Jaffna Street. The name might make you assume that it’s about Sri Lankan civil war, but in fact, takes you to a corner street in Srinagar where militants and Indian Army collide regularly. Jaffna Street by Mir Khalid explores the story of people who are affected by this conflict for decades. Some of them have fled their homes, some of them are still living in Kashmir in hope that one day, the peace in the valley will return again.
In 1989, a schoolboy from downtown Srinagar witnessed that how his elders left their daily occupation from university, farms, and factories to pick up arms and fight a war of attrition against the Indian state. They started a war which has been now going on for 22 years now.
Jaffna Street is a compilation of Mir Khalid’s explorations of the human dimension of this conflict. It comprises of anecdotes, personal memories, and interviews. All these experiences in Jaffna Street take the reader on a ride to Srinagar, from it’s notorious and politically charged downtown and as well as its upper cityside belt to create a panoramic portrait of recent Kashmir history.
Khalid has profiled ordinary people- hitmen, insurgents, artisans, failed Marxist intellectuals, gangsters, and regular people. People who may not be famous and may not have an opinion on the current situation in Kashmir. But these are the people who tell Khalid first-hand accounts of what unfolded in front of their eyes since 1989.
Kashmir conflict is very emotional for both India and Pakistan. Both are patriotic for Kashmir, both want to die for Kashmir. But no one asks Kashmir what she wants, which side she is on and why is she so quiet from past few decades. Millions picked up arms for her, many killed for her, but nobody asked her what she wants.
Kashmir issue is described in two ways- One from the media which twists and turns all the facts for their TRPs and second the intellectuals who downright blame Indian government and army for the situation in Kashmir. But people like Mir Khalid and their books like Jaffna Street helps us in bridging the gap between truth and fiction. Prior to Jaffna street, I have read books of Siddharth Gigoo who also shared first-hand accounts of the general public of Kashmir. But even after reading so many books on this issue, hearing so many things from authors, nobody is still able to decide what turn will this conflict take tomorrow.
The beauty of Jaffna Street is that Mir Khalid has taken no side while writing this book and has shared the situation of Kashmir in a very simple manner. Even if someone who is not aware of what is going on in Kashmir and picks up Jaffna Street, that person would transport back to Srinagar and feel as if everything is unfolding in front of his/her eyes.
There are seventeen stories in the book, starting with eight stories covering years 1990 onwards, titled as “The War”. A time when Kashmiriyat was on the rise and teenage boys picked up arms to save their motherland. In these stories, we meet Zee, who escaped from his home to become a militant and train with Pakistan. But in the end, horrors and tragedy leave him numb. We also get to read about how Kashmiri Pandits were exiled from their home, forced to live in cramped quarters of Jammu. We read about Jaffna Street, where militants and Army fight to survive till their last breathe.
The second section of the book is “Reveille” covering they years 1950-1989 which depicts how during that time, there was only one Kashmir. How Pandits and Muslims lived together without any conflicts. And how slowly and gradually, infiltration started happening, leaving their beautiful homeland hollowed from inside. The third section, “The Past as Memory” covers the time period of 1947-1950. Out of all the stories, The Butcher’s Wife is my favorite, and make sure to read this one if you pick up Jaffna Street.
I have noticed a thing these days in the book world, especially Indian book market. Many writers and bloggers are rising from the valley, sharing their distress and their point of view. They share what all their struggle is about, why have they picked up arms and what they need. Some of them really peaceful, other horrific. Just like this, Jaffna Street can be added to the list of must-read works of Kashmir because of its simplicity and no biases.
Guns and stones have failed, who knows may be written word might be able to save Kashmir and take its struggle forward. All in all, make sure you pick up this brilliant book.