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