The Less Travelled Street: A Review of Jaffna Street by Mir Khalid

Jaffna Street is a realistic portrayal of the Kashmir Valley. This book does not offer the usual tantalizing political background scores to ease out any or all culture shocks one may receive while analyzing the situation in the valley.

Jaffna Street does not offer the reader any suspension system to handle the bumps on the road. The reality is presented raw and first hand. Due to this reason, Jaffna Street is a shocking little book on Kashmir.

Indian non-fiction in English has a tradition. Apparently stemming from The Travels of Dean Mahomet written by Dean Mahomet in the early nineteenth century, Indian English non-fiction stayed well and lived long to see the twenty-first century.

To quote Prof. Rajiv Kumar, who wrote the Foreword for Jaffna Street, a person from Kashmir could “avoid anything but being political.” The same is true with Indian non-fiction writers in English. The politicization of the non-fiction genre in India is the corollary of the evolution of a few cultural forces. Two of them are immediate and visible: colonialism and caste. A prominent voice in this genre in contemporary culture is Arundhati Roy, author of The Algebra of Infinite Justice. Most Indian English authors have attempted non-fiction. The list of names goes on from Salman Rushdie to Chetan Bhagat. There are others in the annals of history who wrote only non-fiction and were well known for their contributions to national politics. Ambedkar, Gandhi, and Nehru are a few of those stalwarts.

Mir Khalid is a debutant author. Jaffna Street is his first attempt at writing a book in the non-fiction genre. Jaffna Street is subtitled “Tales of Life, Death, Betrayal, and Survival in Kashmir.” The presence of the word Kashmir in the title, a proper noun, a political entity, is evocative and suggestive.

Dr. Mir Khalid was born in 1974 in a prominent civil services’ family from downtown Srinagar. His clinical research has appeared in the British Journal of Surgery. He presently lives with his wife in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where is employed as a general surgeon.

The present political identity of Kashmir could be located by observing how people respond to its name. The demographic across the Indian subcontinent is diverse. The response towards Kashmir too, therefore, could not be expected to be uniform. A recent event in Jawaharlal Nehru University, where some students conducted a protest against the political ruling class, during which some of them shouted anti-Indian slogans demanding the liberation of Kashmir, could be seen as a sampling of this plurality of responses. Also to be noted is the strategies adopted by the state and the mainstream media towards the incident. Even the response towards a response deserves observation. Such observations could bless us with an immense variety of knowledge about Kashmir and its people.

Jaffna Street unravels the raw essence of the Kashmir valley by capturing the life and thoughts of the people. Author, Mir Khalid is from the Kashmir valley and writes mostly from his first hand experience of the life of the valley. In the first chapter titled, “El Gurrillero” the author narrates the journey of Zee through the conflict-stricken Line of Control that leads him to Afghanistan. Through the travels and encounters of Zee, a vista of political uncertainties comes to the forefront. What is more important is how the individual of the Kashmir Valley conceives his or her relationship with the Indian state. The term ‘azadi’ or independence has a uniquely indigenous meaning to the Kashmiri people. This could be a shocking revelation for anyone from outside the valley when one observes the above-mentioned issue at Jawaharlal Nehru University. It is apparent in Jaffna Street that a non-Kashmiri citizen of the Indian state must come to terms with the nuances of the term if the conflicts in Kashmir are to be resolved.

Jaffna Street has seventeen essays in three parts: The War, 1990 Onwards; Reveille, 1950-1989; and The Past as Memory, 1947-1950. The language the author uses in this book teems with jargons. As a result, the prose has turned out to be inclined towards less lucid. The Foreword written by Professor Rajiv Kumar reflects the purpose and scheme of the book up to the very texture of the elected prose of the text.

Published by Rupa Books of New Delhi, Jaffna Street has a cover that grabs the reader while the reader grabs a copy of the book. The book title on the cover is embossed and roughened to give a blacktop-like feeling to it. The cover is perhaps the first element that would appeal to readers irrespective of their class and political inclinations. Jaffna Street is inextricably political. Its relevance is enhanced by the news value of the region and conflicts it tackles.

Author(s): Mir Khalid
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Release: March 2017
Genre: Non Fiction/Politics
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Anu Lal is an Indo-Anglian-Southern author. Many of his short fiction, poetry, and essays are published in national and international journals. He is also a research scholar, educator, book reviewer, and a blogger.

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