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On August 5, 2019, Suhas Munshi was on his way back to Srinagar from Gurez, when Article 370—which accorded special status to the state of Jammu & Kashmir—of the Indian Constitution was abrogated. This book is about that moment, and its aftermath. Through travels and conversations with people across the Valley in the wake of the event, Munshi tries to stitch together a portrait of what it meant for the common Kashmiri.
The book opens with a memorable line: “This is not a goddamn ‘Heaven’.” That’s a ‘corrosive’ cliché we’ve all been guilty of at some point or the other, which, as Munshi says, “reduced a living place to an amusement park.”. This is after all a real place, with all the attendant imperfections.
Over the course of his travels, Munshi runs into a plethora of eclectic characters and experiences—from attending a Christmas service with the tiny Christian community of Baramulla to meeting the lone Pandit family in a ghost colony in Shopian, watching a football match in Srinagar and embarking on a gruelling walk with the Bakarwal shepherds over the majestic Pir Panjal range from Srinagar to Jammu.
There are two encounters in the book that I found particularly impactful. One is with the poet Madhosh Balhami of Pulwama, whose house—including his work and library of over 800 books, some of them quite rare—was reduced to ashes in a gunfight between militants and security forces on 15 March, 2018. The second is a meeting with the playwright, actor and director Bashir Bhawani, who went from rural south Kashmir in the 1980s to study theatre at the National School of Drama in New Delhi—an extraordinary feat for the time. Bhawani has risen to national prominence in recent times after cameos in Haider and Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Then, of course, there is the extraordinary coda of the Bakarwals, sitting snugly by itself at the end like a self-contained novella, even though it had a somewhat inauspicious start.
The World Below Zero Fahrenheit is a time capsule, an extraordinary book about an extraordinary moment in the history of the Indian subcontinent.
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