[Book Review] A novel on Kashmir Evokes Empathy in the Times of Normalized Violence

Sanchit Gupta

Sanchit Gupta began his career as a part-time copywriter with an advertising agency in Mumbai. He went on to co-found his own theatre group, worked as a freelance film screenwriter and as executive producer–fiction for a leading television network. His short stories have been published in several esteemed publications and literary journals, and have won acclaim in leading literary festivals and online forums.This is his debut novel which is now available on Amazon website.

In the times when nationalism is being shoved down our throats in our universities, in movie theatres and ATM lines, Kashmir remains mired in controversy much more than before. Recently when the people of Kashmir have faced the worst state repression, few writers even dare to tread the subject . Sanchit Gupta’s book The Tree with a Thousand Apples written very sensitively explores the loss that humanity faces in Kashmir through the story of three childhood friends Safeena Malik, Deewan Bhat and Bilal Ahangar. Saba Naqvi, a senior journalist in her endorsement of this book, writes – “this book has it heart in the right place and is written with genuine emotion about the beautiful yet tormented valley of Kashmir.”

The bond of these three childhood friends is tested in the face of the conflict. It is a story of real human bonds and yearnings that is often lost beneath the dehumanised narratives of the oppressing forces. Gupta’s novel challenges our perception of the valley from the polarised narratives that we get to hear the most.

Through a gripping narrative we enter story of these three children changing rapidly in the face of the conflict. Gupta’s novel is not only touching but a masterfully written plot, the screenpaly based on which has been long-listed in Sundance Screenwriters’ Lab 2017-International.

Twenty years later  destiny brings three friends in front of each other. Safeena, Bilal and Deewan look helpless in front of the world they have been thrown in front of. The narrative pulls the reader into a universe of grey which makes us question oue own morality. The internal turmoil and dejection erupt through Bilal’s words, “Peace? No, Deewan Bhai, they don’t want peace, they don’t! All they want is to point a finger. It makes them feel lighter in their souls, justified in their existence. They feel proud that they are doing whatever they can to eliminate the evil. Whoever that might be, they don’t care! All they want is a hero to worship and a villain to condemn.”

When asked about what is the central question that Gupta seeks through the novel he said the, “ the current turmoil in Kashmir makes us question who is the real victim? It is only through an empathetic eye that we can seek answer to it and I think the world needs the power of fiction to diffuse prejudices and promote compassion for the people affected by the conflict.”

This novel is most relevant in these times when the stories of Kashmir remain unheard in face of a public that has become indifferent and almost used to the daily violence blaring out of our television screens shrouded under rhetorics of nationalism and war against terror. Fiction then is our only hope to evoke empathy and Gupta’s novel a beautiful example of that.


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