Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Recommendation: The Meadow

One of the joys of reading a work of fiction is when you finish the book, you experience a sensation of leaving a world behind. Especially in the case of a tragedy when you feel attached enough with the imaginary world that you feel a cloud of gloom hanging over your head but detached enough that you feel gratified from experiencing that world and at the same time have no problem getting on with real life. When the work is non-fiction, however, and it concerns a land that you've visited and an incident that you were old enough to remember vividly, the sadness won't be compartmentalized anymore.

The Meadow describes the events around the kidnapping of six foreign tourists from the Kashmir valley in 1995. Too many of us are taught to believe that Kashmir is a simplistic case of a neighbour trying to snatch what is rightfully ours. Somehow the whole place is filled with single dimensional innocent cutouts that are caught in a game played by politicians. And perhaps, the blacks and whites of that portrait just have to be inverted to see Pakistan's version. With its thorough research, this account digs deep into many of the characters, and perhaps, that's why left me feeling defeatist about whether it's possible to extricate ourselves out of the mess. Both the people of the valley and the officials who govern them are victims for the most part, but also can be perpetrators in measures that vary with circumstance. The role of the neighbour does not come as a surprise but what's most disappointing is the duplicity of my own country. Everything seems to be set up, on all sides, to win the tactical day-to-day battles even at the risk of dehumanizing everyone in the process. So forget about the border getting decided amicably any time soon. Forget about not worrying about bombs going off in our parliaments and in our trains. Forget about repatriating people who were chased out of their ancestral homes. This mess is here to stay for a while.

I wanted to also add that you should read the book for its extensive research and its effective prose, but, like I said, stepping back and appreciating the aesthetics of a narrative of something so upsetting is hard to do just yet.


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