A tale of two Indias in letters | Book Review — Postbox Kashmir: Two Lives in Letters by Divya Arya

Letters are not just feelings inked on paper but documentation of lived experiences and are history in the making. For the authors that come from the land called ‘Paradise’, being heard becomes extremely important.

By Reya Mehrotra

An India that worships its soldiers’ sacrifices and one that dreads the forces; an India that sheds tears for them when they are martyred and an India that cries in fear; an India where the students dream and an India where dreams are crushed, an India well acquainted with privileges and an India where even basic facilities are a privilege—Divya Arya’s Postbox Kashmir published by Duckbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House, unveils the two faces of a country that have existed in parallel since decades.

A compilation of letters exchanged between two teenagers (Duaa Tul Barzam and Saumya Sagrika), one living in Kashmir and one in Delhi, the book is a coming-of-age story that starts with an introduction to each other’s worlds and progresses as it traces the problems, the daily lives of locals and the changing political atmosphere of the lands the girls come from. Arya breaks in between the letters and talks about the ever-changing landscape of Kashmir to give the young readers a background to the political events that led to Kashmir’s destiny. From a friendly conversation between two young girls to the removal of Article 370, interrupted Internet connections and impacted lives, the letters touch upon everything that a common man goes through as a resident of a disputed land.

Letters are not just feelings inked on paper but documentation of lived experiences and are history in the making. For the authors that come from the land called ‘Paradise’, being heard becomes extremely important.

Saumya’s curiosity in knowing about Kashmir brings forth the stigma and the stereotypical notions attached to the land in chaos. “Here whenever people hear anything about Kashmir, the one word that comes to their mind is ‘Muslim’. I want to know if it’s true that only Muslims live there,” asks Saumya in her letter to Duaa.

Duaa shares how for women, stone pelting became an act of defence and they got the title of ‘the stone pelting girls’. The letter exchanges which were facilitated as a part of a BBC project provide a gendered lens to storytelling by women, and as Arya puts it, “They had to be young. When the mind is less rigid, still open and forgiving.” The letters act as an introductory handbook to the problems of Kashmir from a Kashmiri to an outsider.

Postbox Kashmir and all other books on Kashmir and by Kashmiri writers echo the Kashmiri sentiment of being alienated in their own land. It often seems like the hostility towards Kashmir may have dried out the hospitality (popularly called ‘Kashmiriyat’) yet the Kashmiri survives, living one day at a time and accepting their fate.

Postbox Kashmir: Two Lives in Letters
Divya Arya
Penguin Random House
Pp 208, Rs 299

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