As we grew up, the career options for all of us were not as many they are for current generation. Following your passion, if they were outside the confinement of ‘elite professions’ this society declared, took more than a little courage. But then you can only delay the inevitable if the resolve to follow your passion is strong enough. And her story is a testimony to that. She is Roxy Arora, a dental surgeon who in pursuit of her dreams went on to reach new heights as a writer, garnering appreciation from every ‘who is who’ of the fraternity.
“Dreams never die, the cause endures and the hope lives. I always wanted to pursue writing as a profession. I was a keen debater and essayist in school but because of various reasons I was unable to chase my dream. I do have to admit that after facing persecution you get caught up in a labyrinth of insecurity. I buried the writer in me and at my Father’s insistence joined Manipal University and became a Dental surgeon. But all these years, I kept the flame of passion ignited and burning inside me as the voices inside me confronted me every day. Finally, last year I strengthened my nerve with a robust backbone, and paid heed to the brigade of voices which steered me to write,” shares Roxy with a smile of a woman at peace.
Roxy was born in Jammu to a Doctor father serving as a Captain in the Indian Army who took premature retirement and went to the United Kingdom where Roxy grew up and received her primary education in the Lake District. She however returned to her roots and continued her education in Saint Mary’s Presentation Convent, one of the finest in the city. Roxy has some of the best and worst memories of her life with Kashmir where she would visit every year in holidays. Her last memory in Kashmir dates back to 1989, a couple of weeks before the valley faced what were going to be worst times in its history.
She shares, “I loved my state and wanted to stay back here but because of professional reasons my Father took a job in Kuwait and we relocated there. I studied in The Indian School Kuwait, till the 12th standard.” Continent hopping however became the story of her life as when the Gulf War broke out and Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, she had to flee the country and come back to India with the family. She continues, “I felt plagued with despair when were left Kuwait and the feeling only got intense when we reached here in Jammu. The place had undergone a severe makeover with migrant camps spilling over the city. My heart cried at the sight of the vulnerability of the evicted Kashmiris. My empathy towards them stemmed from my own ethnic cleansing. This feeling is what I always wanted to express.”
Roxy went on to become a well-known Dental surgeon, changing her city again as she married and got settled in New Delhi. But the passion was not to be contained anymore and thus this dentist came up with ‘Jihad In My Saffron Garden’. The book has been a raving hit among the readers worldwide being one of those rarest books that take the reader on a journey that unfolds the truths about Kashmiriyat and promotes AFSPA, the controversial act giving armed forces special powers.
“I just couldn’t think beyond the ravage that had accosted my precious state. The virgin snow in the pristine valley echoed with cries of pain and loss. I had to erase the blemishes that had welled forth from the blood of innocent people. My valley has been bleeding since nearly three decades now. How have we not realized the motives behind this mayhem? Our Globe has been shackled in this meaningless violence. My book which heralds the beginning of my career as a writer, carries the message of world peace,” she explains.
Roxy tells us more about her book, “The novel is a romantic thriller which originates in Srinagar. It depicts a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy who are in serious relationship. Both Roshina and Aafaq love each other fervently as much as they love Heena Qazmi, Aafaq’s tragically beautiful sister. But then when insurgency reaches its peak in 1990 and ethnic cleansing pushes out the Hindus, the lovers are separated. The valley of Kashmir becomes the world’s densest militarized zone. As calamity and heartbreak engulfs the two families their love is tested, not just for one another but even their glorious Kashmir.” The books also depicts ‘our brave hearts , our Armed Forces who battle the soulless enemies, the cruellest of weathers and the nastiest of allegations as they fortify our borders’, adds Roxy.
We ask Roxy if her story’s character has something in common with her to which she replies, “My story has a strong willed and level headed female protagonist who fearlessly crusades to restore Kashmiriyat to Kashmir. While I am not exactly like her but yes, one can view traces of my own persona through the character of Roshina Kapoor. That I had to I hold on to a reservoir of stormy emotions which are reflected in my writing tells a lot about the resemblance.”
Since Roxy has stayed for a good number of years outside the country as well as the state, she is arguably the best person to ask how the outside world sees Kashmir. She doesn’t disappoint as she shares, “Conflict in Kashmir has been going on for a lot of time now. Because of our deeply connected electronic highways and courageous media people awareness of the situation in Kashmir cannot be given a miss. Even when I resided abroad, the NRIs there were well informed about Kashmir as it was their favourite holiday Destination. The whole country believes in return of Kashmiriyat and establishment of normalcy in Kashmir. I haven’t met an Indian who doesn’t want rehabilitation of displaced victims and abandonment of violence in Kashmir. We don’t have to raise banners that Kashmir belongs to India, as it is our crowning glory, geographically and politically. And we share the pain our own people are going through.”
Being a writer herself, Roxy is as good a reader as well. “My love affair with writing evolved because of my love for reading books. Reading is a ritual I practise every day, 365 days a year. I have a fairly big library too in my house. In the classics, my most coveted possession is ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen. ‘Tess of The D’urbervilles’ by Thomas Hardy is the book which I can read innumerable times. But ‘Class’ by Eric Segal is my all-time favourite. Among the Indian authors, my loyalties lie towards Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh and Arundhati Roy.”
So what is Roxy’s greatest stress? “Sometimes as a writer, you get too involved in the characters you have created. And to come back to reality becomes a bit tricky. Writing from home requires the rigours of self discipline and the ability to create a balance,” she shares and also enlightens us with the fairly simple solution to it, “When you love what you do, you don’t begrudge the preserves of dedication required. So as long as it is your passion, you won’t find much difficulty.”
She turns to meditation and prayers to relax as she shares, “Like any normal person I do take stress, sometimes more than is good for my health. But with immense prayer and regular meditation I have been able to get the better of it. My mind used to wander backwards, and engulf me with grief at the thought of the loved ones who had left me prematurely. Once I started writing ‘Jihad In My Saffron Garden’, there was no looking back for me. Besides being therapeutic it helped me say goodbye to my deep pain and embrace wholeheartedly what I have.”
Roxy has a rather interesting story to share when it comes to publication of her book, something which isn’t always smooth for first time writers, especially in this part of the country. “Mystically, once I finished my manuscript, the first traditional publisher to accept my manuscript was ‘Prabhat Publisher’, a highly respected publisher in New Delhi. I stopped sending out my manuscript after that phone call. My father’s name was Prabhat. I don’t think I have to be more emotive in revealing what made me look no further. This was the biggest gift a Father could give to his child,” she smiles as she speaks.
Roxy whose husband is also a Dental Surgeon, currently resides in New Delhi with her 14 years old son. She visits her roots whenever her schedules permits as ‘staying away from this place for long’ is not good for her health. An introvert by nature, Roxy is currently working on a new manuscript which is a historical crime fiction as she wants to explore the complexities of the humans psyche. Although she doesn’t bog down the possibilities of a sequel to ‘Jihad In My Saffron Garden’ as this is a popular demand from her readers.
Roxy had this to say as we end our chat, “This is My Kashmir, Your Kashmir, Our Kashmir. The Kashmir which belongs to all of us. We all need to join hands in this quest to retain the purity and sanctity of the world’s most beautiful garden.”