The Tree with a Thousand Apples
Author: Sanchit Gupta
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Price: Rs. 350
The name itself is evocative. The book is a reflection of our times and a story told with feeling.
“The Tree with a Thousand Apples” by Sanchit Gupta is a welcome addition to the shelf of Kashmiri novels. That it is published at a time that the Valley is burning and raging makes it particularly poignant.
Gupta has written the novel is with all sensitivity, essentially capturing the period between 1989 and 2010 – the decades when Kashmir turned into an unimaginably fierce conflict zone within India’s borders. Inspired by true events, this riveting narrative traces the lives of Deewan Bhat, Safeena Malik and Bilal Ahanagar, three childhood friends. They are also its principal characters.
The life of these childhood friends suddenly changed on the night of 20 January 1990. It was the time when militancy began in the scenic Kashmir valley. Youths opted for weapons and slogan of Azadi (freedom) was heard everywhere. The relations between various communities like Pandits and Muslims changed. Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits abandoned their homes in valley and took shelter in Jammu, Delhi and other places. But, even in such difficult time many Muslims took risks and protected their Hindu neighbours, friends. These are the realities of our society. The author touches these human aspects in a rapidly changing scenario with utmost care. Deewan, Safeena and Bilal were kids and great friends when the peaceful valley turned into an unsafe place.
Ravi, elder brother of Deewan, was an army jawan in their home town Srinagar. He was assassinated by militants on that horrible evening. The evening was scary. Everybody was worried and tense on that cruel evening. Obviously, non-Muslims were worried more about their security. The town was virtually in the hands of militants. Pandits houses were burnt. Firing and shelling were taking place. People were concerned about their near and dear ones, relatives, friends, colleagues. Everyone had switched off lights at their home and waiting for the night to end. It was also day of Bilal’s birthday. Deewan could not go to wish Bilal as city was burning. It was for the first time in five years since they became friends that Deewan could not go to Bilal’s house and greet him. The Bhat family was worried about Ravi as he has not returned home.
Rehman Chacha, a neighbourer, comes to Praveen Bhat’s house and says,’ Nothing will happen, Bhat Saab, ’ he holds on tightly to his friend’s hands, ‘ I assure you. Don’t stay at your home. They would have marked the houses. Climb over the hedge and come to my house. Tell Bhabhi, Bhabhiji and Deewan. Nothing will happen. It’s promise of Rehman Malik, the promise of a Musalman.’
Rehman chacha took a great risk and saved the life of Bhat family. Safeena’s mother becomes ‘collateral damage.’ Rehman Malik was right. Few men banged the door of Bhats house after they safely entered Rehman Malik’s house. Seeing nobody in the house the violent mob started abusing by giving slogan ‘Bhaag gaye bhadve.’ Then the mob went to the house of Siddharth Kaul, a Chemistry professor at the University, whose house was opposite Bhat’s. The mob killed his family.
Subsequently, Bhats had to flee Srinagar and finally they settled down in Mumbai. Deewan became a journalist and a poet. While fleeing Kashmir, Deewan was attacked and his hand was chopped off. He cannot forget Malik chacha who saved their life. He cannot forget Gulam Mirza, a driver, who laid down his life while taking Bhat’s safe out of valley. He also could not forget Major General Chaudhary’s comment,’ you know what these Musallas are, they are a badboo.’ At the same time, he remembers Kamal, an army jawan who risked his own life and saved him and Safeena from Major General.
Destiny brings these three friends together after twenty years. Their life was shattered. Safeena’s brother Tariq was shot dead by the army in Machil. He was a porter and had nothing to do with militancy. He was shot dead and announced that he was a militant. Safeena’s father Rehman Malik was shot dead by a militant Anwar. Bilal has to embrace a wretched life of poverty and fear. Safeena was looking for her brother and landed as a worker at Major General Choudhary. Safeena suffered a lot and was saved by Deewan with the help of Kamal. Life was not easy for Safeena in Mumbai at Deewan’s house. She lived as Alka Bhat for the reason that Kashmiri Muslims are seen with suspicious in Mumbai and other parts of the country.
Safeena, an innocent girl, was tired and wanted to take revenge. She was loved by everyone when she was a kid. She continued to be an innocent. She lost her father, mother and brother in a turmoil valley. Deewan was in love with Safeena and took responsibility of thing which he did not commit. It was for the sake of his love. It also shows the bond between a Pandit boy and a Muslim girl continued even after Pandits had to flee. Bilal, too, wanted a happy life for Safeena. He wanted Safeena to live a happy life. He wanted Deewan to take Safeena out of the valley.
In the current Kashmir scenario, the book gives some insight of how valley changed over the years. It also raises a question who is the real victim? The answer is not easy. May be everybody is a victim.