Trigger/content warnings: Rape, Murder, Violence, Terrorism, Death of the loved ones.
Srinagar, India: 20th January 1990
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday dear Bilal
Happy Birthday to you!!
Bilal’s mother sings the melody and his sister, father and some neighbours join in. It's Bilal’s 11th birthday, and he is not happy because his best friends Safeena Malik and Deewan Bhat are not with him. Bilal is not only sad but also angry with his friends. How can they not come? They promised. Poor Bilal does not know that Deewan and his family are hiding in Safeena’s house. Because there are people on the streets, cutting throats, raping women, killing children. What for? Azadi! Freedom.
Hum kya chahte? Azadi!
Hard dard ka marham? Azadi!
Chahe jail bhejo, Azadi!
Chahe goli maro, Azadi!
Ham chheen ke lenge, Azadi!
On the same night, Deewan loses his brother, and Safeena loses her mother. The beautiful friendship between Safeena, Bilal and Deewan and all the memories in a paradise called Kashmir vanish in the darkness of that night. The fact that Deewan and his family are Kashmiri Pandit forces them to leave Kashmir because that was the only way to live further. That one night turns their life upside down. Being Kashmiri Muslims, Bilal and Safeena's families suffer too. The only thing remaining undisturbed there is a tree with a thousand apples in their backyard.
20 years later, paths of these three friends cross only to relive the moments of friendships. But these moments are not so rosy and happy like their moments spent in childhood in the streets of Srinagar. These are the moments where they are tested, their lives are threatened, their homes are destroyed, their names are printed on papers, where they learn to kill people, they sacrifice, they cry, they almost die. Die!
“For us, Deewan Bhai, whatever it takes”, says Bilal in the end. Isn’t that a beautiful sentence to understand how deep their bond was. Their friendship knew no boundaries. That ‘us’ involves humans and NOT the people of particular religion or caste or any country. How about we always consider ourselves as ‘us'? How about blurring the boundaries of religion? How about being friends? How about just being humans? No tags, No labels, Nothing around our necks to give out the identities. I am not here to challenge your beliefs. But can we be just humans?
Three lives entangle in the most unexpected ways and thousands of other people. There's a thrill. There are moments you feel like screaming and crying, and no tears come out. You feel numb. Devastated. Extremely privileged to lead a normal life.
First of all, this is the most underrated book I have ever read. Why isn’t anyone talking about this?
Sanchit Gupta is a brilliant writer, and I can vouch for this statement. Reading this book was one hell of the experience. I was afraid to put down my experience in words. Because what I witnessed in this book isn’t usual. And the fact that it is based on true events didn’t only thrill me but also filled me with rage at so many moments. I realised that being alive is a simple thing but not for everyone. It’s a luxury for some. This book shows you that face of Kashmir that you don’t see on travel magazines. This book shows you that face of our system that you don’t see in newspapers or news channels ( because of course, we are busy covering celebrities). This socio-political drama is a must-read. It was emotionally and factually educational for me as I usually do not look into border matters. Because let’s be honest, I don’t understand it. It is always masked with some political agendas. How often do we see the people who are suffering? Rarely. We look at the sides. We take sides. We define the sides.
A must-read. I highly highly recommend it.