Riveting, absolutely riveting! The book ‘Rumours of Spring’ by Farah Bashir, published by Harper Collins, keeps you glued to it till you reach the end. It is the first book by the author. 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 from any Kashmiri who lived through the years of conflict to be close to around 400-500 pages but even thinner ones make the stories, if well-written, to be as vivid as they are experienced in real life. It took me 4-5 hours of sitting to read it because the details are so relatable and the chapters are very 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 narrator. Bobeh is a romantic 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, source of wisdom for girls and boys alike, a saviour who prevents and protects a vulnerable young kid from the beatings of a father or some other neighborhood hulk (wunni naehez karinae, won’t repeat the mischief again). 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. In Kashmir, where schools remain shut for a substantial part of the academic year, Bobeh attains an added role in the homeschooling of the children. The pearls of wisdom flowing from Bobeh, as mentioned in the book, become an organic part of one’s person all through the life.
‘Muss gov korri hund vass’ (Hair of head is the jewellery of a girl) indicates how intently Bobeh does take care of the narrator’s hair, using all types of vernacular and time-tested preparations. It is a story which can find resonance across whole of Kashmir, without any exception.
From all the nitty-gritties of how life in Kashmir is lived to the diction commonly used to interact, socialise and, basically, 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 socio-facts, arti-facts, menti-facts, 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 of the author. For the first time, a reader finds that the language of resistance, so important to understanding 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, SSRI medications, schools shut, employment lost, crackdown and literally everything under the sun.
The author 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’ which has almost faded now from public memory but was important up until some years ago when the walls and daaan (earthen firepot) were mud-coated rather than given cemented concrete coats. I was particularly fascinated by the word ‘Kyencza’, a low-cost, but 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.
One gets to learn a lot of Kashmiri anecdotes, aphorisms, phrases and the cataclysmic changes wrought unto them by the intensification of the conflict since 1990. It talks about the lexicon which became all too common post-1990 in the reports purveyed in the newspapers and the news channels like naamaloom afraad (unidentified men), bandook bardar (gunmen), halaaq (death), halaaqat (in danger), firing, CRP etc. The turns of phrase of the author are marvellous.
One word, ‘trath’ (lightning), is particularly beautiful in its usage, which the author mentions is used to curse somebody out of exasperation (trath peynas) or is used to be in awe of somebody’s beauty (trath hish). There is a lot, lot more than can be written in a hastily-prepared review of the book by me. My rating of the book is between 4.0 to 4.5. For those who have grown in the downtown area of Srinagar, they will find everything in the book to relate with. The places, the people and the omnipresent waan pyend (group of people in front of a shop) where some of the most fiery discussions take on many important a subject.
I recommend the book strongly for anybody who wants to understand the everyday razzmatazz in Kashmir as seen through the Kashmiri lenses and the Kashmiri language.