The mass exodus of Kashmiri Pundits in 1990 physically separated the two communities but they continue to have shared memories, ethnicity and culture, this is precisely what Bill K Koul is saying in the 210-page book, 22 Years (A Kashmir Story), that Dr Ajaz Lone reviewed
The book is an inspiring story about the Kashmiri Pundit boy who defied odds to survive and found his way back into the world. Born in Malchamar (Alikadal) to a homemaker and Jawahar Lal Koul, who retired as Jammu and Kashmir’s chief engineer PWD, Bill K Koul’s faith issues were seen contradictory. Some regarded him as half Hindu and half Muslim. Bill was influenced by many saints and religious scholars of Kashmir like Lal Ded, Shiekh Noor-ud-din-wali and Allama Iqbal. He is also influenced by Persian scholars like Abdullah Shirazi and Jalaluddin Rumi.
Bill believed that Kashmiri communities are the branches of the same tree included grafted branches; all of which receive nourishment from the common roots of that tree. Alien trees generally don’t bear fruits in Kashmir; it is prudent to replant and nourish the native trees instead, he has written.
The book is not a work of fiction. It is based on the authors own observations, thoughts, life experiences and real events. Lacking proper storytelling, the book includes certain references to the political turmoil of the 1990s.
The first half of the book provides a glimpse of the author’s life experiences in Kashmir and outside, including his childhood, schooling days and his youthful days at Regional Engineering College (REC). It offers some idea about the staunch vegetarian and cheese Pakora eaters extreme passion for cricket. In the second half, Bill’s political, philosophical and spiritual perspectives about Kashmir are unveiled.
The author significantly narrates the ordeal of Kashmiri Pundits which they faced after the mass exodus of the 1990s. Bill is of the opinion that unless Kashmiri Pundits don’t return to Kashmir and reinstate the tapestry of Kashmiri culture and spirituality, the return of peace to Kashmir is remote. A piece of cloth cannot be stitched without a thread, he believes insisting pundits will help to reinstate the unique Kashmiri tapestry. At the same time, however, the author is in self-doubt if the pundits will ever return home, given the level of distrust in their minds.
Bill is concerned over Kashmir’s social and ecological crisis. The author laments the sharp and systematic erosion of the traditional Kashmiri values and culture and the introduction of the replacing alien cultures. It seems, the author believes the natives of Kashmiris are consciously trying their best to shake off their historical roots and wear a new identity.
The author has put his dislike on record about the fall of the family from an extended and joint family to a nuclear one. The author also deliberated on the crisis in the institution of marriage and is of the opinion that in older days, it used to be arranged and would last for a lifetime. These days, a considerable number of young people choose their own partners. However, unfortunately, a significant number of those marriages fail soon after the wedding.
Bill also has reservations about the present food adaptability of Kashmiri people which is much alien to its traditional food culture. The book includes his social media conversations with a number of people from both Kashmiri Muslims and Pundit communities. It envisages the tops related to the completion of 25 years of migration.
Bill K Koul’s book is an interesting read, its humour and melancholy detail the concern of the author for Kashmir. It offers a glimpse of the change that Kashmir has undergone in all these years of trouble and turmoil. It offers a broad outlook about the life and times of traditional Kashmiri folklore particularly between the Pundits and Muslims and the exodus of the 1990s.
(Dr Lone is a postdoctoral research fellow under Prof Peter Ochus University of Virginia.)