Talking about his book Palimpsest, the American literary great Gore Vidal made the interesting observation that "a memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked." Judged by this definition, Rahul Pandita’s Our Moon Has Blood Clots (Random House India, 2013; p. 258; Rs. 499) is memoir and autobiography, both – for it is quite clearly how Pandita has remembered, and continues to remember, his own life even as the co-terminous historical bits that provide the overall tapestry appear to be well-researched by him. Its sub title “The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits” is an apt caption for the overall concern of the book, which is narrated through the memory of a young boy cut suddenly from his moorings and cast adrift, this memory growing and segueing into a memory of adulthood and late adulthood with its attendant heartbreaks and heartaches, broken dreams and hopes, always in one exile after another. And then the overlapping lives, and in turn memories, of many other people. Genre classification being an easy way to identify the type of book one has bought/ intends to buy or is inclined to read is hardly iron-clad, overlaps being rather common in contemporary literature. Many such genre-benders are around. The memoir that has close parallels with OMHBC, Curfewed Night, is one such. It has a thirteen year old Basharat Peer reconstructing his own personal life over the next decade and a half and providing a glimpse of the universal around him in the process. Rahul Pandita was a year older but his personal and universal ‘remembrance’ over the next two decades from that identical reference point is uncannily similar to that of Peer. Only that it is the ‘other’ narrative – in no way cancelling the other ‘other’ out, nor even in an adversarial space – completing, in a way, the circle of understanding. The takeoff point in both narratives is the same – January, 1990, but as Pandita perceptively observes this is also the point of divergence of ‘truths’. The point where decades or centuries of modus vivendi that came about through various little life strategies of generations of people belonging to the two communities – one a preponderant majority – of Kashmir came suddenly unstuck. This was the clear point of rupture from where there are two sharply different perceptions of truth – at least one of them being visible till now to the world of literature while the other was unarticulated. Our Moon Has Blood Clots fills that void.
For more than two decades a dominant, self-contained and seemingly seamless narrative has sought to occupy the public mindspace as far as Kashmir, the problematique, is concerned. The separatist discourse in Kashmir has arrived at a homogenized, standardized narrative that puts the point of inflection of the underlying social tension in Kashmir in 1947, or even earlier in 1931. It has undergone a subtle change from its early expression by excising the tribal invasion of October 1947 and linking social tension to the beginning of Indian presence on October 27, 1947 thereby placing an overarching ‘nationalist’ political narrative on a social one. It would have one believe that the jackboots that became visible in the nineties were present all through the earlier years of ‘occupation’ in much the same way and tenor. For those who know their Kashmir, and most certainly for Kashmiris themselves, this will come across as a monstrous lie for Kashmir valley was demonstrably the very picture of peace in the intervening period of time that is sought to be clubbed with the period of tension at either end. This separatist or ‘nationalist’ discourse makes its own myths to formulate its ‘truth’. One may well ask here: what, after all, is the truth about Kashmir? The truth is that there are several truths about a multi-dimensional event envelope like the one Kashmir has been for more than six decades in general and during the two decades gone by in particular. Karl Popper, the eminent 20th century philosopher, says: “Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.” Harold Pinter, the celebrated playwright, in a direct and unscripted ‘address to camera’ in his Nobel lecture in 2005 said: “Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond with the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.” Again, in the chapter ‘How not to Talk about Fictions’ in Literature against Itself Gerald Graff, the literary theorist, argues that the question which postmodernist criticism has apparently laid dead, the question whether literature makes a claim to knowledge, a claim to be true, needs to be ‘reopened’. He gives as his very simple reason for this that literary works do not merely contain sentences dealing with particulars but something more. I would go a little further and say that literary works work towards a gestalt– a paradigm more than the sum of its constituent parts that contains, within itself, a truth that is at once personal and universal, seminal and terminal.
Our Moon Has Blood Clots is unmistakably a literary work, a deeply moving account of loss, dying and ‘re-incarnation’. It would be wrong to try and situate it in the palimpsest, if you will, of competing political narratives that have come to describe Kashmir, for it is not political writing. A memoir (that incidentally contains a dazzlingly cinematic ‘memoir within a memoir’) that can at the very most be called a social document by the reductionist social/ political critic (who has usurped the literary space of our times and is forever at turning art academic) – a social document that chronicles a deeply felt personal story of loss across space and time, across generations and geographies, unremitting and ever present. OMHBC neither legitimizes any politics nor de-legitimizes a competing one but simply chronicles the coming apart of a society and the concomitant loss of home and hearth of a part of the same society, and for that untainted vision the author needs to be complimented. The language of OMHBC is not the chiselled, artful language of ‘high literature’. It is unpolished and a little raw, lending a charming cadence to the book that might well go on to define it stylistically. This excellently produced book is not free of copy and typographical errors, but these are minor.
All in all, a compelling read for several reasons!
Shantiveer Kaul writes in Urdu and English. He is also known for his translations. He is a newspaper columnist as well.