Author: Chirajit Paul
Kashmir, the paradise on earth as has been immortalised in the Farsi couplet (which finds a place in this book as its subtitle) by Amir Khusro, is a contentious place for politics and flaring azaadi sentiments. A lot of books have been written in the recent years, by both Indian as well as international authors, with Kashmir as its backdrop – all of them containing storylines of its breathtaking scenic landscapes, liberation struggles, anti-insurgency movements, the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and the impact on Kashmiri Muslims; in varying proportions, depending on where one stands on the political spectrum and ideologies vis-à-vis Kashmir.
However, the title of this book seemed confounding to me. What did the author think while titling the book “Sea of Kashmir”? Was the author foraying into the literary realm and meant something like the saffron fields or the Kashmiri people- as in ‘sea of blooming saffron fields’ or ‘sea of multitudinous Kashmiri citizens’? Or was the author delving into legends- as according to the Neelmata Purana, the land of Kashmir was occupied by a vast lake ‘Satisara’ and this was drained to defeat the demon Jalodbhava. Did the title refer to this legendary sea? Also, the book cover shows waves serenading an actual sea. On reading the book, the title seemed apt and the readers should discover about it themselves, as more information on this can give away the plot.
Talking of the story, continuing the current political dispensation and climate, the book fast forwards to 2030. The storyline follows a lot of characters who are interconnected through family relations or friendships, subtle love or intense hate; and also the land of Kashmir. Syed Manzoor, the chairman of the Hurriyat Conference is the common thread that connects all characters. He has a pro-Indian son Zaheer, a professor at Delhi University who is not interested in his father’s freedom struggle. Prakash Kaul, a young firebrand leader from Jammu is his best friend’s son, and his divorced daughter Zubeida and Prakash are friends from college, also having a common passion for Urdu poetry.
Syed Manzoor’s nephew Zaid, like his late father Ahmed Manzoor, has been with the Hizbul Mujahideen. Since his father’s death in the hands of the security forces, he hates everything Indian. He likes the Swiss national Angelika Zeller, the young and beautiful independent observer for the United Nations. But Angelika in turn only cares about the veteran Indian Army officer, Colonel Baldev Singh Sandhu. In these state of matters, Dr. Stanzin Namgyal, the Buddhist scholar from Ladakh and a common friend of the Kauls and the Manzoors, acts as the conscience to all. On a fiercely rainy night in 2030, a strange thing happens and the fate of Kashmir changes, so does the fate of all these people.
The book has been written in a very simple language, and the political characterisation is well founded, considering the portrayal of the three diverse and seemingly different regions of the state- Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. This can be seen in the instances where ideological and political differences are catered to. However, these well- founded characterisations are somewhat flawed, being sometimes different from the current ground realities. This may be due to the futuristic narrative followed.
This is a political saga in which the liberation struggle of Kashmir takes an unexpected turn- and the readers on reading this book will come to know that this story shows another instance of Paradise lost- though not in the form of lost political ground or in the literary way, but in the literal way.