A Fistful of Earth and Other Stories by Siddhartha Gigoo is a collection of short stories which takes you to the world of turbulence and banishment. The short-stories are about the loss of human lives, longing for the home, the resurrection of the exiled people, old friendships, memories, desolation and sufferings. The stories will move your heart, make you shudder and think about the happenings described in them.
The book begins with a story The Search which is about a researcher interested in histories and biographies of banished people. His study in the museum library leads him to the discovery of a disappearing clan. The story is attributed to extinct human species of Kashmir valley – Kashmiri Hindus. The author hints at loss of culture, language, and desecration of ancient Hindu heritage in Kashmir. In this story, the author mentions about eleven original specimens left in the entire world. The author actually refers to the time in Kashmir, centuries ago, when only eleven Hindu families survived in valley during foreign Islamic rule.
Another story titled The Last Haircut is the depiction of time in Kashmir when the Pandits were getting killed by their acquaintances. The two young boys who have taken to guns were given the task of killing their teacher who was a Kashmiri Pandit. But they didn’t succeed as the teacher never returned home that day. After some days, the young boys came to know by a chance encounter with the teacher’s wife that he never returned back to his home that day when the boys had planned to kill him. This story highlights the period in Kashmir of 1989-1990 when Hindu families were planning to leave their homes after selective killings of their community members.
In Poison, Nectar, the author narrates poignantly about a family of Kashmiri Hindu refugees living in squalid camp in exile away from their home. Around two years ago, the author has made a short-film The Last Day based on this story.
There are, in total, sixteen stories in the book which portray the different aspects of the lives of human beings. The book ends with a story A Secret Life which is about a monk, who upon having a chance encounter with a young man at a railway station, doubts his own knowledge and understanding of human nature and life.
Siddhartha’s stories are very allegorical. Even without mentioning Kashmir explicitly, he narrates very well the varied narratives of people who faced turmoil without taking any sides. Through fiction, the author has tried to paint the cataclysm of the land – to which he belongs – on paper. The stories talk about conflict societies, and how the conflict takes toll on the people and changes their lives. His stories unravel the predicament people face in conflict regions. These stories are the author’s stunning imagination put on paper.
While some stories are easily understandable, deciphering of a few stories is not so easy. There are some stories which you may not understand in first reading. Nevertheless, the effort you take to read those stories again and interpret them is worthy.
This book is a beautiful addition to Indian writing in English, more so, an addition to the literature on Kashmir. Read this book for its metaphorical writing and stunning imagination and of course, for Kashmir.
(Published in DNA)