Kashmir. The name evokes feelings of great beauty on one hand, and deep pain on the other. At one end, there is the mesmerizing picturesque natural beauty unparalleled in the world. On the other hand, here is a land marked by violence and instability. Deepa Agarwal’s book of short stories, titled Kashmir! Kashmir! (Scholastic India) looks at the Valley with a new perspective- that of its children and young adults.
Here comes a fresh voice that weaves the beauty and the pain, with the lives experience of the youth who call Kashmir home. Each story is a window into the life of the young common citizen. What are their unique struggles against the background of the situation they live in? What are their hopes, dreams and ambitions? How does the fact that they live in Kashmir influence these dreams and aspirations? What are the added nuances of growing up here? What is childhood like in Kashmir?
The book starts off with a promising story and then it just gets better and better. In the first short story one can sense how a young girl saves a life just because she is able to run fast. A talent, which was not really encouraged owing to her gender, now becomes her greatest strength.
All the stories on one hand evoke the natural beauty of Kashmir. The reader will be transported into apple orchards, feel the cold biting snow as well as the fragrance of crocus flowers. The sights and sounds of Kashmir are integral to the stories, as are the unique cultural elements such as cruising on the dal lake to sell wares, plucking saffron strands and weaving kani shawls.
Stories, even if they are fictional, can often tell us more about a place than news reports and statistics. A short story alluding to stone-pelting, takes on a human angle. A ghost-story is ridden with the deep pain of loss. In another tale, a father teaches a young son to take on the reins of their business of selling wares to tourists. Teenagers and young people, whose lives are so similar and yet so different from their counterparts in other places of the country.
I believe that Kashmir Kashmir is a beautiful collection of short stories that must be read by young adults as well as adults. They capture the essence of what it means to live amidst difficult times albeit on what they call heaven on earth. It provides a nuanced and fresh perspective on the young adults in Kashmir, who have their hearts filled with hope and dreams, just like youngsters everywhere else. It is a book that will foster empathy. Kashmir Kashmir is a simple book to read and will be a heartwarming and delightful read, opening a whole new world for the reader.
Age: 13 years plus