‘A Street in Srinagar’ is a story of people residing in a small lane- a gali, Ailan Gali. The story is commonly uncommon. There are desires which are suppressed, love which is lost, children are born, old men die- few die young and few marry those whom they desire to be with, many stay back and few move to find greener pastures.
The narrative remains the same, even if you change the geography. You can place the same story in an old neighborhood of Nakodar, Varanasi or Ajmer. The poems of Kashmiri sages- Laldedi, story of Habba Khatoon, references to the myth etc. gives it a unique taste of Kasheer-Kashmir. Otherwise it is the story of next door neighborhood in a small town. The human desire and yearning for home is what is central to its characters. The references to eclectic way of life and the strong boundaries of tradition lead the reader to visit gray areas of prevailing social norms.
There is Ratni who rebels, there is Arundhati who is glued to the pillar of tradition, there is an old Masterji who is the eldest and most educated of all from his generation, there is Hakim Sahib who lost his business to the western medicine, there is Anwar Miyaan whose words become arbitration, there is Kundan who died young, there is Avtaara who moves to Bombay.
Most of us who are away from home because of the livelihood choices we made- the novel will look like a packet full of nostalgia- when unsealed smelling of kitchen at home. It is strange that in web of complexities where we debate about post modernism, fluidity of sexuality one hears the story which is like a hymn sung by an ageing ascetic in the neighborhood lane.
Let me tell you this novel is not worth reading if you want to know more about the confrontation between the army and the locals, if you long to have a glance of violence. The violence and political narrative is at the margins.
It takes time to figure out the temporal context as the novelist keeps you guessing. It is somewhere based in the era of late 60s and early 70s when Sheikh Abdullah is ruling, there are talks about plebiscite but the environment is generally peaceful.
The author summarizes the story of the novel in the beginning lines of second last chapter, “After sadness, there is laughter and after joy, a return to silent reflection, such is the fairground of life”, and that is the flow of the narrative. Novelist takes the liberty to narrate anecdotes referring to obedience of Ram, charity of noble daughter in law. Almost every chapter begins with pearls of philosophical wisdom of an old man sitting under the shade of Banyan tree.
Statutory Warning: The story can make you feel homesick and also push to think about the absurdities of life-where the cycle of time keeps revolving and rotating, where memories pile up and there are questions bigger than life and longer than lifespan to be answered.
Translated by: Manisha Chaudhary
Published by: Zubaan