Hidden inside the call for Ralliv, (Convert) Chaliiv (run away) Ya Galiiv ( prepare for a painful death) , Refugee Camp brings forth a stellar story of Kashmir for the world.
Once in a while does a book come along that dissects our conscience and poses difficult questions. It is only very rarely does one come across a book that compels you to look at our own follies through a time glass. Above all, very rarely does one come across a narrative that aligns literature, historical facts and a creative narrative thus breaking the modern parameters of the world of the words. Refugee Camp is that one rare book that has resonated the poignant tale of the vale across the Indian heartland cutting across barriers of language and geography. What starts as a tale of Hindu-muslim friendship between two childhood friends Abhimanyu and Mukhtar eventually takes you on a rollercoaster ride through the riveting years of 1988 and rips through your heart on its way to the gravest travesties in the modern history where natives became Refugees in their own country.
Refugee Camp has just turned the tables by setting many benchmarks in the literary world. A book that did not have a formal launch that too amidst some extravagant books in recent times, made a silent debut on Amazon. Within first 3 weeks, third edition was in print. Within first 3 weeks, readership profile reverberated from Chennai to Himachal and with the social media abuzz with reader reviews and recommendations, the message was clear – Refugee Camp has touched the hearts of Indian’s at large. Clearly, Refugee Camp had touch Indians in a manner that no book had done in the many years. Refugee Camp made a trailblazing debut on bestseller rankings and has surprised the world of literature. Among nearly 8 crore books on Amazon, Refugee Camp has maintained a stellar performance.
So what really worked for Refugee Camp ?. Clearly, the most important aspect was the structure of the narrative that broke the traditional norms and aligned history with a human story of family reflective of any traditional Kashmiri Pandit family making it easy for almost everyone to associate with the story. The values of family of Abhay Pratap the patriarch of Kaul family was reflective of every average Kashmiri that has walked across the streets of the state believing in the secular fabric and brotherhood of Kashmiris across various religions. Alongside Abhay Pratap, a young story was developing that resonates with the Indian youth that could be anywhere in the country. The youth saw their lives unfurl, as did the life of a young Abhimanyu who believed in the values of a traditional Indian family. Eventually Refugee Camp quietly overwhelms the readers by the simplicity and honesty of the story and no wonder it cuts across as a story of any and every Indian family who has lost something to the world of terror.
The Refugee Camp primarily is the story of a young boy and his Abhimanyu’s transformation into a leader, who led 5000 men, women and children to the greatest suicide mission. Refugee Camp is the story of Abhay Pratap, an iconic righteous journalist and owner of The Truth published from the valley. Abhay Pratap has always believed in secularism and brotherhood among diverse faiths. His stand against terrorism has earned him wrath of the militants but that has never deterred the brave Abhay. His son Abhimanyu is a happy go lucky boy of 19, who believes in the virtues of his father. Abhimanyu has always lived a protected life in a surreal world created by his father’s ideology. Their lives take a dramatic turn overnight when life-threatening circumstances force them to flee, leaving everything behind to start their lives from under the torn tents of a makeshift refugee camp. This is the first brush of these families with the world outside the valley called heaven. Refugee Camp then takes the readers into a poignant world of the refugee camps in Jammu and how they began new lives in torn tents, unhygienic conditions, devoid of hope and labeled as ‘Refugees in their own country’. Never before has any book captured the life of a modern day refugee settlement in a democracy as does Refugee Camp and presents an ugly face of society and human nature. Characters like Roshini take the readers through an excruciating experience to feel the fall of a great civilisation that has the pride of place in the history as the only community with 100% literacy rate. One after the other the characters of Refugee Camp including the Camp Manager, the elderly men & women, the Cops, the ration dealers one by one seem to emerge from the pages and shake your conscience. Refugee Camp also has an endearing love story of Jaspreet and camaradrie between a group of friends Samrat, Vinod as the loving Susti and Harjodh as the quintessential Villain. Author has weaved an engaging narrative of the college life that youth will easily identify with and fall in love. It is through the character of Jaspreet that the author draws parole of how terrorism impacted various faiths including the Sikhs in 1984 and also how refugees from Mirpur still await redemption. Every character in Refugee Camp is definite and with a sense of purpose that moves the central character of Abhimanyu towards a greater purpose. An important aspect is the Father Son relationship which brings forth a discussion on Article 370 and the issues of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and how Pakistan reneged and backstabbed India on multiple fronts. Not just Pakistan, Refugee Camp makes a bold attempt to discuss the Gandhian and Nehruvian legacies built around Khilafat & Quit India movements and questions the roles of Gandhi and Nehru that has led to current Kashmir imbroglio. No doubt the readers across the country relate to Refugee Camp given the in-depth national perspective that emerges with Kashmir in backdrop. I must say, it is page by page a chronicle of how humanity falls from grace and creates the world of depraved people who prey on the fallen. One begins to feel disappointed of our governance and human values of Kashmiriyat that differentiated Jammu & Kashmir from the rest of the country. Abhimanyu in particular comes of age as his values are put to test in the real world full of vivid flavours of friendship, love and everything in-between. The story takes yet another ugly turn when Abhimanyu gets into a tangle with the local Police Inspector and ends up killing two cops and what follows is a deep churn that transforms a young boy into a revered leader who leads a mass suicide mission with 5,000 people.
The Camp has a hair-raising account of those 48 hours that changed the face of humanity and the worst atrocities like mob lynching were committed on ethnic minorities. Refugee Camp tries to bring forth the pain and agony of those six lakh people. Overall Refugee Camp is the one book that has the youth at its core, it has all the right spices for every age group. Refugee Camp further believes that the future generations need to know what really happened in Kashmir in 1989 and that no Government or armed forces can ever resolve the Kashmir issue. It is ultimately the people of Kashmir who have to choose between peace and Terror. This part is off course cinematic rendition of the author’s vision for peace in Kashmir, however, it may be difficult to realise given the ground realities of the valley but haven’t we grown up on the tales of miracles. Refugee Camp too seeks a miracle but also clarifies that eventually people themselves will have to be that miracle.
Refugee Camp has set a new bench mark that truly reflects the talent Jammu & Kashmir state has always been known for. Refugee Camp is a gift of peace and humanity for the entire world from the people of Jammu & Kashmir – Please go and read it with all your heart and pass it on to your young adults so that they know the value of peace and love in a world full of hatred.
(The author is Executive Producer BBC Media Action, New Delhi)