Book title – Rooh
Publisher – Penguin eBury Press Pages – 256 pages Language – English (translated from Hindi by Pooja Priyamvada)
Genre – Memoir, travelogue
Author – Manav Kaul
Available on – amazon.in
Purchase link – https://www.amazon.in/Rooh-Manav-Kaul/dp/0670098035/ref=sr_1_4?crid=1K76AEP40AFJV&keywords=rooh+manav+kaul&qid=1682588530&sprefix=rooh+%2Caps%2C324&sr=8-4
About the author – Born in Baramulla, Kashmir, Manav Kaul has been an integral part of the film world, acting, directing and writing for the past twenty years. With each of his new plays, Manav has made people sit up and take notice, and he has created an equally valuable body of work as a writer. His books Theek Tumhare Peeche (Right Behind You) and Prem Kabootar (Love Pigeon) have been dominating the Neilson bestseller list.
About the book –
What is Kashmiriyat? Wikipedia describes it as the centuries-old indigenous tradition of communal harmony and religious syncretism in the Kashmir Valley. But, is Kashmiriyat truly just a manner of life for Kashmiris or is it the very soul of a Kashmiri – his rooh?
Reading Manav Kaul’s ‘Rooh’ made me realize that however far a Kashmiri may stray from his roots, there will always be a part of him that will pine for the Chinar and Deodar scented forests where the snow is whiter than the whitest milk of the plains. The call of the valley will forever echo deep in the chambers of his heart. And, even though he may tether himself to others, far, far away from the valley; the valley will continue to tug at his heartstrings, pulling gently yet continually, all his life.
Rooh is classified as a novel and yet to me it read like a deeply personal memoir. It’s a travelogue, not to a place but into a space that is embodied by memories that wrap around you like a snug cloak. They bring with them the scent of the valley, the ache of the turmoil that it has faced and the deep longing to return.
To quote Manav –
I keep looking in the direction
From where your fragrance wafts in
From where your taste
Takes me to the front of a blue door and white walls …
The book opens to this beautiful poem and instantly one is submerged into Manav’s journey as he departs from Cherrapunji to Khwaja Bagh in Kashmir (the site of his childhood home) , following the call of his heart. But, where there is a heart, where there are memories, there is also bitter ache or regret. That’s the yin and yang of life. Manav deftly takes us through all these emotions, especially when he speaks about his family or the people he has crossed paths with. His words are soulful. Speaking of his father, he writes…
Sometimes I saw the peaks of Baramulla on his forehead.
And at other times…
I saw the wrinkles of his face
On the Chinar leaves
The book is written in quasi stream of consciousness style that mimics the author’s thoughts in a matter of fact, statement style. In the book, the protagonist, Manav, makes a physical and metaphorical journey back to Kashmir and relives the past as a part of the present – //the more I tried to run away from the past, the more I was drawn towards it//
Manav’s text dips into insightful poetic philosophy at times but is direct for the most part. And, it is simple in its structure. That’s something I liked. The author quotes Lal Ded often in the book and the mystic’s verses are inserted at points that make a reader imbibe their depth.
The translator, Pooja, has done a commendable job with this book. It’s not easy to capture a poet’s heart in a translated work of prose. But, she has managed to lend this translated version, the author’s soul.
In the book, I sensed the author’s intended detachment from his words just as much as I sensed his deep attachment to what he wrote. I know, it sounds paradoxical. But, that’s the only way I can describe the soul of this work. It’s personal and yet pain has been taken to write from a not so personal viewpoint so that a reader may be able to identify with the story by finding their own life written somewhere in the words.
If I were to sum up this book in a few lines, I would say – A deeply personal memoir written by someone whose body left the paradisiacal land but his rooh/soul remained.
I recommend this book whole-heartedly.