there are very few accounts – sociological,  journalistic book form or literary –  on the violence in Kashmir. Peer is thus an important voice in the Kashmiri separatist movement.In those moments that he lays bare his vulnerabilities,  he reveals his  great courage and  conviction in telling this account.

Questions that arise:

  • Having read  “Do you remember Kunan Poshpora”, which narrates the harrowing account of over 50 women who were brutally sexually assaulted by Indian armed forces in the villages of Kunan Poshpora, one wonders about the voids within which Kashmiri women exist. Peer’s account, though giving voice to mothers who fight for disappeared sons, and women like Mubeena the bride who was barbarically raped by the BSF on the day of her wedding,  remains primarily an account of Kashmiri men (and arguably of the Kashmiri middle-class as my colleague Rohit Varman points out). As the account of Kunan Poshpora reminds us, in a highly patriarchal society like that of Kashmir, women are reluctant to speak of brutalities and sexual assaults from fear of being stigmatized and bearing dishonour for their families.  Rohit, in personal communication,  rightly pointed out, that here lies the problem with our social fabric which continues to hold on to such regressive values cast in sharp relief in these times of conflict.
  • While Basharat Peer does, with great sincerity, pursue the cause of Kashmiri Pandits and their exodus, his account remains predominantly of a Kashmiri Muslim’s account of the war, with the pandits becoming unfortunate victims as bystanders. I am curious to read a similarly highly skilled, well-researched account of the Kashmiri Pandits.

Books I would like to read after this:

  • Homage to Catalonia – Geroge Orwell
  • More of Agha Shahid Ali
  • Accounts of Kashmiri Pandits. Immediately perhaps: Rahul Pandita on Our  Moon has Blood Clots

Ways this book influences me:

  • It’s a writer’s obligation to tell stories with the courage and conviction that Peer has
  • While uploading this post, I was going to categorize the post under the category of “India”. But I correct myself. In deference to Peer and the Kashmiri’s call for Azadi, this post gets the distinct category of  writings on “Kashmir”.

Thanks to Kangana for her link to a recent article by Peer: