The call of home
Australian writer Bill K Koul left Kashmir even before the troubles began, but still sees himself as the son of India
Bill K Koul calls himself a global citizen thanks to his work as an engineering consultant that has sent him globetrotting over the last three decades, but as a writer and editor, this Kashmiri-Australian from Perth tends to focus on India.
Koul has authored three books, two of which are based in India – 22 Years: A Kashmir Story (a memoir) and Issues White-anting India: As an NRI Sees it. But I wonder, why would a person who has left his country still be so focused on it that it becomes the subject of their writing?
“All my books are related to India as it is my motherland, and some of her current significant issues from my perspective have been tackled with,” explains Bill, who is also interested in philosophy, spirituality, nature and music.
Kashmir: a love story
Incidentally, 22 Years: A Kashmir Story is Koul’s own story. Nearly one lakh Kashmiri Pandits left the valley in 1990, and one such émigré Kashmiri, Billu, returns to the beautiful valley of Srinagar after 22 years of self-imposed exile. Not only does he break a vow, but also he falls in love once again with the land of his birth, as all his childhood memories rush back to hug him and tie him to his roots.
“With age, people become nostalgic about their childhood world. I am no different. The memories of my childhood, and my world during those precious days, often mentally transport me back in time to the land where my ancestors and I were born and raised. I believe that I owe a great deal to my homeland and her people. This book is not a work of fiction. It is based on my own observations, thoughts, life experience and real events,” reveals Koul who had left his homeland in 1989, before the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits actually began.
But what led Koul to take such a big decision? Did anything in particular incite him? “Despite being a member of the minority Pandit community, I never felt threatened and/or afraid for my life. Most of my friends belonged to the majority Muslim community. But after 1985, I noted behavioural changes in my Muslim friends. By 1989, I noticed fewer warm hugs, forced smiles, more formal conversations, and occasional sarcasm. By the second half of 1989, there were violent incidents – bomb blasts, targeted killing of prominent Pandits, and scare campaigns. I could see the pattern. The storm was coming and it did come a month after I left,” says Koul.
However, he is quick to clarify that this book has not been intended to contain any significant political content, whatsoever. For the completion of his memoir, however, reference to the political uprising in Kashmir in 1990 has been deemed necessary and unavoidable. Similarly, the basic philosophy in support of the return of Pandits to the valley has been included in this book by him.
On his return after 22 years, the first thing that struck Koul was the way Kashmir had changed – numerous shops, a lot of traffic, shabby constructions and rundown streets. “None of this represented the Srinagar of the past. I became very sad. Kashmiris seem to have completely lost their sense of environmental aesthetics, ethics and responsibility,” recalls Koul. At the same time, Koul also fell in love with the mountains again, the chinar and poplar trees and the common people going about their daily business. “I felt I belonged there. It was like a homecoming,” says Koul.
All for the youth too
Koul’s concern is not just limited to the issue of Kashmir. He is equally concerned with issues that plague the rest of the country, especially the challenges of the youth.
“I am shocked to see the youth almost reconciled to the fact that the things will keep on getting difficult in India, and that no politician cares or will listen to them. They seem to have given up. But when I engage with them and instil the hope that things will look upwards if necessary measures to improve the essentials for living are implemented sooner than later, I do see a spark in their eyes,” says Koul.
Koul’s book My Life Does Not Have To Be Unhappy, raises some hard facts about life today. So, what according to him, can parents with teenagers or young adults do to ensure they maintain good relations with their children? “Listen to your children, spend time with them and proactively engage them in (a) outdoor activities/sports; (b) spirituality – meditation/yoga; and (c) unselfish social work,” advises Koul.
Lastly, is everything lost for India or can we still take up steps to bring back its old glory? “No, not everything is lost. We still have the time if timely actions are undertaken. India has all that it takes to make this nation truly great and a world leader: it is changing fast and becoming more developed but also paying a heavy price for its uncontrolled population growth and the current waves of materialism, consumerism, hedonism,” he says.
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From HT Brunch, May 20, 2018
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