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MEHRU JAFFER | 15 APRIL, 2017

A Tree With a Thousand Apples: A Book That Makes You Weep


Sanchit Gupta goes all the way to paradise only to return with yet another sad story from Kashmir.

The Tree with a Thousand Apples is his debut novel about raped relationships and rebuked landscapes. It is such a sad story that I found myself wishing it had not been written.

“Why did you write this story?” I shot off an email to Sanchit almost in tears.

“Empathy. I am not a Kashmiri. I am not a Pandit or a Muslim, not even an army person. My emotional involvement is not with the region of Kashmir, it is with the people there,” says Sanchit who visited the state in 2009 and saw a 12 year old Kashmiri Pandit sit beside a 20 year old Indian army soldier to sip cups of kahwa together.

The suffering of ordinary people of Kashmir eventually shocked him into writing this book about Safeena Malik, Deewan Bhat and Bilal Ahangar. The three characters are naturally drawn to each as neighbours and friends. They love each other as human beings and irrespective of the different religion they follow.

He is not a historian, says Sanchit whose script based on The Tree with a Thousand Apples is long-listed at the Sundance International Screenwriters’ Lab- 2017. He has no clue what life in Kashmir was like in the past. He only knows what Kashmir is like today and the stories he was told affected him so deeply that he wanted to share them with the world.

He believes that the bond between the Pandits and Muslims is what had elevated Kashmir into paradise. The tearing apart of this close relationship is the root of the problem. According to the author when there was brotherhood there was Kashmiriyat, that extraordinary communal harmony between the Hindu and Muslim. True paradise lies in that brotherhood between people, not just in a landscape. The moment that brotherhood was threatened everything started to go downhill.

"When ideologies clash in the name of religion or identity, common residents suffer the most and children are deprived of their childhood. This is what I wanted to bring out in the novel. Not just Kashmir, but I believe there is a similar emotional involvement with every region in the world where humanity is or has been at stake. My relationship with them is that of hope”.

The novel comes at a time when cruelty, fear and insecurity rules the world. Envy and anger amongst human beings is the order of the day.

The cry in this novel is over dying human relationships, the inability of people to live together with each other in love and in peace. There is shrinking of space for long term, shared experiences. Communities are shattered. Individuals are lonely and left alone to survive traumas in isolation. In the absence of any deep emotional connection to the other, the individual is turned wayward and without generosity. Hate, envy, greed and ignorance has crawled into the very center of every day life, casting a sad shadow over our collective future. Human beings are engulfed in numerous hostilities and there is no justice. The power of religion and the stern hand of the mob is trying to take over life.

Is this a crisis in Kashmir alone? Not at all. This is now a crisis of human civilisation where others do not seem to matter any more.

After having shed tears over the tragic fate of the three protagonists in The Tree with a Thousand Apples, thoughts of the reader naturally turn to an immediate need for a common force. An imaginative force that will enable, and not distance human beings further from each other, and which will be a more beautiful reason to live life than the one being forced upon human beings today.

The Tree with a Thousand Apples is published by Niyogi Books, 2017.

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