“This World Below Zero Fahrenheit: Travels in the Kashmir Valley” is an insightful travelogue that presents a portrait of people who have been overshadowed by the place they live in, even as it ruminates on the idea of home and exile as author Suhas Munshi provides a unique social and cultural perspective of a state that is otherwise permanently in the news for the violence that envelops it, or the beauty of its landscape.
On August 5, 2019, Munshi was returning to Srinagar from a visit to legendary poet Habba Khatoon’s relic in Gurez when an unprecedented curfew was imposed upon Jammu and Kashmir and Article 370 was abrogated. Through his travels with people across the Valley, Munshi tries to portray a sense of what that moment has meant to the common Kashmiri. Thus, this is a travelogue that breaks away from the cliched view of Kashmir, one that sees it either as an earthly paradise or a living hell.
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It takes you to unexpected places, into the homes of poets, playwrights, and street performers; to a heartwarming Christmas service with the minuscule Christian community in Baramulla; and inside the barricaded city of Srinagar’s football stadium, which is a lively refuge for the elderly and their memories of a glorious past.
Over three weeks, for fear of being abandoned in harsh terrain, Munshi struggles to keep up with a group of Bakarwal nomadic shepherds as they make their way from Srinagar to Jammu over the mighty Pir Panjal mountains. And he finds a lone Pandit family living in a decrepit ghost colony in Shopian, the hub of militancy in Kashmir.
Munshi was born in Srinagar and has spent over a decade reporting on politics, culture, and conflict from across India, including Jammu and Kashmir. “This World Below Zero Fahrenheit”, published by Penguin, is his first book. (IANS)