Shakespeare, Rushdie Return To Kashmir Bookshops
18 December 2006
Srinagar: Books are back on the shelves of insurgency-wracked Kashmir which has been blighted by a literary drought for several years. For want of customers, Kashmir's few literary bookshops closed down a couple of years after a Muslim armed revolt against Indian rule broke out in the region at the end of 1989. Shops selling Islamic tracts or tuition books stayed open amid the violence that has killed tens of thousands of people, but Asian or Western classics and new blockbusters were scarce. Now, the works of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy jostle for space with Salman Rushdie and Dan Brown bestsellers in Srinagar's few bookshops. 'The (Kashmir) valley's elite class would read a lot before the militancy erupted ,' Hameeda Nayeem, a teacher at Kashmir University's department of English literature, told Reuters. 'But reading is not a thing of the past now in Kashmir. A growing number of people have started reading literature.' When a grenade exploded in Srinagar a few weeks ago, panic-stricken Adeel Bhat took refuge in a nearby shop.As he looked around him, 28-year-old Bhat could not believe the book-lined shelves that greeted him. 'I couldn't believe it. For the first time, I felt something good is happening to Kashmir,' he said, holding a copy of The Kite Runner, a novel on Afghanistan's tumultuous recent history. BOOKWORMS As the violence flared many of the region's more educated people - among them hundreds of doctors and teachers - fled to other parts of India, while militants ordered cinemas to shut. Libraries were destroyed in gun battles between guerillas and soldiers. Accompanying a fall in attacks, the militants' hold on daily life has also lifted, a single cinema has reopened, alcohol is more freely available and beauty salons are doing good business. Now book lovers are rediscovering their favorite pastime. 'When we opened four years ago there was only a trickle of customers, but now we are doing better,' said Sheikh Ajaz Ahmad of Gulshan Books on Residency Road in the heart of Srinagar. 'Demand is growing day by day for all kinds of books including old classics and new releases, particularly for bestsellers,' he said. A small publishing industry is churning out English-language histories of Kashmir, its Sufi traditions and politics. 'Militancy left nothing untouched in Kashmir. It changed priorities, safety was a big concern. But now things are improving and so is literary taste and reading,' said Basharat Saleem, a teacher.