Snakes in the Meadows by Ayaz Kohli
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
Price: Rs. 295 INR(paperback), Rs. 170 INR(Kindle edition)
Buy here: https://amzn.to/2mepYVf
Jammu And Kashmir, 1987. In the hilly village of Pathri Aali, where legends appear true, Aslam and Ashwar, two young lovers, dream of marriage and of good things of life. But that is not to be. Unable to cope, Aslam leaves Pathri Aali forever. Years later, as men migrate to Saudi Arabia for employment, Pathri Aali is populated mostly by women and children. Soon they realize the Mujahideen, who guise themselves as their liberators, are the worst perpetrators, and misery seems inescapable. Ashwar refuses to be cowed down by this reign of terror and is determined not to let it devastate the once-peaceful village. The only one she can bank on is Aslam — and she calls out to him across the distance of time and space, to return and live up to the legends of their village. Snakes in the Meadows is a saga of the onset of militancy, and the suffering and the resilience of Pir Panjal — the ‘And’ of Jammu And Kashmir.
About the author:
Ayaz Kohli is presently serving as Joint Commissioner-GST, Mumbai. Having seen the rise and repercussions of militancy from very close quarters, and moved by the plight of the people of the border districts of Jammu and Kashmir, he has come up with his debut novel, Snakes in the Meadows.
My take on the book:
Set in the late 80s in the Pathri Aali village of Pir Panjal, Jammu and Kashmir, ‘Snakes in the Meadows’ is the story of teenage lovers Aslam and Ashwar who hope to get married. However, dreams are shattered when their families and societal pressure force them to break this relationship and move on to different people. While Ashwar makes peace with her fate and tries to get on with life adjusting to her new life, Aslam blames himself for pushing Ashwar into this state, and hence leaves his home town.
Slowly Pathri Aali is deserted with men moving to other countries in search of better employment opportunities; and this makes way for those who have been waiting for a chance to invade this place, the militants. Ashwar refuses to bow down to these challenges and Aslam is her only hope. Will Aslam be able to rescue his kin and what is their future amidst this turmoil forms the rest of the story.
The author in his debut novel has chosen a sensitive but relevant topic and narrated it with heartfelt emotions by weaving a love story into a socio-political backdrop. The title is apt portraying the situation of the place and how trouble is perceived. The narration is different with a folk tale style giving it a different touch and makes it interesting.
The sub plots and the people involving them might feel overwhelming and deviating from the actual story at times. Some of the characters could have been developed better to bring more insight into their inner turmoils. Even with the minor flaws, this is a story of love, loss, struggle and resilience. The courage and loyalty of people from a remote village towards their homeland is the takeaway from this story. And given the current situation that is still prevailing in this part of the country, it makes for an important read.