Book Review: Snakes in the Meadows by Ayaz Kohli

I received a review copy of Snakes in the Meadows from @bookscharming (Instagram) in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for the copy. 🙂

Snakes in the Meadows begins with a letter that I felt, for some insane reason, was accusing me of being ignorant and unwilling to take action. It was a personal jibe when I first read it. And I didn’t understand why such a letter was addressed to me. Here’s a couple of lines from the letter:

“I can’t believe that you’re unaware of our misery, oblivious of our suffering. And if you indeed don’t know anything, well, you don’t deserve to.”

“What have I done wrong?” I asked myself. “Why is the letter being so rude? What in heaven’s name have I done?”

But it was well into the book before I realized that that letter wasn’t for me and I felt like a complete idiot. Because of course it wasn’t for me. It was part of this heartbreaking story and the fury I felt at the beginning and the fury I felt at the actual point in the story that this letter appeared had the same intensity, but different reasons.

Snakes in the Meadows is the story of a community of people in the village of Pathri Aali in Jammu and Kashmir where peace prevails and life goes on with tales of the past doing the rounds. It seems like there is absolutely no reason why anyone should hate anyone else. Love even blooms between Aslam and Ashwar. But when the extremely religious community gets wind of this affair, Ashwar is married off to a widower with two children.

Aslam leaves the village and Haji Mir (his father) disowns him. As men leave for Saudi Arabia for employment, militancy, in the form of the Mujahideen, takes roots in and around Pathri Aali, and gradually terrorizes everyone – raping women, abusing children, and torturing the men of the village. What happens when the people – Ashwar in particular – decide that they’ve had enough of the torture meted out by these said liberators forms the rest of the story.

The first point that I want to stress upon is the writing style. It is fluid and gets the message across wonderfully from start (after the letter ends) to the very finish. For us women, who have seen so much misogyny in our lives even while living in what is supposedly a modern era, this book shows how far worse it can get for us. Women are seen as conquests of war. We are seen as the lesser people, bound by rules and tradition. We are berated or punished if we do anything that is against what is expected of us. Misogyny appears even in the smallest of ways and we’ve a long way to go before we start living in a world without this hatred. I veered off topic for a moment there, but read Snakes in the Meadows and you’ll see why I say so.

Snakes in the Meadows is set in Jammu and Kashmir, the meadows being Pathri Aali and the snakes being the militants. In such a Paradise-like existence, the arrival of even the smallest of conflicts is huge. But the mujahids turn up out of nowhere, preaching their Islamic tenets and declaring anything that doesn’t sit well with them as un-Islamic and meting out horrible punishments including death qualifies them as the venomous snakes that they are.

To be honest, it isn’t even the bigger issues that are a problem. It is the tiny ones too. Misogyny, forcing decisions upon one’s offspring and blackmailing them otherwise, the blatant gender inequality when it comes to treating one’s children in many parts of the world, hypocrisy – how do we battle these issues? How can we make sure we live without them?

Snakes in the Meadows talks about religion and how people in Jammu and Kashmir live through the everyday problems and dilemmas that they face. But most glaring in this book is the way the community decides on the fate and character of a girl. If such a sentence or a paragraph or a phrase invokes such anger within you, then it has been well-written and has done its intended job – getting the message across.

There are many times when you feel the flames of fury lick your heart as you read certain pages, but you have to remind yourself to be objective. Because without objectivity, we have no experience and no learning. And when optimism and resilience rules the roost of emotions running high among the people of Pathri Aali, despite severe losses, it is all you can do stop yourself from smiling with pride at those people.

Gripping and unputdownable, this book has that special something that is a product of so many emotions that many books try and fail to imbibe! A great debut book that I would definitely recommend!

Rating: 4/5 stars

Picture Courtesy: Amazon India

If you’d like to buy this book after reading my review, please do so by clicking my Amazon Affiliate link given below. The price remains the same for you but I get a small commission off of every purchase you make.

Here’s the link: Snakes in the Meadows

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