Shakoor Rather is a Delhi – based Kashmiri Journalist who has spent nearly a decade writing about Kashmir’s politics, society, culture, and legacy. He writes through the viewpoint of an insider, having grown up in the valley during its most difficult moments, and thus portrays many perspectives of the struggle in the region.
‘Life in the Clock Tower Valley’ illustrates the everyday life and emotions in Kashmir. How did you come up with the idea of this book?
Kashmir is a storyteller’s abode, a place where I grew up listening to legends and stories from my early years. Inspiration was always just a block away. I have memories engraved in my head about the events unfolding in the lanes and historical places of downtown Srinagar where the book is based. Matador rides, searching up history, and listening to people about mundane incidents and anecdotes formed the foundation for the book.
As journalists, we are always reporting facts. There is no scope for putting your own opinions out there. Now, when you’re from a place like Kashmir, there are so many stories to tell — so I have always had many stories and observations in my head, throughout my life there. When I used to get some time off from my journalistic work, I would always pen down these stories and observations. Over time, these stories took the shape of a novel.
As a debut author, what were the challenges you faced while writing?
When you are a debutant author, you don’t know what will be the fate of your writing. Luckily, in my case, when I approached publishers, I didn’t have to struggle much. But the real process starts then. Working with a publishing house is a long process and there are things like creative differences with editors, but in the end, the book came out really well. Then the pandemic hit us, which delayed the book’s release, which was supposed to be last year. So it’s taken this book a while to finally get released. Also, when you write about a place like Kashmir, you need to be utmost careful and sensitive towards the situation there. I think that was the biggest challenge.
Why did you choose Speaking Tiger as your publisher?
Speaking Tiger is a very reputed publishing house. In a very short span of time, it has established itself among the top publishers in the country. They have published some renowned names in the literary circle. They are also open to different kinds of manuscripts and stories that are told in new and innovative ways. What stands them out is their ability to experiment and see value in fresh perspectives.
Who is your favorite author and how do they affect your writing style?
I love books written by Franz Kafka, George Orwell, Vladimir Nabokov and Dostoevsky. However, while writing this book I was reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, who also inspired me a lot.
When did you decide that you want to become a journalist?
I can’t recall a particular moment when this realization dawned upon me. But since my childhood days, I was surrounded by stories and legends. My grandfather was an avid reader. He would often read out Mirza Ghalib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Alama Iqbal to the children in the house. While growing up, I was also exposed to the works of celebrated writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Orhan Pamuk, and George Orwell early on. Over the years, I developed a flair for writing and by the time I entered the university, I was already writing columns in newspapers, highlighting social and political issues in society. It felt natural to be in a journalism school and aspire to someday write like the best minds in the field. After that, I never looked back.
What part of your book is the most favorite one and why?
One incident that spurred an important chapter in the book ‘The Lost Cow’ involved overhearing a dejected passenger in a dilapidated matador, who lamented the loss of his cherished cow during a curfewed night in downtown Srinagar. I used it as a metaphor in the larger context of the situation in Kashmir.
What is the Book about?
Life in the Clocktower Valley is about mundane issues of Kashmir. These could be issues in other settings, but because of the surrounding conflict, the environment, and the kind of place Kashmir is, they become really important. In everybody’s life, there is a whole lot of uncertainty. There have been a lot of books on Kashmir, addressing the conflict. But my endeavor while writing this book was to talk about life amidst this conflict. So there are also a lot of environmental, social, and domestic issues in the book, which are either not talked about or seldom talked about.
Why a book on Kashmir?
Kashmir has always been close to my heart. I stay in Delhi now, but I am always thinking about the situation in Kashmir, its changing landscape, politics, and society. But one thing that stays constant is the stereotyping of Kashmir — the way people view Kashmir through the lens of the media, which I think has to change. More people from Kashmir need to tell their own stories. People on the outside need to know the vast difference between the ground realities and what is being portrayed on the screen of their televisions.