New Books on Kashmir Reveal A Place of Great Beauty and Tragedy

After 70 plus years of conflict, Kashmir remains a place of great beauty and tragedy. In my new books from the Kashmir collection, I begin the story with what is true: Kashmir is an active conflict. It is unsettling and unpredictable. Every day, someone dies. Someone is detained. Or someone disappears. 

These are the lines of the first edition of Secrets of the Kashmir Valley, published by Pharos in New Delhi (2016). As I updated the book, I realized that the tragedies of conflict have multiplied.

Consider the events over the past 10 months that the Indian State has imposed on an innocent people: 

  • New Special Status Law (August 5, 2019; non-Kashmiris will be allowed to own land and settle in the valley)
  • New Domicile Law (April 2020; India offers new protection to non-Kashmiris)
  • New Practice of Communication Blackouts (no Internet or phone for days, weeks or months at a time)
  • New Weapons (the use of pellet guns on children and civilians)
  • New Demographics (Kashmiri Muslims will become a minority in their homeland)

Local Kashmiris in Indian-held Kashmir continue to be marginalized. In time, they fear the valley will be lost to non-Kashmiris and their land–their most precious possession–will be taken away from them. A local Kashmiri told me,

Things are getting worse here. Kashmir will not be the same. Ever.”

And thus, the tragedy continues in one of the world’s most beautiful places. A valley coined “Paradise on Earth” has been renamed “Paradise Lost” or “Paradise Burning.” Others have said that Kashmir “is the most beautiful prison in the world.” The tragedy of war, however, has not erased Kashmir’s untouched beauty: floating vegetable gardens in Dal Lake, blue-ice mountain slopes, the heavenly smell of saffron in autumn, sunflowers at full bloom in summer, and much more. 

Emotional Storytelling

Meeting with the women of Kashmir has been risky and rewarding. In the Special New Edition book, I describe encounters with mothers of martyrs, wives of militants, prisoners, protestors, and political activists. The women interviewed have one thing in common. They want a separate country called Kashmir. They demand self-determination. They fight for freedom. 

As a collection, these stories are a source of Kashmir’s modern struggle. The women of Kashmir have shown me compassion and courage. And so I write, because I am able to understand both cultures. Because I have a moral duty to share their triumph and trauma. My unspoken promise to Kashmir is that I will hold its closely guarded secrets. I will forever keep that promise.

1st Edition Published in 2016 (Pharos)

A Witness to Suffering

The updated Kashmir book is parsed into two books: Secrets of the Kashmir Valley (New Edition) and Untold Truths of the Kashmir Valley (stories taken from the first edition and more). The third book, Kashmir Is Heaven Enough, is a collection of poems. I started writing poetry when I was 10 years old and published my first article in the local newspaper in the state of Texas when I was 16–the article described poverty I witnessed as a teenage girl on the streets of Pakistan.

The stories I write are emotional. Writing about freedom always is. As a witness to other people’s trauma, and their enduring pain, I have been affected. Which means I write with pain in my heart.

I write because I can when other women do not have the resources or opportunities to tell their own stories in an enduring conflict. 

One of the most impactful and emotional stories is about Mughli, called “the lonely mother” by a local Kashmiri journalist. I met Mughli many years ago as a young researcher, and yet, I still remember her the most. Her story was so gripping that I couldn’t believe it was real. How could a woman spend 18 years of her life searching for her missing son?

Why didn’t she let him go? What compelled this soulful mother to live with hope? I thought. 

The Story of Mughli 

We walked through the large courtyard and followed Mughli up white winding steps. She lived alone in the spacious house. Stately rooms were visibly vacant and needed to be renovated. Mughli cornered herself upstairs in the kitchen. The walls were painted a turquoise color. Wooden beams supported the ceiling. Along a sidewall, small copper and steel pots rested on a gas makeshift stove. The gas cylinder stained with red and black paint was all she needed to heat water or cook a simple meal of rice and vegetables. She had no refrigerator, no fruit basket and no sight of grains. The ward-robed sized kitchen was disturbingly empty. Blankets striped in Christmas colors were piled against the wall. A glaring light from a bulb hung above our heads and a few candles burned frantically as a slow wind chilled the room.

We sat on a floor with thin mats. Zahoor told me she had everything right here. “My nephew’s wife is waiting for me to die,” Mughli said. “So she can claim this house.” She lived in her father’s house, where her son, Nazir Ahmad Teli, was born. His bedroom was on the floor above. Mughli kept it locked.

Mughli and me

Mughli spoke in her native Kashmiri. Zahoor translated for me, alternating between Urdu and English. “She’s very poetic,” he said. She stroked my cheeks. She assumed the role of a grandmother. “She said you look like a local girl,” he said. I was warmed by Mughli’s compassionate words and graceful gestures. She had accepted me as one of her own.

Conflicting thoughts about love, war, women, and religion resurfaced.

As I witnessed Mughli watch me, I was reminded of military mothers in America who waited for their children to come home. Like Mughli, American women served as their children’s guardian and provided care, protection, and a loving home. Their sons and daughters were some of my students in the U.S. military, now deployed to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mothers everywhere shared the same maternal instinct to nurture and nourish their families.

Mughli was exceptionally courageous as she continued to search for her son. She believed her son to be alive. He disappeared 18 years ago.

Available Now

The Kashmir Collection is available at a special discounted price at Farhana Qazi’s Store. Click the link below for your copy and discover Kashmir. 

 

 

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