The other side

August 21, 2022

Farah Bashir, in her coming-of-age memoir, documents her life in Kashmir during the 1990s

The other side


umours of Spring by Farah Bashir is a coming-of-age memoir documenting her life in Kashmir during the 1990s. She is a photojournalist and communications consultant. This is her first book. The chapters - titled, Evening, Night, Early Hours, Dawn, Morning and Afterlife - are divided around preparations for Bashir’s grandmother Bobeh’s funeral.

Each of the chapters carries multiple flashbacks to her family’s lives, and by extension, the lives of most Kashmiris during that period.

In conflict areas, mainstream news coverage often revolves around strategic aspects of the situation and the big-picture questions. The human cost of it all is frequently left to be covered in statistics. The emotional, psychological and cultural losses are mostly ignored or covered too little, too late.

This memoir shows the aspects of the impact of violence that are mostly brushed aside to make way for ‘bigger’ issues, in an honest if raw manner. Bashir takes the readers on a journey of life in the Valley that changed drastically in 1990 when massacres, curfews and barbed wires became a ‘normal’ part of their daily lives.

For Bashir, life is divided into two parts: before 1989 and after. While waiting for the time when like her elder sister she too would be allowed to visit a salon, she was super excited when at the age of 12 she got her moment to go along with her sister. While she was out, shooting took place in the streets and in the resultant chaos, the two sisters had a narrow escape. On making it home, they found their family in a state of panic as the news of a child close to Bashir’s age being killed was doing the rounds. They would learn later that the unknown child was a cousin of hers.

After that, even the most ordinary tasks like walking to the bus stop, studying for examinations and household chores within the walls of their home or opening a window to air a room were riddled with anxiety and fear.

Search operations, commonly known as “crackdowns,” and curfews becoming the norm. Simple pleasures of life that many take for granted were curtailed. Activities and traditions that are part of the Kashmiri culture (as basic as storing staple food for the winter season, and grinding chillies in the backyard), could be interpreted by the troops as hostile actions or part of some plot.

One could be in the wrong place at the wrong time even without leaving one’s home as in the case of an asthmatic neighbour who cracked open a window to get some fresh air and was instantly killed by a bullet.

As a precaution during her menstrual cycle, Bashir preferred to endure the pain silently instead of getting up for her medicine at night in case a creaking staircase should put her family in harm’s way.

In the evenings, neighbourhood children were no longer seen playing hopscotch or hide and seek in the courtyard as such a choice of games could be interpreted as a reflection of a day-time routine of ‘encounters’ between the troops and the militants. Toy guns were made out of wooden planks and discarded wires.

Bashir highlights the anxieties of women living close to troops’ bunkers. She mentions the Kunan Poshpora incident of 1991 when many women were raped by soldiers in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora.

Some friendships were unexpectedly terminated as her Kashmiri Pandit neighbours, left in 1990 after communal hatred between Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus resulted in heightening tensions.

Given the circumstances, it should not come as a surprise to the reader that the author was eventually diagnosed with the PTSD. A survey taken in 2016 showed that 45 percent of Kashmiri adults showed symptoms of anxiety, depression and the PTSD.

At one point in the book, comparing the newspapers where the local dailies were filled with various incidents of violence and horrific images of the victims, while at the same time the national publications carried a considerable segment of ads showing people how they could enhance their lives, Bashir writes:

“To wake up to the rays of the sun without having the previous night’s sleep interrupted by screams of the neighborhood women who’d run after the armed personnel in convoys that took away their husbands and teenage sons in nocturnal raids. To only care about using the right colognes and worry about the right detergent, to not have to constantly think about the availability of vegetables, milk and medicine during long, erratic periods of curfew… I wondered what life would be like if there was some certainty in our day-to-day affairs. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? It felt more like a dream…”

Amidst this frustrating tragedy where one feels so helpless in the face of blatant injustice by the world’s power brokers, there are glimpses of human resilience as Bashir sneaks in some happy moments. Like when she carried the imported music system bought by her father in Saudi Arabia to an unused storeroom to secretly dance to Nazia Hassan’s Disco Deewanay, among other popular tunes of that time.

We also see the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir; from pherans, kangas, kahwa, and nun chai to traditional foods served at weddings and funerals, and many practices that help people survive the harsh winter. The way Bashir uses the Kashmiri language to capture the nuance of the moment is wonderful.

For a very long time, outsiders have been telling the stories of Kashmiris. Rumours of Spring is a poignant addition to the list. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the Kashmiri side of the story.

Rumours of Spring

Author: Farah Bashir

Publisher: Liberty Publishing, 2022

Pages: 240

Price: Rs 1,095

The reviewer is a digital    communications and marketing professional. She tweets at   @FatimaArif

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