Amitava Kumar, writer and academic, has a new story out in PEN America, described as “a journal for writers and readers”. A Collaborator in Kashmir is a troubling account of a journey that Amitava makes to Sopore in north Kashmir to meet with Tabassum Guru, wife of Afzal Guru, the man sentenced to death for his part in the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. It makes a welcome addition to the unmasking of the terrible apparatus of oppression that has been spawned in the last two decades of military occupation in Kashmir.
I quote a passage from the piece here, because it connects Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul with our own Srinagar:
Reading those words I thought again of Srinagar. I had flown in from “a rich Western city,” and everything there looked drab to me, draped in a dirty military green. Every house that was new looked gaudy and vulgar or curiously incomplete. Many structures were shuttered, or burnt black, or simply falling down due to disrepair. Pamuk writes that those who live in Istanbul shun color because they are grieving for a city whose past aura has been tarnished by more than a hundred and fifty years of decline. I believe Pamuk was also describing plain poverty.
Jashn-e-Azadi had shown me another Srinagar. The film’s richness lay in the space it created, in the viewers mind, despite the violence, for thought and for color. The filmmaker had discovered again and again in the drabness of the melancholy the gleam of memory: the memory of blood on the ground, of the beauty of the hills and red poppies, of the keening voices of mothers, and painted voices of village performers. Also the memory of the dead, of falling snow, of new graves everywhere, and the shining faces crying for freedom.
Others have spoken to me of a sense of connection between Pamuk’s evocations of Istanbul and Kashmir, but Amitava Kumar evokes that synapse with grace and unusual intelligence.