Farah Bashir, who was born and raised in Kashmir, is a journalist-turned-communications consultant. Her memoir, Rumours of Spring: A Girlhood in Kashmir, is a poignant tale of the conflict zone, which is narrated by her as an adolescent.
“As a teenage girl, growing up in a conflict-stricken territory happened to be a dual struggle: to make sense of the militarisation of domestic spaces and to learn new social etiquette — informed by war — to navigate life,” she writes.
Her memoir captures how growing up in a conflict zone can wreak havoc on impressionable minds. Khaleej Times caught up with Farah, who lives between Delhi and Srinagar.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
What was it like growing up in Kashmir?
It was intense in every way. I grew up in downtown Srinagar, the old quarters of the city. It’s an ancient city, which is dotted with architectural monuments, historical structures and shrines that date back to hundreds of years. Growing up there meant listening to folklore, following unique rituals and traditions, some of which had travelled hundreds of miles through the Silk Route. There was a deep sense of history and also contemporary understanding of politics. The area was also a hub of political activities. The political air was always surcharged. Instability and uncertainty were part of our lives much before the 1990s. After 1989, it became more restive and growing up there meant being full of high-strung emotions for children and adults alike. On the streets, inside homes. It was the decade in which life and events changed on an hourly basis. From facing not just the mortality but growing up in those years was also confronting the fatality of one’s culture and land.
For a young girl, each event was an out-of-body experience of being overwhelmed, fearful, wanting to escape it all and hide somewhere safe. But one lacked the articulation needed to frame questions to understand the metamorphic changes. It took many years to process those changes before one could express them succinctly.
Your book Rumours of Spring: A Girlhood in Kashmir reminded me about Palestinian writer, Suad Amiry, whose book Sharon and My Mother-in-Law had delved into being stuck in a curfew for 40 days.
I read Sharon and My Mother-in-law after I had completed two drafts of Rumours of Spring: A Girlhood in Kashmir and the intertextuality of it fascinated me. There were striking similarities in the experiences that she narrates about some of the incidents in Palestine, which also had happened in India-administered Kashmir in the 1990s. Among other chapters, especially in Sharon and My Mother-in-law, she writes about beating pots and pans to give ‘civil disobedience’ a distinct sound. That reminded me of a time in the mid-1990s in my native Kashmir, when we had made a similar cacophonous sound to fight “steel daen”, which I write about in the chapter Metallic Monster. That was seen as sound of resistance against intimidation tactics by the state.
What’s the most dominant emotional feeling of Kashmir between 1989 and 1994 that you can recollect?
For a young girl, it meant inhabiting many realities at the same time. It was a time of juxtapositions; you went to school to study, but you also had friends whose parents were shot dead during that time. Weddings and funerals went hand in hand. The basic rights of accessing the washroom at night was not a possibility because of the attention switching the lights on could have attracted. When you left for school, college, work or to run an errand, you weren’t sure of returning home alive. My cousin — who was 13, which was my age in 1989 — was killed by a stray bullet after he had gone out to buy shoes with his father, a day before Eid Al Fitr. There was no control that an ordinary person had over anything. As a young girl, I indulged in self-harm and pulled out my hair for 30 years as if to escape the reality, as if to create a sense of meaning of what was happening around us, to us, what had befallen us as a people.
Your book also reminded me of Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red.
That sounds interesting to me because when I began to write in 2008, I remember reading My Name Is Red a few times because what stayed with me was the way he captures the Turkish way of life through its rituals and traditions and makes the experience memorable and intimate for the reader. Perhaps, what you read from the text echoed in me somewhere.
How therapeutic was writing this book?
What was inside me is now in front of me. Those memories cannot be escaped or forgotten. It hasn’t been cathartic because the loss has been too profound, at multiple levels. More than therapeutic, it has been an attempt at making sense of those years, processing the changes, creating some semblance of sanity.