iveting, absolutely riveting! The book Rumours of Spring by Farah Bashir, published by Harper Collins last week, keeps you glued to it till you reach the end of it.
The book is the first by the author. But what sets it apart is the fact that the chapters run like a fine tapestry of artwork from the start to the end. I would like any memoir on Kashmir by any Kashmiri who lived the years of conflict to be close to around 400-500 pages but even the thinner ones make stories, well-written and as vivid as they are experienced in the real life.
It took me 4-5 hours to read the book because the details are so relatable and the chapters so precise. There are around 36 small chapters in the book.
The main character in the book is Bobeh (Kashmiri for grandmother), the grandmother of the author. Bobeh is an affectionate word. There are different names for a grandmother in different languages across the world, all full of love, but Bobeh is a class apart. Bobeh encapsulates simplicity of thought, transpiring wisdom for girls and boys alike. She is a saviour who prevents and protects a vulnerable young kid from the beatings of a father or some other neighbourhood hulk. “Ven nahaz karinae ( He won’t repeat the mischief).” Bobeh is the transmitter of whatever residues remain of the deceased toath (grandfather).
I could relate more with the word because my Bobeh happened to be of a mould similar to that of the author’s. In Kashmir, where schools remain shut for a substantial part of the academic year, Bobeh assumes an added role in the homeschooling of the children.
The pearls of wisdom flowing from Bobeh, as mentioned in the book, become the organic part of one’s person throughout the life of a child. “Mas gov kouri hund vas” (Locks are jewellery to a girl) indicates how intently Bobeh does take care of the author’s hair, using all types of vernacular and time-tested preparations.
Rumours of Spring is a story that can find resonance across Kashmir, from north to south and east to west, without any exception. From all the nitty-gritty of how life in Kashmir is lived to the diction commonly used to interact, socialize and live, the book marks an essential break from the earlier books published on Kashmir. Perhaps, the first time a reader within and without Kashmir can understand how the Kashmiri language does belong somewhere in the world. It has a full body of sociofacts, artifacts, mentifacts etc in itself.
While one would have loved the book to move beyond the time frame of 1988-1994, that can be expected in some future book by the author.
For the first time, a reader finds that the language of resistance, so important to understand a conflict, has developed by a mile in Kashmir.
The depiction of how life changed from 1990 onwards and how massacres, shootings, curfew, night curfew, concertina wires etc became part of life has been given a reporter’s tinge in the book. The examples of change for the worse have been given in myriad things like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), SSRI antidepressant medications, shut schools, lost employment, crackdown and literally everything under the sun.
Farah talks about such minute things as livun (a light variant of water-based chalk paint applied to the walls to prevent them from looking weather-beaten). The word livun has almost faded from the public memory now but was important up until some years ago when the walls and daan (earthen firepot) were mud-coated rather than with concrete.
I was fascinated by the word Kyencza, a low-cost yet full of love mixture of different sugary eatables, to mollify a child. With the advent of burgers, sandwiches, rolls etc, the Kyencza word is rarely used now.
One gets to learn a lot of Kashmiri anecdotes, aphorisms, phrases and the cataclysmic changes wrought unto them by the intensification of the conflict from 1990. It talks about the lexicon that became all too common post-1990 in the reports purveyed in the newspapers and the news channels — naamaloom afraad (unidentified men), bandooq bardaar (gunmen), halaaq (death), halaaqat (in danger), firing, CRP (CRPF) etc.
The turn of phrase of the author is marvellous. One word trath (lightening), which the author mentions, is particularly beautiful in its usage. The word is used to curse somebody out of exasperation (trath peynas) or is used to be in awe of somebody’s beauty (trath hish).
A lot more can be written than my hastily-prepared review of the book. My rating of the book is between 4.0 to 4.5.
Those who have grown up in the Downtown area of Srinagar will find everything in the book to relate with: the places, the people and the omnipresent waan pyend (shopfront) where some of the fiercest discussions on many important a subject stir up.
I strongly recommend the book to anybody who wants to understand the everyday razzmatazz in Kashmir as viewed through a Kashmiri lens and language.