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Book Review: Desiccated Land by David Lepeska

Desiccated Land by David Lepeska narrates heart-wrenching, raw, and emotive tales of the people from the world’s most troubled land – Kashmir. Often referred as the Valley, the state is compared with the likes of Switzerland on account of tourism. However, the fate of the valley is constantly grappling under the various political narratives since the independence of India.

Insurgency, awkward foreign policies, broken historical lineage, too much troop presence, and unwanted bigotry intervention by Pakistan – the people of the Valley have lost the meaning of freedom. Even for basic movements, speech, and facilities like communication and internet, at times they are shut down from the mainstream world. The people of Kashmir are suffocating, their voices suppressed, their political interests are in abysmal dilemma. But the mainstream media never brings forth their wretched life and events that perturb them. For most of us all that place is dangerous to be there, to travel, and to work. David’s friends back in the United States warned him about the same perils if he ever visited Kashmir. Yet he did as a Western American journalist.

The tagline of the book is apt: An American in Kashmir. David joins the daily news paper Kashmir Observer (KO) as a journalist. On a broader level, the book serves as a sneak peek into the lives of Kashmiris over the breaking-news events. The book is a compilation of David’s personal essays, reportage of KO, and his memoir in the Valley. He was operational mainly for a year or so i.e. 2006 & 2007. He could have continued for a longer duration but one night a few terrorists knocked at his door for a secret sojourn. David could sense in the air, see in the streets and alleys, while interacting with people and children and visiting villages – life in Kashmir is nothing but a sorted trouble. The valley’s educational, creative, and intellectual scaffold lays in abeyance. Nearly 60 percent Kashmiris are either depressed or have symptoms of PTSD.

For any reader, the introduction of the book is preliminary. Complimented by quotes and relevant analogy, the book provides finest evocative account of pain and tribulation that has eviscerated the ballast of locals. The book’s content at length discusses everything – United States ambiguous policies to save Kashmir from the tussle of India and Pakistan. In each chapter, David first brings into account the history and then the roots get connected automatically. The analogy of Garuda is terrific, the way both heads behave, resulting in death. It fitted so well with the difference of Hindus and Muslims during Dogra and Sikh rules. Another terrific finding is that armed forces killing innocents with a label of terrorists for a reward of money and promotions.

Free from parochialism and unbiased, still many supporters of India will feel that the book is for Muslims by an American. Since real reporting is absent, David strived with this book to expose the underbelly of the troubled valley – Kashmir. David’s way of presenting facts and stories is at par with highest standards of journalism, this streak could be felt in the vibrant narrative.  It’s a book of extraordinary courage, depicting the plight of millions of innocents caught in the heat of hatred and political turmoil.

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