The scars of Kashmir like to talk today,
Remind us of our sins, Today they will be heard, By the Gods of the water.
And water will cleanse you and me, And finally, the land will be free. The time cannot wait more.

Life Stolen is an unconventional historical fiction which articulates the imperfect imagery of Life, the pain of distance, the meaning of love, the loss of friendship and the joy of that moral sacrifice. The story crosses the intersections of important events of history like the burning of the Library of Alexandria by Julius Caesar, the Trojan war of Greeks, the destruction of the Sun temple of Kashmir and the charm of Persian courts to remind us that history is not a mirror of the past but a window to the future. These past events strangulate the present of two prodigies -Asvin Bhat and Jordan Singh who live in the city of Jammu. They are compelled to make choices which alter their lives forever. Asvin falls for the yellow eyes of Sren, and Jordan becomes a part-time, cross-country spy. It takes a brutal experience in the jungles of Burma and enabling experience in the land of Kamchatka, for Asvin, to understand that possible meaning of love. The book details how the leanings of the past drive the moral compass of the present to possibly secure the future. And hence, when the great deluge or the great Sah-lab comes to cleanse off the sins of the centuries, Asvin Bhat is motivated to make a choice. He chooses to charter a surprising path, which goes on to redefine the meaning of his and our identity. The story of Asvin Bhat, a young Kashmiri pandit boy, is a ruin, garden, and a river in one go and takes you to inner journey of possible meaning of life and belonging. The great flood in this story is the climax, the end and the possible new start. This can be your story and only read this if you love to find yourself.

Century old picture of Nallah Mar. Photo By The Kashmir Pulse / Pinterest

Sample: Chapter Twelve: The Deluge of Kashmir.

In the history of Kashmir, written by Kalhana, the valley of Kashmir was a lake. Pre-historic myths confirm this. The lake was drained by Rishi or Sage Kashyapa, son of God Brahma, by creating a gap in the hills at Baramulla. When Kashmir had been drained and some lowlands emerged, Kashyapa asked his clan to settle down there. The Greeks picked up this story in their literature and Kashmir is also believed to be the country meant by Ptolemy as Kaspeiria. There was no mention of a deluge then.

The village of Buzahoam gave Kashmir its share of a coveted crown. Very meaningful and historically rich Neolithic sites dating to 3000 BC were excavated at Buzahoam. The sites had mud-plastered houses on the ground level with signs of redware pottery and stone tools for hunting and fishing. There was evidence of the cultivation of wheat, barley, and lentils. Later as the kingdoms of the Vedic tribes expanded, the Uttara-Kurus settled in Kashmir. Still no mention of any major deluge, yes, some earthquakes.

During the reign of Ashoka (304–232 BCE), Kashmir became a part of the Mauryan empire and Buddhism was introduced in Kashmir. During this period, the city of Srinagari or now Srinagar was built. Kashmir was an influential center of Hinduism and later became an epicenter of Buddhism, supported by the empire of Kushans. The Kushan Kings spread the Mahayana Buddhism religion from Kashmir to Central Asia and China.

This kind of geographical influence from Kashmir to China was due to the creative linking of the sea trade of the Indian Ocean to the road trade across the Silk Road, possibly through the Indus valley. The Kushans also created stability and growth in trade by providing security in the travel corridors and keept the passes free of raiders. Kanishka was the most known Kushan king who convened the Fourth Buddhist council in 72AD at Harwan in Kashmir to translate religious texts into Sanskrit. There was no sign of a deluge still.

Lalidatiya of Kashmir. Photo By Arsalan Khan(ArtStation) / Pinterest

In the eighth century, Lalitaditya of the Karkota dynasty adorned the crown of Kashmir with its first jewel, the Martand Temple. It was the largest temple complex of that time. A spectacular temple in the city of Anantnag, dedicated to the Sun God. The temple was constructed with the help of locals and Byzantine architects. Lime mortar and grey sandstone were used. It was located on top of a high mound and from the elevated courtyard of the temple, a panoramic view of the valley of Kashmir could be seen.

The temple had its main entrance in the west. It had a pyramid-shaped top and rows of evenly spaced columns which supported the arches. It also had over 80 supplementary smaller shrines. The wall carving in the temple depicted the grandeur of the Sun god. The construction of this temple initiated the moment of Kashmiri architecture, which had this mix of the Greek, Mauryan and Chinese form of architecture. This grandiose temple and spectacle of supreme faith was destroyed by the Sultans of Kashmir. Whatever was left of the Sun temple, was destroyed by the earthquakes.

Here is when the bigger deluge or the Sah-lab started to arrive. The women rulers came to the rescue and tried their best to stop these floods by making banks and bridges. First, it was Queen Didda who did some phenomenal work in the valley and after her death in 1003 AD, the throne passed on to the Lohara dynasty. Suhadeva, the last king of the Lohara dynasty, fled Kashmir after a Turkish chief raided Kashmir, but his brave wife, Queen Kota Rani, took over and ruled ably. The Queen found a solution to the floods and constructed a canal, called Kutte Kol, which diverted the water of the river from the city of Srinagar, which was the seat of Power. It was a stop-gap arrangement.

Another deluge of political nature was waiting. Some of the commentator’s state that high taxation, sordid corruption and the rise of feudalism, paved the way for foreign invasions of Kashmir. Kashmir fell apart. The new rulers created a bad and ugly way of work and focused mainly on religious conversions. Something good was also seen in traces, like the verses of Nund Rishi, who combined Shaivism with Sufi mysticism. Savagery was seen, especially in the reign of Sultan Sikander, who imposed taxes on non–Muslims, and forced people to convert or perish. Hundreds and thousands were killed. There were blood stains everywhere.

Of course, King Badshah, will come into the picture and produce the golden time of tolerance and inclusion in Kashmir. Later the Mughals, Sikhs and British will come to capture and build Kashmir. The corroded history of Kashmir got relegated to the dustbin of time, which everyone kicked, and heaped more garbage into, to hide the blood stains.

The blood stains had to be washed. Only a massive deluge could save and cleanse Kashmir, a kind of flood which has never been seen, a kind of flood which has never come. A Sah-lab which will cleanse and wipe the blood stains. But this deluge will come at a cost. It will need a sacrifice.

“The scars of Kashmir like to talk today,

Remind us of our sins, Today they will be heard, By the Gods of the water.

And water will cleanse you and me, And finally, the land will be free. The time cannot wait more.”

Unfortunately, time can drag you to the lowest possible level and then beat you up with experience. You get no chance. Water also learns from this. Hence it is easy for water to fill up the lowlands quickly. It is also not a surprise that the evil in the world is done by people who believe they are good at filling up. Filling up their cruel strengths, filling up their self-fulfilling ego, filling up their deep coffers. The result is that while they fill up, they also empty the spirit of the people they preach or lead.

Asvin was also getting dragged to the lowlands. His yesterday was heavy, but Kamchatka helped him to pull it down. And now here in Kashmir, he was walking from Harwan to Srinagar in lashing rains; and wanted to move more and more quickly, to go to the highlands. The highlands save you from the floods.

Walking along the crumbling pavement of river Jhelum, he could see the noisy currents of the water pushing against the banks with heavy force. The angry swirls and gurgles of the water made the scene ominous and scary, and he knew that despite all the risks at hand, any opportunity to keep moving was better than getting heavy-footed. Despite the pouring and unending rains, the ominous thunder, the floating corpses, and impending darkness; he believed that change in terrain was better than a static cloudy permanence.

Once upon a time... Music on the Jhelum, A photo from Kashmir taken 120 years ago. Photo By Print Collector on Getty Images.

He moved faster towards the direction of the highlands. The water danced in an uncontrollable manner, hitting hard the sacks of cement bags, which were stacked to slow down the water. Worst case, Asvin knew, he could die as he could not swim but this kind of deluge was unforgiving, and swimming does not save you. He had to exit the lowlands to live. The goal is anyway not to live forever but to create something that lives forever. The water would soon run amok.

Or was this idea of death a figment of his imagination, an exaggeration of the fury of the rains, as articulated by Michel de Montaigne “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”

The rains got combined with hail and heavy sheets of water. It poured, rupturing tin roofs and ransacking the weak infrastructure. There were eerie hisses all around. The only dominant sound was that of boisterous water, flooding the streets, lanes and by-lanes. The people of Kashmir who had houses with two to four floors started to vacate the ground floor. They moved to higher floors. The sound of the lashing water, punishing the tin roofs, was ominous.

Asvin was now climbing up the muddy slope, across the eastern embankment of the river, to take a right detour to pass the dilapidated temple and cross the zero bridge. Then walk across the Secretariat building to get into the Hari Singh high street office complex. He would then look for refuge in one of the buildings. These buildings had private offices on their floors, which were rented out to businessmen from north India. In the meantime, the water was gaining depth and his knees were submerged, pulling him back, dragging him down as if water was made of sand.

The muddy water drenched his pants into a heavy dripping mess. He was shivering now as it was freezing cold. He wanted to check if he had any secrets to tell the rain. He laughed loud to himself, shouting at the few passersby as imbalance had seeped into him. He was struggling to move ahead as the rains were blinding his vision. He was losing his senses…………….

( catch the book to read what happens next)

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The proceeds from this book are donated to a charity linked to the KP community's cause.

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