Book Review: Jaffna Street by Mir Khalid

Book Name: Jaffna Street

Author’s Name: Mir Khalid

Rating: 5/5

Publisher: Rupa

Book Blurb: In 1989, an adolescent schoolboy from downtown Srinagar watched as his elders extricated themselves from university campuses, high-school grounds, handloom machines and farms to bear arms and fight a war of attrition against the Indian state.

Twenty-two years on, Jaffna Street was born from his explorations of the human dimension of the conflict appositely termed the Kashmir tragedy. Combining anecdotes, personal memories and extended interviews, the author takes us behind the scenes and headlines into Srinagar city’s ‘notorious’ perpetually politically charged downtown as well as its upper cityside belt to create a panoramic portrait of recent Kashmir history. He profiles ordinary people—hitmen, insurgents, artisans, failed Marxist intellectuals, mystics, exiles, gangsters and ordinary individuals—who wouldn’t make it even to the footnotes of history but have been crucial first-hand witnesses, participants or victims of some of the important events that marked the tumultuous and violent years of the insurgency.Jaffna Street attempts to trace these individual trajectories by exploring significant events in their lives within the wider adumbrate of history, without losing sight of the big picture.

Book Review: All works on the Kashmir insurgency can be perhaps classified into two categories, one is the account from Indian journalists which is chequered with their own prejudices and second is the account from foreign authors which focuses solely on the atrocities of the Indian state. As always, the truth is found somewhere in between. Mir Khalid fills this gap in the narration of the Kashmir tragedy, as it were and does it with class, backed by a lot of research.

Kashmir’s writers have suddenly found their voice and there is a lot of written material being poured from the valley. I have followed Siddhartha Gigoo’s work closely for some time and he does something similar- weaving stories on interpersonal accounts. I fail to understand why these authors took so long to get their voices heard. If the Indian publishers can waste paper on campus novels, surely they can spare some for such significant works?

A morbid state offers more content for a writer to maneuver than happiness ever does. It was therefore very surprising as a reader to find very little material on Kashmir from Kashmiris in the English language but better late than never.

Mir offers little judgment and is sympathetic to the Kashmir cause in a holistic manner. The book begins with Zee who crosses the border and gets trained to fight as a militant as many Kashmiri boys did during the height of the militancy period. There is Veer, the artist who finds earning a living as an artist is not very easy in a land ravaged by guns. The Kashmir cause has always been highjacked either from the other side of the border or from the intellectuals on the Indian side.

Sample this account of Veer’s struggle in Delhi-

“Browsing through the newspaper a few days later, he was anguished to find his picture beneath a news item in which this ‘benefactor’ had proudly and ostentatiously advertised her altruism in ‘helping’ Kashmiri refugees.’

The Butcher’s Wife is my personal favorite from Jaffna Street and a must read.

Mir is a gifted writer and has a good command over the written word. His prose is poetic and flows without hesitation. There is no sense of hidden anger or even sympathy for either side in this work. It is presented as it is. Jaffna Street adds to the list of must-read works on the Kashmir valley and it is perhaps with the help of the written word that the Kashmiris must take their struggle forward.

As the book mentions-

‘I clearly remember the sign at the entrance of the police station- read the anodyne HATE THE CRIME NOT THE CRIMINAL…’

 

 

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