As we celebrate 'freedom' this Independence day, at a time when freedom is compromised and comes with conditions, I read a book that make me deliberate on the same. What is freedom? Who is free? Is one citizen more free than another? Does every citizen feel free? Do we consider their feelings of freedom?
I don’t read non-fiction.
There, I’ve said it.
Which is why I was surprised that from the time I received this book, two days ago, I haven’t been able to put it down.
I heard the author Divya Arya speak at Funky Rainbow's Kashmir themed book bazaar and I knew I wanted to read this, or at least attempt to read it. So I pre-ordered it.
BBC journalist and author Divya Arya brings together two young teenage girls, Duaa who is born in Kashmir and experiencing all that is going on in Kashmir and Saumya, a Delhi teen who is watching the goings-on in Kashmir, from outside...through the news and social media.
The author gets the two girls to communicate as pen-pals, through old-fashioned letters. This wasn’t as simple as it sounds. First, permission had to be taken from parents, the erratic Kashmir postal service was circumvented by scanning the hand written letters and emailing. The blocked internet in Kashmir, ever the spoilsport. (reading this book, made me realise just how much of a human rights violation this is...something the rest of us take for granted.)
The conversation between the two girls touches upon the turbulent history of Kashmir past and the current events in its troubled present. The authors commentary bridges the questions and statements in the letters, explaining their context with political and historical narrative which gives the reader a deeper understanding of what the the girls are experiencing and feeling.
What struck me as I read this book, was that young people everywhere want the same thing and they are open to understanding the other.
Many of Saumya’s questions are my own.
Duaa’s answers and the authors narrative...
Made me see things as they are.
Made me question the opinions I have.
Made me angry about the preconceived ideas I hear bantered about by ‘experts’ and the unfounded ideas I hold myself.
Made me want to read more.
Made me want to understand.
As bombarded as we are with news, propaganda, arm-chair experts views and just unfounded ‘truths’...this is what I think a book should do.
Duaa writes, in response to Saumya's question..."What do Kashmiris want freedom from?"
We want freedom from cruelty of the world, freedom from discrimination, freedom from the people who think that we are inferior to them. Trust me we are not inferiors but equals.
A powerful statement, one that will resonate with many in India and around the world.
In a later letter Saumya explains why she actively participates in the anti CAA-NRC protests...
Because I believe discrimination against anyone is discrimination and that we need to oppose it anyhow.
It is beautiful to see the tentative questions and politeness from both girls initially, open out beautifully into a friendship that wants to understand and feel for the other.
I love the time that letters offer...so different from our instant responses via messages or emails.
Letters make you pause, reflect, deliberate and only then respond.
I could not help but think that this would be a wonderful project for children to communicate.
Two sets of children who are experiencing life differently, communicating, sharing and learning from each other.
An important must read, not just for teens but for grown-ups too.
I’m going to say this again, because I do not do so often...MUST READ.
It is a book filled with hope.
I would recommend this book for children aged 14+ and definitely for adults too.