Deepa Agarwal’s Kashmir! Kashmir! ( Scholastic India) is a stupendous collection of short stories meant for children and young adults. There is something in it for everyone. There are nine stories that are told from varying perspectives of boys and girls and in different scenarios. The stories are very evocative of Kashmir. Whether you have been to the state or not is immaterial but if you have, then the tiniest description brings back a flood of memories. As Shantanu Duttagupta, Publisher, Scholastic India, says in his note to the book:
We hear so much about Kashmir in the news that we tend to forget its beauty — the people, culture, mesmerizing landscape, food . . . the list goes on. Deepa Agarwal’s writing is atmospheric and brings to life some known and unknown wonders of this beautiful part of India.
Deepa Agarwal achieves precisely this. She captures the heart and soul of this excruciatingly beautiful state and the difficulties under which its children are growing up. In a slim volume, the author manages to cover so many bases. Beginning with the fear that the children, especially young males live under, when they disappear unexpectedly and it is assumed that the boy has run off to join the militants. So in “The Case of the Missing Weaver” when Bashir’s elder brother, Murad, a supremely talented weaver, goes missing, everyone is worried. Or there is the reality of clashes between the Army and the locals with stone pelting being a fairly common occurrence, that young Rehman too had participated in but when he was rescued by Armymen after being trapped in an avalanche, there was a flood of emotions. Similarly there are so many other aspects of Kashmir’s tough reality that are covered with sensitivity by Deepa Agarwal to the extent that the stories throw up some universal truths like not allowing gender biases get in the way of parenting ( “Run, Zainab, Run”). Then there is the sad reality of Kashmiri Pandits having to leave their homes but when they return to the valley, they do so with some trepidation ( “My Kashmir Diary”). The trip to Kashmir with his parents is movingly recorded by Atharva in his journal and the reception that they received from his mother’s erstwhile Muslim neighbours and her best friend from childhood, Munaiza. Then there is the real anxiety felt by people due to the pandemic alert. It is drawn out well in “Lockdown” when Humra and her family have to manage her mother’s depression. The gentleness with which the children become adults before their time and manage their elders is stunningly created by Deepa Agarwal.
There are so many details packed in this book that are astonishing such as Kashmiri cuisine is done so well. The predominantly non-vegetarian dishes are mentioned calmly without any apologies. It is a respectful acceptance of the local culture without exhibiting any prejudices and thereby hopefully allowing the young readers to be acquainted with the variety that exists in our fabulous country.
Kashmir! Kashmir! is a supremely elegant collection of stories that must not be restricted to children and the school market alone. It is meant for readers of all ages and needs to be seen prominently in trade publishing and bookstores.
17 Jan 2021