The novel "Birds of the Snows" by Tarannum Riyaz explores women’s freedom and social mores in Kashmir
Author Tarannum Riyaz
Book House

The novel “Birds of the Snows” by Tarannum Riyaz explores women’s freedom and social mores in Kashmir

The novel "Birds of the Snows" by Tarannum Riyaz explores women’s freedom and social mores in Kashmir
  • The book “Birds of the Snows” by Tarannum Riyaz has been translated by the author from the Urdu original “Barf Aashna Parindey”.

  • This sensitively written novel traces the journey of a family in Kashmir and primarily the life of their daughter, Sheba, as she studies and discovers her own path. Sheba wishes to be free, just as the birds that she likes observing, but understands the need to live within social conventions and accept life’s responsibilities.

  • This deftly translated novel depicts the changing times in Kashmir, from a rural to a more urban life, the impact of modern thinking, and through its portrayal of female characters explores their compassion and resolve, as well as their search for self-fulfilment.

  • Read an excerpt from the book below.

Behind the plum tree, there was a small mound of brown earth on the soft ground. The birds had scattered half-eaten raw plums like flowers on it. The sun had set a short while ago and the fragrance of walnut peel and leaves wafted across on the cold breeze from the orchards beyond the rather wide but just ankle-deep stream.

A dupatta-clad girl of medium height was walking towards the plum tree, gazing at it with anxious eyes. For many hours her heart had been pounding in a way it never had before, yet the moment she set her teary eyes on the branches, she felt her heart come to rest on some object; but then the object fell to the ground, and her heart fell with it and got lost somewhere too.

Tears flowed down her pale cheeks. Crying without parting her lips, she reached the mound and, kneeling down, buried her face in it. It had dried in the sun during the day, but now her tears were making it wet again.

Patwari uncle had left, leaving her alone there. As the girl heard his steps fading away, her sobs became louder, sounding in rhythm with her trembling body.

That day, Sheba had been reading the story of ancient man; her father was helping her along. Hearing Abbu’s heavy breathing and occasional coughing, she felt he was tired, and asked her father if he wanted some water. As she went to the kitchen to get a glass of water, she saw many half-ripe cherries from the cherry tree near the compound wall scattered on the grass—thanks to the birds, especially the parrots. Abbu had said she needn’t go so far as he could always drink from the copper surahi on the side table. The surahi had recently been plated with nickel in the month of Ramadan and was shining brightly; the tiny branches with birds and flowers carved on it were now clearly visible. But Sheba wanted to get fresh water from the kitchen for her Abbu.

The distance from the porch of the bungalow to the kitchen was just about 50 steps but she stopped in between to pick a few cherries and even tasted them secretly—the green cherry was hard, the white-and-red one sour. She wanted to taste some more cherries, so that she could know in how many days they would ripen but most of them had been pecked at by the birds…and for many days now, her guess had been wrong. Cherries are very tasty! Also, you can select two pairs from a bunch of cherries and wear them dangling from your ears like big red pearl earrings! Everyone wants to wear such earrings and eat them after some time, and wear them again and eat them again…that’s why it is so important to know how much longer the cherries are going to take to ripen fully. She could certainly have shown them to Ammi but then Baaji—her elder sister—would blame her that she ate soiled cherries and made Ammi eat them too. But no one can scold Ammi, and Ammi doesn’t in fact eat them! After washing them, she tastes a bit of each and then announces how much time they will take to ripen. She then throws them in the garbage, but Baaji could still hit and scold Sheba on this pretext.

Sheba looked around and walked quickly to the kitchen. Hiding some cherries in her small fist and carrying a glass of water given to her by Noori Nana, the cook, she had already spilled half the water by the time she reached Abbu. But taking the glass in his hand, Abbu smiled pleasantly and gulped it down.

‘Want some more?’ Sheba asked, nodding her head up and down like Ammi.

‘No, beta (child). Thank you very much,’ Abbu replied, smiling again.

Abbu was sitting in his big chair, checking Farkhi’s progress report. She looked at the wooden chair; it was painted deep brown, with flowers, creepers and leaves carved on it in such a way that they easily caught the light. She sat down on the carpet holding the book in her lap, from which she was trying to read, Abbu correcting her now and then.

‘Early man lived in caves.’ She completed the sentence slowly.

‘What is the word for cave in Urdu?’ Abbu asked her.

Gaar,’ she replied.

Abbu shook his head from right to left. ‘It’s not gaar, it is ghaar; you have to say it using the base of your tongue.’

‘Yes Abbu…gaa…r.’

‘No child…ghaa…ghaa.’

Abbu looked at her but did not smile.

‘Yes Abbu…ga…ga…ghaar.’ Sheba growled a couple of times and, ultimately saying the word right, burst into laughter.

‘Yes, there you are!’ Abbu laughed too.

‘But what is the difference between the two Abbu?’

‘A big difference, beta, pronunciation is very important. Do you remember what you did yesterday?’

‘No Abbu, I don’t.’

‘You pronounced qualeen (carpet) as kaaleen.’

‘Yes, but afterwards I could say kaleen, I mean qualeen,’ she laughed again in celebration of pronouncing the word properly.

‘So, nothing is hard if you really try to do it,’ Abbu said smilingly, yet in all seriousness. ‘Oh God, this child does not take any interest in her studies!’ His forehead was furrowed.

‘No, Abbu. I take interest in my studies. I will read all those books you’ve bought for me.’ She looked at Abbu, her head bent down, her eyelids touching her eyebrows, her chin on her chest.

Abbu shook his head again.‘Oh no, not you my child! I’m looking at Farkhi’s report card. I know you’re very good at your studies and love to study as well. And I know, by 3rd grade, you’ll be reading these books fluently,’ said Abbu.

‘Farkhi!’ Abbu called out loudly so that Abdul Qayoom would hear him and send Farkhi to him.

‘I’ll call Farkhi, Abbu!’ Sheba said, and ran out to the lawn where Farkhi was playing with her friends from the neighbourhood.

‘I’ll play for you. Go inside, Abbu wants to speak to you.’ She pushed Farkhi from behind, who was sitting in a row of four playing kho-kho. Farkhi ran inside.

The novel "Birds of the Snows" by Tarannum Riyaz explores women’s freedom and social mores in Kashmir

Excerpted with permission from Birds of the Snows, Tarannum Riyaz, translated from the Urdu by the author, Niyogi Books. Read more about the book here and buy it here.


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The novel "Birds of the Snows" by Tarannum Riyaz explores women’s freedom and social mores in Kashmir