Exiled. From land, from family, from friends, from the garden that used to separate the homes of relatives, from the tree that bore fruits, from the river that flowed, from the chill in the evening air telling of the arriving winters, from the morning sun that shone and rays fell through the curtains to wake them up, from the celebrations of Shivratri, from the steaming kahwa whose aroma itself gave warmth, from the love, laughter and from everything that was once HOME.
When the Hindu Pandit exodus happened in Kashmir in 1990, none were to know that such a horrific incident could give back anything worth, but with this book, we have an exception. Our Moon Has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita is a memoir of a lost home, of thousands of Kashmiri Pandits like Pandita himself, when they were forced out of the valley by insurgents funded by our neighboring country. But you may ask what good has it given? The biggest good it has given us is hope, hope that despite such barbaric crimes being committed openly against a part of the society, and after suffering at the hands of these barbarians, there remains enough humanity alive in them to not want the same thing for their tormentors.
Pandita was a young boy of 14 when he fled from his 22-roomed home in Srinagar with his parents and sister to Jammu where they lived in a single room, shifting localities and landlords for several years before he was able to save enough to buy a house in Delhi NCR. The story flits between the past and the present and is narrated by Pandita, who now is a journalist and still lives away from what was once his home. I don’t think I need to mention the gory details of the exodus which makes me shiver each time I read about it. How the families threatened than would have dealt with it, I can’t even begin to comprehend. The fear, the torture, the murders of loved ones…and the final blow of being chased away from their homes, these people had real strength to survive it.
While a lot of books talk about what happened in Kashmir, none that I’ve read talked about what happened after that, the reality of the refugees and the impact the exodus had on their lives. The promised government help, the rehabilitation, and the retribution of the culprits, all just stay in papers or election speeches. Almost closing the third decade anniversary of the exodus, the Pandit community still remains in refugee settlements out of town, for the lack of better facilities or out of sheer habit and comfort, I don’t know. They have become hostile, both to those who want to help them and to those who want to dupe them and I can’t blame them. Whenever I go for a vacation to some other city or country, I start feeling a little homesick even before I begin my journey though I know that I’ll be coming back in a few days. Imagine not having this fall back at all, the feeling of being homesick with no home to go to. You, or I, or anyone who hasn’t been through what these people have been through can never, never know what it feels like to have a home, and not be able to go back to it, to unwillingly leave the place where our ancestors had lived, and fathers have lived and we had lived and to wander into uncertainty, to become refugees in our own country and have no sense of identity, to being duped, ridiculed, taken advantage of and looked down upon, and to one day go back to the place that once was our home and find someone else calling it their home, with authority and without our consent, heartbreaking.
I hadn’t known about the 1990 Pandit exodus until I came across my first ever book on it late last year. I was ashamed, both at what had happened and myself, for not knowing about it earlier. But I am wiser now and have started reading true accounts on the issue. Chancing upon this book was no coincidence, but well-done research and a thumbs up from fellow readers. I knew this book will prove to be a life-changing chapter in my life and it truly proved to be. The feeling of homelessness (no pun intended) crept up in me when I turned the last page, what next? The book left me drained emotionally, and I haven’t been able to pick up anything after it. It’s been more than two weeks if you must know.
I read this book both fast and slow, not wanting it to finish yet wanting the author’s ordeal to end. The words tugged at my heartstrings in the beginning, gearing up for a full-fledged attack on my emotions after just a few pages into the book. Of all the questions that hadn’t been answered, and probably will never be, the biggest that remains is why? Why did it have to happen? Why did they do it? Why the Pandits? Was it necessary? What has been achieved? Are human lives so cheap? We would never know.
The burden is not of the things left behind, but what we carry in our mind, the memories of the place that was once home.