Here’s a story about a nation caught between two others. It’s the autobiographical tale of Sajad, also known as Munnu, meaning the youngest, growing up in occupied Kashmir in the 1990s. The story is told from his childhood experiences and observations, largely drawn from the injustices his particular region suffers under the Indian military.
Throughout, all Kashmir people are portrayed as hangul deer (or the Kashmir stag), itself a creature on the brink due to the occupation of the country. In the first few pages this threatens to overshadow the story as you’ve little visual references as to who is who, not to mention that everyone’s drawn side on too, but fortunately Sajad is a gifted storyteller and this soon becomes irrelevant as you become immersed in his life.
What’s particulalry remarkable about Sajad is that he created his first political cartoon at aged 13 and by 14 was producing one daily for the national paper. He swiftly became famous throughout Kashmir, not because of his age as nobody outside of the paper was aware of it, but because what he was daring to say with his drawings. So far did his fame spread that he was even given the opportunity to put on an exhibition in India, but throughout his age presented problems when the authorities simply couldn’t believe he was the cartoonist Sajad.
So on the one hand this a fascinating story of a cartoonist triumphing over adversity and helping to shape opinions and enlighten a readership, but this is also a distrurbing and completely different side of the story of what’s going on inside Kashmir, and how the people there feel cheated and abandoned by the international community.
Despite the simplicity of how the main characters’ are drawn, Sajad is able to portray warmth, tenderness, fear and triumph that leaves you firmly rooting for him and the people around him. Certainly one of the books of the year.
And if you liked that: Well, Maus would be the obvious choice, but if you’ve read that try Persepolis