Veteran journalist Hardy (Bollywood Boy) follows the fluctuating fortunes of the Dar family living in war-torn Kashmir in In the Valley of Mist.
You've been a journalist in South Asia for 20 years. How did you become interested in Kashmir specifically?
I wanted to understand what had happened to this idyll of lakes and mountains and easy religious co-existence. I originally wanted to be a war correspondent—it seemed a courageous idea then—but when I witnessed the fighting in Kashmir, I changed my mind. I didn't want to report on the clinical statistics of war, but how people manage to go on living as their whole world changes.
You follow the Dar family, who are moving toward greater economic status and greater religious orthodoxy. How do you account for their increasing religiosity?
Retreating into orthodoxy is one human response to violence. Kashmiris have often told me that the only peace they find is when they are praying. For the Dar family, Islam has given them a cohesive structure as their society is fractured by the fighting.
Although you are generally sympathetic toward the Dar family, you are critical at points—particularly of one cousin's racial prejudices. Have any members of the family read the book?
The family knew that I was writing the book, and it was done with their blessing. The oldest of the four Dar brothers read the final draft, and he told me he was happy with it. When it comes to writing about people you know, you cannot please all the people all the time, to misquote Lincoln. You have to trust that by bearing witness to their story, and by taking as objective a stance as you can, that any small offense that might be taken will pass.
Will the violence abate in the near future?
The notion of jihad for the freedom of Kashmir has become a brand. Large amounts of money have been made out of the conflict, and as long as there is big money to be made, there are some who would like the fighting to continue. But the violence has abated, and the situation has improved since the 1990s, partly as a result of two relatively peaceful rounds of local elections, and partly because an entire generation has been so worn down by the fighting that they just want it to end. But as long as the division of Kashmir is disputed, it is unlikely that the violence will end entirely—and every upheaval in Pakistan, India or Afghanistan will reverberate in Kashmir.