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“Kashmiris have to unite, irrespective of their religion”

Roxy Arora is a Dental Surgeon by profession. She graduated from Manipal University in 1996. Roxy hails from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. She is the author of the book Jihad In My Saffron Garden which is an interfaith love story set against the backdrop of the origin of insurgency in Kashmir. She had spent her initial years in United Kingdom and later her parents decided to return to Jammu in 1982. Her book carries the message of world peace and religious tolerance. Roxy spoke about her book and the importance of bringing back Kashmiriyat in the trouble torn Valley with our Editor-in Chief Vaidehi Taman.

Tell us about your journey as a writer? What has inspired you to choose a love story? Is it a true story or fiction?

As long as I can remember, I always wanted to write. My favourite period in school was English literature especially during ‘Spin a yarn’ sessions. The abundant encouragement, I received from my English teachers fuelled my passion even more. But for reasons which were not entirely under my control one of them being parental cajoling I ended up choosing science. I joined Manipal University and graduated as a Dentist in 1996. Later, when I was supposed to live a quiet life handling a colony based clinical practice I decided to do what I do best and that is write. Jihad In My Saffron Garden or lets abbreviate it to JIMSG is a romantic thriller and a work of fiction. I have provided the readers a matrix of experiences, knowhow and trials which have met me at every nook and corner of my life’s journey. It is not a regular love story but a story about love.

The protagonist Roshina Kapoor crusades for world peace which is my dearest passion. Both of us are brand ambassadors for justice and religious tolerance. I wrote Jihad In My Saffron Garden at the time my mother was evicted from my dead father’s house by his younger brother and family members. It was a very testing period but whoever stated that adversity serves as a springboard for phenomenal growth was correct. I felt that things would have been different if I had a brother but I firmly pushed that sentiment aside. All my life, I have suffered exodus. Whether it was when I left Great Britain as a child or braced Saddam Hussein’s Army during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. For me, the most painful moment was to bid adieu to my father’s house forever.

 

At a time when Kashmir is dealing with unrest and Indo-Pak relations are witnessing a new low, your book talks about romance in the Valley. Will peace be restored in the region?

Did we ever imagine that the Berlin wall which maintained anti-vehicle trenches and fakir beds would be demolished? It is time to organise pluralistic societies at our borders. Our policy makers and authorities have to employ a series of peaceful talks within and beyond the demographic divides. The dialogue has to be so heartfelt and well articulated it cuts across the shackles of dogmatism and fanaticism.  Socio-economic factors like illiteracy and lack of employment opportunities create dissatisfaction. This gives way to the lure of money and gravitate towards radical inclinations hence the path of evil.

Tell us something about your childhood in Kashmir and now as an adult, what has changed?

We used to spend our summer vacation at my cousin’s place in Kashmir. They had Muslim landlords and days would pass in a blessed interaction of goodwill and companionship. I can’t begin to describe the peace I felt when I visited Hazratbal shrine. When we lived in Kuwait my parents remained very friendly with the Pakistani families who lived in our residential complex. Ramzan was all about Iftar parties and Eid symbolised embracing your neighbour from the bottom of your heart, his nationality and religion notwithstanding. My mom had undergone surgery when I was in the twelfth grade. Mutton Biryani and Lahori Kebabs used to get prepared at my house courtesy to those Pakistani aunties.

During your childhood days you had experienced racial discrimination. How have you dealt with it?

According to adults children don’t perceive a lot of things but they actually do. And that’s a very unambiguous declaration that they react in different ways. Some display an aggressive streak when rebuked or some may retreat into a shell. In England during the 80’s Asians would not be spared the N-word. Some opinionated white child during recess at school would snarl my way and let out ‘we ruled you.’ Undoubtedly, I didn’t feel better about myself when the song “your hand is black but mine is white” was played in school assembly.

Kashmiri Hindus had fled Kashmir and sought refuge in Jammu. They still reside in camps. Have you ever thought of writing about their plight?

In my novel, I have elaborated the plight of Kashmiri migrants and other refugees across the world.

How can one restore peace and religious tolerance in Valley?

Kashmiris have to unite, irrespective of their religion. Kashmiri Pandits should be escorted back to the valley safely which can only happen when there is a joint opposition to violence. Security forces are our protectors and we have to extend our utmost cooperation to them rather than assail them with hostile acts. Trade has to be encouraged with our neighbouring countries that will pave way for promotion of interdependence between countries rather than hostility.

What was “Jihad” in saffron garden? How do you define it?

The saffron garden represents the beauty of my beloved state which was once a playground of angels. The saffron garden is a patch of land gifted to Rosha Jaan, the Hindu Kafir girl by her Muslim soul sister. Violence and the dark soul of man defile the saffron garden and saffron flowers wither. Rosha Jaan who loved Aafaq Qazmi faces ethnic cleansing and leaves the saffron garden forever. In the world we live in right now, the word Jihad conjures up images of conflict, war and extremism. However, if you trace the origin of the word Jihad, it means the struggle for a greater cause. And that is what I want to convey to my readers. We have to step out of these illogical and destructive emotions of hatred and intolerance.

What is the feeling of Kashmiriyat? How has it been replaced by names of various insurgent and religious outfit groups?

Once upon a time in the Kashmir that I knew Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists all coexisted in harmony. Eid and Shivratri were celebrated by all communities. The Hindu girl tied a precious Rakhi cord around her Muslim neighbour’s wrist. The Muslim family would distribute Iddi to the entire street children .This was the intricately entwined shawl of Kashmiriyat. However, the harsh demand of Azadi resonated from the cold mountains. The Kalashnikov became the face of Kashmir and the firearm weapon of choice for insurgents.

What is the plight of women in Kashmir?

Today Kashmiri women have seen mistrust, communal violence and bigotry. Women and children suffer the most in conflict zones. The Kashmiri woman has faced persecution, bereavement and grief and he is accustomed to the blaring sound of a gun. She has grown up on stories about Kashmiriyat and a carefree gaiety and she hopes to experience it. And it is this thought that keeps her alive.

What is your message to our readers?

In today’s digital world, there are barely any facts or figures to which we are not privy. Horrifying images of boats capsizing, babies drowning and people being forced to evacuate their homes are more than plenty. Our dictionary has terms like ethnic cleansing, racial profiling, genocide and exodus. But have we ever spent few minutes in a day wondering about how to make a difference? Do we use social media to promote harmony and world peace? When we answer these simple questions in all honesty we will make constructive attempts to work for the brotherhood of mankind. Innocent gesture like celebrating festivals of all religions in community halls of housing societies will inculcate empathy and harmony in us and our next generation.

Roxy Arora

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