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The Tiger Ladies: A Memoir of Kashmir    by Sudha Koul order for
Tiger Ladies
by Sudha Koul
Order:  USA  Can
Beacon, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I spent an idyllic few days on a houseboat on Lake Dal in Srinagar, Kashmir in 1978, and have been saddened by the ongoing conflict there. I was thrilled when a friend gave me this book to read and intrigued to discover a perspective on events from someone whose family had lived there for generations. The author, who now lives in New Jersey, shares her experiences through three generations of women, with sections entitled 'Grandmothers', 'Mothers' and 'Daughters'.

She gives us a personal memoir of this paradise, 'which sits like an infant in the lap of the Himalayas', through loving accounts of her large extended family, childhood, daily life, superstitions and rituals. I was interested in details of use of the personal kangri, 'a small handy portable firepot' like an individual heating system, even held under the clothes in winter. Also the use of pashmina shawls as 'security for the women of Kashmir', and the visits of the shawl peddlar, are fascinating reading.

The author points out frequently that, in her childhood, her own Hindu minority and Kasmiri Muslims were friends and neighbors, and that dissension was eventually fomented from outside. Sufism, 'a combination of the esoteric elements of Hinduism and Islam', affected beliefs of both groups. But gradually, seeds of dissent scattered through the Valley and life changed for everyone. 'The cry for independence had become a holy war' and soon the son of the fishwife, who delivers regularly to their home was arrested and tortured for the murder of a Hindu boy. Kasmir becomes divided and their 'days and nights of revelry are over'.

I enjoyed The Tiger Ladies on many levels. First as a nostalgic trip in time into a charming way of life, illuminating a lovely valley, of which I had only glimpsed the surface. I also appreciated its development of the process by which the seeds of destruction can be sewn in a society, and remain invisible to its inhabitants until a retrospective view is taken. Finally, it is a touching tale of mothers and daughters across generations. I recommend it to you.

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