BOOK TALK: Kashmiri author writes exile odyssey

Wed Jan 19, 2011 6:58pm EST
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By Rohan Dua

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Once the backdrop of romantic Bollywood movies in the 1960s and 1970s, Kashmir's idyllic image has darkened since a separatist rebellion broke out two decades ago, forcing many into exile from a beloved homeland.

Siddhartha Gigoo's debut novel, "The Garden of Solitude," is a poignant story about a boy named Sridar who belongs to a Hindu sect called Kashmiri Pandits -- like Gigoo -- and flees with his family from the divided, mainly Muslim Himalayan region.

Weaving together dreams, memory and reality, the book follows Sridar through his search for identity until he eventually returns to his homeland to seek out stories about ancestry in danger of being lost forever.

Gigoo, born in Kashmir in 1974, spoke to Reuters about his book and what it is like to live in exile.

Q: What prompted you to write this book?

A: "I was always interested in writing. Essays, poetry, short stories mostly. I knew writing a novel was a daunting task. One needs to know the craft well. But my dream was stubborn.

"What happened in Kashmir in the late eighties and the early nineties had a profound impact on me. Events such as militancy, the migration of Kashmiri Pandits and their plight in exile. It was all bizarre and too real to be true. Some events refused to fade from my memory.

"Years after I migrated, I began writing a story. The story grew, and I went on writing for a couple of years. I dangled between patience and impatience, and memory played truant with me. But my wife supported me. She didn't want me to give up."   Continued...