What made Pandits of Kashmir to migrate? What made them to live as migrants in the land which was alien to them, where the conditions were totally different to what they had in Kashmir. What made them to think that they are not the part of this community anymore? What made them to think that they do not belong to this ‘Reshi’Vaer’ anymore?
Siddhartha Gigoo, who was born in Kashmir and left the valley in 1990, in his debut novel ‘The Garden Of Solitude’ has tried to answer these questions. These questions are bound to arise especially in the minds of youth who are curious to know about the migration of Pandits, an inseparable part of the Kashmiri society.
The book is in the narrative form and while keeping all the ideological and political differences (if any) aside, the author has tried to present the humanitarian side of the situation which led to the mass migration of the Pandits during 90s. In the beginning, the book presents a clear image of how Pandits and Muslims lived in peace and tranquility. They celebrated the festivals together and shared each other’s sorrows and happiness.
According to Gigoo, the Pandit families were always on the forefront to contribute their bit in education at a place where he narrates how Pandit teacher would teach both Muslims and Pandits. One day the teacher left without informing anyone.
Beautifully depicting how the elders from both the communities were living together from past many decades. They would discuss religion, politics, philosophy, Rumi’s poetry and many other things with each other. Adding to this communal harmony, Gigoo narrates how the daily interactions of women from both the communities used to be full of love and care.
A significant part of this togetherness was relation of young boys with each other from both the communities. They would study and play together, sharing the best memories of life together. It was them who were unaware of all the events that followed. Due to the turmoil which erupted during 90s compelled the breaking of these relations. Pandits had to migrate. They couldn’t live together for the rest of their life like their elders and the ancestors.
Gigoo writes about the horrific situations when all these interactions and relations broke. It was the time when they felt that their past was a dream and they are moving towards a new reality. The brute reality compelled them to break all the emotional and the spiritual relations forever. The compelling movements were when Pandits found themselves stuck, unable to judge. However, they were not ready to do so but the conditions were totally different and against.
I found the book full of emotions and heart rendering incidents which one has to face, especially when living as a migrant. Gigoo has succeeded in presenting the real image, of the emotions and sufferings, of that situation which resulted in their migration.
The book, which follows Sridar, a fourteen-year-old boy grappling with the loss of his birthplace, is full of heart-rending details. From beginning to end, The Garden of Solitude beautifully presents genuine emotion. In focusing on the lesser-known plight of the Pandits, the book does not address the parallel miseries inflicted on the Muslim community. However, all in all, the book is a worthwhile, thoughtful read, full of nostalgia.
Irfan Tramboo is a freelance writer based in Srinagar. He can be reached irfantramboo[at]gmail.com