Book review: Rumours of Spring by Farah Bashir
A life of loss
Farah Bashir’s poignant memoir is set in the Kashmir of the nineties. It`s a coming-of-age novel, only, in that particular period, coming of age meant navigating the challenges of living in the lethal shadow of conflict. The memoir examines a combat zone, the survival skills and state of mind that needs necessarily to be cultivated, the chipping away of self-esteem and dignity that happens.
Rumours of Spring is Bashir’s debut novel, and the deceptive simplicity of its prose is a neat contrapunto to the complexity of the lived experience it deals with. The book is divided into simple chapters denoting a specific time of day, each of the chapters a study in survival, by Bashir’s family as well as the larger community.
The nineties in Kashmir was a severely strife-ridden time, wracked by demonstrations, strikes and militant attacks. Cries of `azadi` rent the air even as the army stepped up its efforts at battling the insurgency. And, as is always the case, the common man was the collateral damage in this battle.
Bashir`s account strives for a matter- of- fact tone; however, the details cannot but move the reader. This is where existence itself becomes smaller and more precarious, where children are felled by stray bullets, young men disappear after being picked up by the security forces, an overwhelming feeling of fear and insecurity pervades the air. There is the ironical contrast between newspapers from the Valley, with its roll-call of the dead, and those from the plains with its colourful advertisements denoting an altogether different, more carefree way of living. Cinemas are shut down, schools operate sporadically, there is the tragedy of a whole community, the Pandits, being forced to flee their homes. There is the everyday humiliations and indignities that the ordinary man is subjected to.
There is also the remembrance of things past, of gentler and happier times. Bashir skillfully intertwines the threads: the way it was earlier, the present state of siege, and how it affects her family. Some of the manifestations of this state of affairs is physical, like Bashir’s trichotillomania, her grandmother’s worsening asthma or even her small nephew`s uncontrolled crying, triggered by any loud sound. Then there is the ominous sound of jackboots marching during curfew, the Damocles sword of those boots entering the house, as happens during a crackdown when their house is searched, the unbearable anxiety when a family member comes home late. And how death circles the family, looking on, waiting.
The glimpses of a more peaceful time become all the more precious. The seemingly banal activities of going for a film or to a beauty salon, dancing to music or even attending school regularly, all attain a significance marked by its absence. It brings home forcefully how the minutiae of daily subsistence is so valuable, denoting normalcy and stability. Bashir illustrates this beautifully, showing how important windows were to the family. Every member used it for different, happy reasons. Gradually those windows were closed and remained closed, and of course, there is a concomitant shift of balance in their way of thinking, feeling, living.
The author has thanked the famous poet Agha Shahid Ali for the title of the book. Ali’s famous line ‘My memory is again in the way of your history,’ is indeed apt for this book. In Bashir’s recollection of a turbulent period in Kashmir’s history, both the personal and the political mesh. This narration of a litany of losses is unsentimental but the pain and the yearning is all too obvious.
Farah Bashir joins the likes of Mirza Waheed, Basharat Peer, Paro Anand, Madhuri Vijay and others who have written about Kashmir and the situation there. And just like those books, this moving account too is required reading, for those who wish to know and for those who would prefer to look away. Because those who live there do not have the luxury of such a choice, and Bashir’s memoir illuminates their life and loss.
Rumours of Spring By Farah Bashir; HarperCollins; 228 pages; Rs 499.
This appeared in the Sunday Express magazine of 05 September 2021.