Naman Mukesh Chaudhary
One of the youngest persons to have written a book on the life and times of the Kashmir Valley. Fifteen-year-old, New Delhi-based, Naman Mukesh Chaudhary, has a passion for writing and likes to spend most of his time reading. A young man more interested in the beauty and people of Kashmir than in things more in tune with boys his age. While www.thecherrytree.in has been in touch with him over the past few months, it was only a few days back that he, despite his tight school schedule, found time to meet us.
Excerpts from an interaction with Rajesh Prothi.
You are not a Kashmiri and you have not grown up in Kashmir. Yet you have penned a book that revolves around Kashmir. How did this happen?
N. M. Chaudhary: To start with, I would always say, ‘How much I wish I was born in Kashmir’.
I was born in a Delhi suburb and my upbringing too is around Delhi. There have been no connections with Kashmir at all. But when things have to happen, it does not take much time when directions get figured out and destinies get written. People always ask me where writing came from and that too in Kashmir. My answer has been constant “Because of the Valley”.
The writer in me woke up when I made a friend who is from the Valley. Ishaan Jad, was in my school but in the junior wing, and we accidentally met and became friends. He is a Kashmiri Pandit and my visits to his home in Delhi were a major turning point in my life. His family talked about the Valley and I found out that they still remembered Kashmir fondly. After the exodus, the community suffered and I discovered that apart from the Kashmiris, very few people were really aware of the clear picture and the sufferings they had gone through. His parents would narrate the beauty of Kashmir, the culture, the people, and all the good things about Kashmir. And, before I realized it, it had all started. Before that, I’d written a couple of short stories and had sent them to magazines. Although I like poetry, it was this phase in my life that I really got into writing, writing on Kashmir.
Normally, there is always a factor at home or in the family which has an influence over the next generation in the family. What has been your family background and what have been your influences?
N. M. Chaudhary: First of all, I don’t belong to a literary family. I was born in New Delhi, my father works for Delhi Police and my mother is a homemaker. My siblings are still studying.
The writing in this setting is a complete godsend kind of scenario.
What kind of challenges did you face while moving forward in life?
N. M. Chaudhary: I grew up mainly with my grandparents and other elderly family members. I liked the quiet environment of the countryside where they took me to the fields and told me stories in the lantern-lit houses. I began writing those stories and poems which were mainly dark, intense, melodramatic, and dealt with issues like loyalty, love, and friendship. I remember when I used to recite them to my classmates, they were always awed.
Soon, as I passed out of the sixth grade, my school was changed and I was enrolled in St. Francis, where I was unable to adjust with the new students and environment. Half a year passed in melancholy but then one day I started reading Jayne Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and I was never the same again. For a thirteen-year-old, I could not easily comprehend the classics and the early English texts easily. But, somehow, I managed through it and was really encouraged by the character of Jayne Eyre.
I was not able to relate with boys of my age and, I still can’t, as I am a shy person. In books, I have found the best companionship.
Coming back to your book, “The Saga of Kashmir’. It is an interesting title. How did you decide on this title?
N. M. Chaudhary: In the fall of 2012, I was traveling from Dehra to Delhi when I saw a group of shawl sellers, which I instantly knew were Kashmiris. I tried to talk to them and found each had a story to tell, their own experiences. After I met them, I realized that a single book would never do justice to the tales Kashmiris had inside them and wanted to tell the world. That was why I decided on the tagline was ‘The Saga of Kashmir’. Then came the subtitle or the title of this book which is ‘Kashmir of My Stories’. I decided on it because it was clear to me in the early stages of writing the book that even if the tales I was writing revolved around the Valley, they were my personal imagination.
According to me, they were the images of Kashmir the way they should be.
What is this book all about?
N. M. Chaudhary: ‘The Saga of Kashmir’ is a trilogy with its first installment ‘Kashmir of My Stories’.
The first book is a collection of seven tales l have shared with the background of the Valley. The book is divided into three parts; the first tale “The Dream of Snow”, the first story is about a shawl seller and how he manages to live in a completely new world, away from his place of birth. The second part, “Tales From Srinagar’, consists of five stories full of characters.
These unforgettable tales of history, past, lost relations, finding love, and making life, will encapsulate the feelings that one gets strolling along the Dal Lake or walking on the old streets of Srinagar.
What were the highs and lows during the writing of this novel?
N. M. Chaudhary: It was like a ride on a shikara, on the beautiful Dal Lake.
After I met Ishaan and the shawl sellers, not a single day passed that I did not write something. I was kind of hooked on writing. Even during my Board exams, I was writing. It took me a while to settle on the names of the characters but I finished writing the first installment of the trilogy by January this year. That was like in the middle of a battle. The main challenge was getting it published. I am 15 years old and I had people laughing at me at the mention of this book to top it all when I used to tell them I had never visited Kashmir – they used to be surprised. During this period, I learned the procedures, the language of writing queries, and how to make a synopsis.
What are your future plans?
N. M. Chaudhary: Well who has seen it?
I always wanted to be a writer, which I am now. Apart from writing, I love traveling and have a great passion for arts and painting. I also want to be a psychologist. I have a dream to start a foundation or NGO for the communities suffering the consequences of conflict in the Valley.
One last question what does your book conveys?
N. M. Chaudhary: In the seven poignant stories spiked with humour and intelligence, the main message I want to convey to the people is that the Valley is not a battleground. I want to remove the misconception and fear from the minds that refrain people from visiting this beautiful place.