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TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION

THE MEADOW
By Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark,
Penguin, Rs 499

Kashmir has often been referred to, since time immemorial, as the paradise on earth. But authors, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark have opted not to write about the beauty of the valley that has beckoned tourists for years. Rather, they have gone back in time to record an unfortunate incident that took place 17 years ago. It affected innocent tourists who were holidaying in Kashmir and transformed the lives of their family members living on both sides of the Atlantic. Even the passage of time has not been able to wipe out the unfortunate event completely from public memory.

The Meadow is a chilling account of the kidnapping of six foreigners that took place in Kashmir way back in the summer of 1995. This incident proved to be a turning point in the history of terrorism. It was an irony of sorts — the paradise on earth had suddenly become the hotbed of terrorism that made the international community watch awe-struck and helpless.

The incident happened 17 years back, so one wonders what made the authors take up the pen on behalf of the victims after so long. However, no one can disagree that the tale is unfortunate as well as unforgettable for the families of the victims.

The kidnapped tourists were all Westeners who were holidaying in Kashmir. The ransom note circulated stated that the kidnappers wanted the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of a Pakistan-based militant group, in exchange of the hostages. Interestingly one of the hostages, John Childs, a chemical engineer from Connecticut, managed to escape. But a month later another hostage was found beheaded. The remaining four never returned home and no one knows what happened to them.

Levy and Scott-Clark have worked hard to piece together the different sides of the tragic tale of a few tourists who became the victims of politics that they were not related to. The account is even more gripping than the stories from the world of fiction. The book has a detailed narrative, and at times, reads like a fictional account with developed characters. The authors’ understanding of religious fundamentalism on both sides of the border is commendable. They write with equal ease about India as well as Pakistan. Levy and Scott-Clark are also at home while speaking about the troubled state of Kashmir. They never lose perspective while narrating the details — be it the background of Masood Azhar or the rising militancy in the valley after the kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of the then Indian home minister, and the counterforce used by the State machinery that managed to isolate the Kashmiri masses. The book also includes photographs, some of them taken by the hostages themselves. The narrative is a fine example of investigative reporting. The authors not only had access to the kins of the hostages, but also the kidnappers. They have also made use of innumerable classified documents of the police and government. It is a well-researched book and makes the readers take into consideration the enormous risk the authors had to undergo while writing it. The book runs into more than 400 pages and is divided into 20 chapters. It is a gripping tale that will not be forgotten by anyone who reads it.