The Tree with a Thousand Apples by Sanchit Gupta is a fictional take on the insurgency in Kashmir during the 90s, against the Kashmiri Pundits and the citizens’ fight for Azadi that followed, and is still continuing. There is not one but three protagonists of the story, Deewan Bhat, Safeena Malik, and Bilal Ahanagar, whose story we follow, from their childhood days through their adolescence and finally adulthood.
Deewan, Safeena, and Bilal are best of friends, living in the land they call Jannat, their lives are harmonious in the amity valley until one day everything falls apart. The fateful night of 20th January 1990, when the rest of the nation slept, thousands were being killed and forced to flee their homes because some miscreants wanted Azadi. And since that day, neither the refugees nor the militants have looked back. The beautiful place these kids called their home was being torn apart each day, by the army and the militants alike. For a sufferer, there was hardly a difference between the two – both carried guns, both shed blood and both were making their homeland impious.
The insurgency raging in Kashmir had its effect on everybody, while Deewan fled with his family to Jammu and then Bombay, Safeena lost her mother and brother to collateral damage, and Bilal took up arms, only to later forgo it for the sake of his beloved friend. After being years apart and with no news about each other, a situation arises which forces Bilal to seek out Deewan, now a famous journalist and poet. He asks for his bhai’s help to locate Safeena, who seems to have gone missing recently.
Will Deewan reach out with help? Will, they ever find about Safeena’s whereabouts, or will she be lost like the numerous others? What about the gap of the years that kept them apart and what about the reason for them being in this situation?
Narrated in the third person with present tense, the first word that would describe this beautiful prose for me is – captivating. Seldom I come across such books whose story I wish were real, and this is one of those, not for the gory and horrific things, but for the bond formed between the protagonists during the tender years of their childhood, to remain unharmed even after all the hate and tragedies decades later. How come they have such strong feelings for each other still? What makes them so that they are ready to sacrifice their own lives for each other? I may never know the friendship they share, nor will the millions who have never formed a bond so great.
The author seems to have taken special care when sketching out the characters, be it the protagonists or the inanimate Kashmir, which is rendered alive in the reader’s eyes through beautifully placed words. Never at any point, I felt like keeping down the book, and it only proves the ability of the author that I finished it in a single sitting! This is my first book on the disputed territory, and I am glad I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, it has sparked my interest in the history of this particular land and its fall from grace.
The depiction of the effects of a war, be it external or internal, is shown explicitly by the means of these three families. We think we are safe from harm if we are the oppressors, but we usually forget to look at the larger picture, a war does well to nobody. Oppressors or sufferers, both are punished in some form or the other. The displacement from one’s home is terrible, so is living in the place you have been living ever since, but can’t call it home anymore. Losing loved ones to someone’s’ selfish cause is always painful, it doesn’t matter which side you are on, blood will be blood and it will be red. Youths are often lured by the charm of money and fame, and yes, brainwashed into thinking that God wants them to do something particular. But they know not that all God wants them to do is to live in peace, here or there doesn’t matter, only peace does. And by the time they do realize this, it’s mostly too late, either for them or for others.
The summers will go away, the winters shall approach. But if winter is here, can spring be far behind? We can only hope to have the apples back, not just in thousands, but in millions, for all the lost years, for all the lost hope.