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Creeping Discontent


Mala Pandurang

A STREET IN SRINAGAR
Edited by Chandrakanta And Manisha Chaudhry
Zubaan, Delhi, 2010, pp. 221, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 7 July 2010

In today’s troubled times, one associates the city of Srinagar with images of discon tent—protesting crowds, stone pelting youth, and armed patrols. In this context, the title of this book (A Street In Srinagar) draws expectations of a narrative on the troubled political situation in Kashmir. Instead, what Chandrakanta offers to us is an engaging portrayal of life in a particular section of the city, yet untouched by strife. The entire narrative is set at ‘Ailan Gali’—a deep, narrow lane at the heart of the city, where houses are so closely connected that the residents live in perpetual darkness: People here have built such amazing houses! Bungalows on a finger’s width of land. Some of them giddily as reach up five storey’s high, stretching crookedly as if to touch the moon. The narrow crevices between them are barely large enough to let in the sun. It is no better in the day time … to say nothing of the night. It is as if the ghosts of darkness have taken up permanent residence in the gali! (pp. 3-4) Yet despite the darkness that encompasses the street in daylight and nighttime, the residents of Ailan Gali share an intimacy and closeness that generates a sense of collective warmth. The homes of Anwar Bhai, Kanth Kaka, Sansarchand Purohit and Ratnichachi, among others, are ‘stacked against each other in shoulder rubbing intimacy’ (p. 4). As an outsider to Kashmiri history, I look out for clues that would help me to fix the temporal span of the novel. There are hardly any, save for a hint here and there at ‘Sheikh Sahib’s regime’ (p. 51), talk of the plebiscite and accession (p. 49) and ‘loyalties firmly with Maharaj Bahadur’ (p. 53). This is still a city where ‘the first snow of the season was always a time of laughter and play’ (p. 130), and tourists have just begun to frequent the houseboats on Dal Lake in large numbers. We can only surmise that the narrative is set in the late 1950s and extends to the early 70s. There are no references to the tragic violence in the Valley over the last three decades. A Street in Sringar has neither a strong narrative line, nor any central protagonists. Rather Chandrakanta presents to us a large canvas of memorable characters, more or less living in harmony, and abiding by traditional norms of hospitality and good neighboring. ...


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