Even in a fairy tale, Kashmir is lingering in darkness and destruction. A sterling debut by a promising 15 year old writer.
Before reading this novel, I presumed that it might be something like Coraline or The Beauty and The Beast.
But after I finished reading it, I realized it was more than that, much more.
It was about me and my tragedies. It was about Kashmir. My Kashmir. A burning paradise. And sadly even in a fairy tale, Kashmir is lingering in darkness and destruction. It is like reading Alice in The Wonderland but a horror version of it.
The House That Spoke is a story set in a Kashmir, where Pandits were still part of the community. Before violence would tear apart the harmony between two communities, living peacefully from centuries.
There are three main characters in the novel. Zoon , a 14 year old Pandit girl.
Kruhen Chay (Black Shadow) a mysterious creature made of fire-less smoke and shadows.
Then there is The House itself where everything is alive and speaks with Zoon.
The House is made by The Guardians that protect it from the rage of Kruhen Chay. The House was once the Prison for the Khuren Chay were it was kept for centuries. But now it is on loose and on the verge to destroy The House. It is The House and The Guardians that is between its way to destroy Kashmir for once and all.
The House That Spoke is a feat. The language is simple and clear. There is wit, humor, harmony, rhythm and a lot of mystery and symbolism.
The picture painted by the author about the military personnel makes it clear that the feelings about the military occupation of Kashmir is same among Kashmiri Muslims and the conscious Pundit community:
… I could see the first military check post, barbed wire against its pointed tip and soggy footprints made by heavy boots on every side. A man sat rigidly within it, unsmiling, clutching at the handle of a large, heavy automatic as though it were a part of him. A large red sign extended from the edge of the post, slicing Kashmir in half.
Dark clouds, bone chilling winds and stormy rains impinge on the reader as well as on the characters within the story.
The author’s attitude towards the characters is kind and gentle. Even at times, our villain －Kruhen Chay (Black Shadow) is seen with a kind eye. Characters are three dimensional and lively. As the story builds, characters come to life beautifully. Characters are drawn from a historical-mystical perspective.
The theme of the book is Kashmir’s devastation and unfortunate political scenario. There is a lot of symbolism that each reader can decode differently.
There is darkness, and no sun shine, as is the case with Kashmir from past many decades. The House in the novel symbolizes Kashmir upon which dreadful Darkness is looming. A new and original theme that is woven with symbols like Darkness and decaying Chinars.
All elements within the plot are carefully formed within the story. There is suspense, mystery, thrill and tragedy – all molded together artistically. A sense of cold and harsh atmosphere is evoked while reading, as the novel is set in chilly winter.
I wish I knew Zoon personally. I wish I knew them all and I wish they were still part of us. But it all was destroyed by dirty Indian politics.
Zuni Chopra’s style is poetic －sweet and soft with a twinge of darkness. As far as my knowledge goes, this is the first fairy tale written in English on Kashmir. There is a lot of scope for other writers willing to create a subcreation on Kashmir and related issues.
The cover of the novel is as fairy-like as the novel itself.