Book Title: Rooh
Author: Manav Kaul
Renu Sud Sinha
“I don’t live in my home
I roam everywhere with it within me”
ANY refugee, forced to flee, carries his uprooted roots within his heart. Baramulla-born Manav Kaul, theatre director, actor, playwright, film-maker and a prolific writer, who now lives in Mumbai, is no different. Kashmir remains in his rooh (soul).
His latest book, ‘Rooh, A Novel’, which he calls ‘an almost imaginary travelogue’, is a physical as well as an inward journey to his roots, ‘struggling to collect the lived portraits of his childhood’.
Written in the backdrop of Kashmiri Pandits’ exodus, of which Kaul and his family were also a part, the multi-layered narrative keeps shuffling between the past and the present. The stream-of-consciousness novel is peppered with the people he meets during his present journey and those he seeks from his childhood memories.
Each character has his own relationship and interpretation of Kashmir. There’s the version of those who stayed behind and the ones who were ‘chased away’. There is, of course, an idyllic one of beautiful snowscapes and chinar trees — the tourists’ or the outsiders’ version. In the end, so many versions emerge that lines between truth and perception blur.
Part-memoir, ‘Rooh’ is about a Kashmir that had been left behind by the protogonist but its dreams haunt him every night. It is also about his father who could never let go of the hope of returning. His memories of Kashmir are entwined with that of his father’s. As Kaul says in the book’s introduction, “I wanted to write about my father and I wrote Kashmir, and when I sat down to write about Kashmir, I saw my father.”
His quest to find a house with white walls and blue door in Khawaja Bagh, where he was born, is also about closure. When he eventually gathers the courage to go there, the house at the end of the lane is gone forever, demolished to pave way for new construction, leaving in its wake the dust of dreams of the past. There’s a touch of wistfulness at encountering this reality. “Maybe now I will dream of rubble,” he writes.
“All we see in its rising dust
Is the making and unmaking of faces
When he was collecting his father’s remains from the ashes
He found the remnants of his home therein”
The ‘Fame Game’ actor is a versatile writer who also translates his Hindi books into English and his life experiences into words. ‘Rooh’, originally published in Hindi last year, has been translated by him, as have been some of his other books. His body of work includes novels, plays, short stories, poetry, travelogues and films and has received much critical acclaim. Kaul’s directorial debut film, ‘Hansa’, received the Best Film Critics Award at the 2012 Osian’s Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema. His play ‘Peele Scooter Wala Aadmi’ won the 2006 META for Best Script.
From Kashmir to Hoshangabad, MP, the feeling and label of being an outsider continued to haunt him. Having seen many ups and downs in life, Kaul’s writing, therefore, comes from a deeply personal space and is quite refreshing and honest.