Book Review: Snakes in the Meadows by Ayaz Kohli

Snakes in the Meadows
Author: Ayaz Kohli
Publisher: Rupa Publishers
Rating: 4.5/5

Undulating tension in Jammu and Kashmir is something that is known by all. It is ironical that a place that is known for some of the most magnificent landscapes- the lush green meadows surrounded by the green giant mountains, the snow-covered peaks and the turquoise-blue stream wounding its merry way through the forest- is also known for decimation, bloodshed and other vicious atrocities. Much has been written about the locus of this state and much has been hypothesized but like it is said unless one spends a month in Kashmir, they cannot fathom the dynamics of this state.

‘Snakes in the Meadows’ uses symbolism to bring out the devastating situation of the innocents who are afraid of their own shadow in their own home. Ayaz Kohli’s witty and gripping narrative infuses life in each and every character- the protagonists and the antagonists. The story subtly mocks at the naivety of the people who believe everything told to them in the name of religion. It also throws light on how, each day, a martyr is born in Kashmir and how these martyrs are then idolized. Civilians fall prey to such indoctrination and they spread hatred, angst and debauchery. The story begins with Haji- Mir narrating how he met Meera Bi and acquired the title of a hero. His youngest son, Aslam, is then brought into the light and is shown as carefree yet resolute. Although the blurb uses the love story of Ashwar and Aslam as the scaffold, this part of the plot lacked the spark. But after four chapters, the story picks up the pace and the grieving truth of Kashmir valley is brought out in the open. While Sagher Khan is busy operating under covers from Saudi Arabia, Adalat Shah further aids his efforts and encourages more and more young men to get recruited in a so-called fight for freedom (in the name of Jihad).

The story proves this point right that Jihad is only for the poor because nobody cares about their life. Only if the rich had the courage to fight for what is right, the world would have been a better place. While in reality, Jihad is a non-violent concept, ‘Snakes in the Meadows’ throws light upon the influence of Mujahideen over the Kashmiri youths. It explores the plethora of problems that forces people to embark on the path of becoming perpetrators.

Another theme that this story explores is the moxie of the place- Pir Panjal- that still thrives on to endorse life and activity in spite of the infestation by the snakes (read militants and terror outfits). It also retells the tale of those brave hearts who hold their ground and fight all odds to preserve the sanctity of their home.

Precise premise and taut narration help the readers live the experience. Though the part when Ashwar calls for Aslam and urges him to help in saving their town is a little clichéd, yet the controlled pace and succinct approach aid the story in passing the muster.

Overall, ‘Snakes in the Meadows’ is definitely not a breezy read, for it tells a story that needs time and empathy to be understood. This has been one of the best reads of this year for me!

Best wishes to the author!

Buying Link: Amazon

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