Dr. Rajat Mitra’s ‘The Infidel Next Door’ is a book divided in 100 chapters. But each of these small chapters is a definitive peek into the multiple layers of the story that is unfolding — the story of pain and hope, faith and fear, revenge and friendship, anger and understanding, retreat and return, rejection and renewal, trauma and transformation, and of hate and love. This is a tale drawn from the pages of the history, but one that also reveals the different possibilities for the future. There is no shying away from the horror that religious extremism and terrorism unleash, and similarly there is no hesitation in highlighting the good that also blossoms even amidst all the hatred and distrust. By weaving together the stories of several individual characters, this becomes a story of two communities and one nation – a story that doesn’t feel like fiction at all, because it is too real to be ignored and because it continues to play itself out in various ways.
On an outer level, the plot is situated in the painful context of the displacement or forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in 1989-90, making them refugees in their own country. But as the characters in the story remind the readers, this was only the most recent exodus; Kashmiri Pandits have been the victims of the horrors unleashed by the Islamic powers several times in the long history of Kashmir.
Each time the only choices given to the Kashmiri Hindus, if they were to survive, were: either leave or convert to Islam. As this book reminds the readers, the slogans blaring from the mosques in 1990 kept repeating these terrible choices for the terrified Hindu minority, and also added that if they were to leave the Kashmir valley to save themselves, they should leave their women behind. This is a matter of history – unfortunately, the history that is not often spoken about because it is inconvenient, but it is the history a whole community continues to live with. It is in such a horrific historical context that we find the two key characters of ‘The Infidel Next Door’ coming to a deeper and greater self-awareness. This is what makes the book much more significant and engaging.
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