Why did I read this book?
As the intolerance debate plagued the country, I had come across a very thought provoking article on the hypocrisy of fringe elements in proclaiming India as intolerant nation state. The article provided 2 significant premise highlighting how media has time & again selectively politicised issues in favour of votebanks: the Malda Crisis 2016 & exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990. It piqued my interest to understand, that how a nation high on the rungs of development, remains crippled in form because of its reliance on regional politics and communal terrorism.
It is disturbing to note that even after three decades, we witness the Kashmir crisis manifesting itself again in various forms: Afzal Guru and JNU – Kanhaiya sedition charges. So what is the backstory that led to one of the worst cases of ethnic cleansing in the history of modern India ?
The Plot Summary
How does it feel to watch your friends disappear and your family asked to flee Kashmir overnight, the place which has been your home for decades?
The book traces the accounts of a young 14-year old boy through the dark periods of 1986-2006 in Kashmir with facts laid threadbare about the humanitarian crisis. As the boy grows up, the story of kashmir unfolds, starting from fringe attacks in 1980s, rise of militants in 1990, civil disappearances in 1990s ultimately leading to 3 million Kashmiri Pandits being displaced from their houses or killed during that period.
The lives of an ordinary KP family settled in AnantNag changed irrevocably after the summer of 1989. The dormant signs were always there, signalling like the ides of March, like the waters of the spring turning black*, the atrocities in summer of 1989. This book is a memoir to their lost home in Kashmir.
What are my views on the book?
When I finished the book, I could not help but marvel at the impact Rahul Pandita’s book had created: his writings were not elaborate, his language was not superfluous, yet the impact was profound. In just 200 pages, Pandita spun a heart-wrenching tale of the unacknowledged plight of the Kashmiri Pandit refugees. I was moved by the vulnerable situation of pandits, appalled by the atrocities conflicted on them, enraged by the governments’ utter disregard and heartbroken given their state of affairs even today. But, how could I not feel those emotions as the boy narrates us his incidents? How could I quell the torch of indignation and injustice within me as I witnessed the sufferings of three million Kashmiri Pandits?
The selective elimination of Kashmiri Pandits had always been prevalent throughout history – their temples vandalized, riots breaking out, they were always discriminated against. I remember one of the incidents the author mentions: Back in second grade, he had a fallout with his Muslim best friend on a trifle issue. His friend retaliated by deliberating pissing on a picture of Goddess Saraswati. During the only India-West Indies cricket match played ever in Kashmir, the crowd cheered incessantly – “Pakistan Zindabad”, leaving the players dumbfounded on which soil they played. Further, the local media was bold enough to send flyers in newspapers with instructions to all Pandits: Raliv, Ghalib or Chaaliv (leave Kashmir, convert to Islam or die)
If anything, the summer of 1989 only intensified the communal terrorism through the involvement of Mujaheeden militants. Pandits were selectively targeted, hunted down and shot point blank within their own houses in front of the family. What had started as fringe activities, infiltrated the whole valley in a state of no-return. And not a single person was spared – 80-year old eminent poet had nails hammered in his forehead, women drowned themselves in the Jhelum river to preserve their honour, continued civilian disappearances occurred leading to ‘half widows’. More so, it was the betrayal by friends and neighbours which propagated the terror. Despite sharing the same neighbourhood for centuries, there were instances of Muslim families who increased the Azaan volume to drown the gunshots as militants shot their Hindu neighbours. Such was the extent of cruelty. Little did the young boy realise when they fled Kashmir, that they would never return. As fate would have it, Pandits were treated as refugees in their own country and would live in perpetual exile.
I cannot impress enough upon the chord Pandita strikes with the readers. His candid style makes no attempt to conceal his emotions through the pages. The book ends with Pandita’s visit to his ancestral now, now resided by a Muslim Family that bought it for a pittance. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes as his mother, now settled in Delhi, reminiscences of their forgotten home in Kashmir – the one with 22 windows. How the Indian government remained a silent unsympathetic spectator witnessing these million lives being torn, yet refused to take any concrete steps in fear of losing the Muslim support remains an enigma to me. It is amusing that in today’s context we speak of an constitutionally intolerant India at the drop of an hat. Filmstars and awardwaapsi are trivial issues which gain traction as the media choses to highlight them. However, we remain gleefully ignorant of the other pressing issues India faces, facts to which we have been tolerant and silent for ages.
The heartbreaking story of the heaven on earth deserves to be told. It is a narrative of nobody’s people. And Rahul Pandita, take a bow, for you have served as the unforgotten voice of this land.
Bottomline: The book is like an eye-opener. Poignant, heart-wrenching and thought provoking. Very few books will leave you with an aftertaste of such varied flavours. Must-read.
*It was widely believed in the Pandit community that whenever any horrifying event would happen, the colour of the spring water would turn black or black. It served as a premonition to the summer of 1989
Name: Our moon has Blood Clots
Author: Rahul Pandita (Published in 2013)
Genre: India Non-Fiction, War Memoir
Awards: Awarded 2010 International Red Cross Award for conflict reporting, Shortlisted for CrossWord Award 2013
‘Exile is round in shape, a circle, a ring.
Your feet go in circles, you cross land and it’s not your land.
Light wakes you up and it’s not your light.
Night comes down, but your stars are missing.
You discover brothers, but they’re not of your blood.
We breathe air through a wound.
To live is a necessary obligation.
So, a spirit without roots is an injustice.
It rejects the beauty that is offered it.
It searches for its own unfortunate country….’