Nice to see bookshops in Kashmir: Mirza
Srinagar: He vividly remembers his inner turmoil when he saw the last remaining bookshop in Srinagar closed at the height of unrest in the 1990s. But London-based Kashmiri journalist Mirza Waheed is now thrilled to see youngsters in the valley taking to books with genuine passion.
"How can anyone close a bookshop unless there are no readers left around?" asks Waheed, recalling the day when his favourite `Kashmir Bookshop` greeted him with an imposing lock after his return from Delhi in the mid-1990s.
"I mean, it was horrifying. How can the only bookshop be closed in a city where 1.2 million human beings live? The prospect was horrifying," adds Waheed, who has been working as an editor for BBC`s Urdu service in London for the last nine years.
Born with a voracious appetite for books, Waheed was sent to Delhi at the age of 18 when his parents figured out that things were not working out in the valley. He completed his BA and MA in English Literature from Delhi University.
"He worked for a reputed publishing house in Delhi before moving out to London," Suhail, a long-time friend of Waheed, told reporters.
The duo had grown up playing cricket, watching Bollywood flicks, and basking under the soothing autumn sun by Nigeen Lake, close to Waheed`s residence, in the troubled 1990s.
The author, in his late 30s, was in India to launch his debut novel "The Collaborator" published by Penguin Viking International Jan 30.
"Kashmir, which was once known as the seat of learning and literature, had lost its only lung with which its growing youth could breathe," he said, at his book reading session in a busy coffee shop here last week.
"But it is encouraging that a few bookshops have now come up in the city and youth here are again showing interest in reading good books," said Waheed, who visits his parents here every year.
"They ask good questions and sometimes difficult ones as well. There is huge talent among the Kashmiri boys and girls. And I am sure that despite the sufferings of my people, the youth is now trying to make up for the lost time," said Waheed, whose book deals with the tragedy of his land and its people.
His emotions are echoed by Khwaja Nisar Hussain, a retired engineer who had come to attend the author`s book reading session: "Nothing is ever permanently lost as long as we have a generation of young boys and girls who continue to pursue reading and writing."
The author also candidly throws in advice for budding writers when he talks about the inevitable affair of dark circles around the eyes - the sign of a writer.
"Writing is a very difficult job. Though it has become fashionable for writers to speak about inspiration...the truth is that one has to work very hard to write a book.
"When my mother saw me this time, she said she did not want a writer son with dark circles around the eyes ... thanks to the sleepless nights," he chuckled.
As he signed his books for fans, he took a moment`s pause and asked contemplatively: "Was this possible a few years back?"