Roar, oh Tiger, For Thy Voice Should be Heard Far and Wide

Review of The Tiger Ladies – A Memoir of Kashmir; Sudha Koul; Beacon Press – U.S. and Hodder Headline – U.K. (2002); pp 228

– Inshah Malik

Sudha Koul was born in Kashmir. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s in Political Science from the University Of Jammu & Kashmir after which she taught Political Science at Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi. Koul then joined the government when she became the first woman from the state of Jammu & Kashmir to be selected as an officer of the Indian Administrative Service. After marriage she moved to the United States and raised a family. Sudha Koul’s memoir The Tiger Ladies travels in time. In 228 pages, it makes a ‘Kashmiri’ out of you. It narrates the lives of people in the 1947 era till her being the third generation, and her horrors of staying and working as a single woman in the government offices in India. Also her life in the USA, which raises her identity questions of her Shavaite beliefs and makes time for her to seek answers in the form of this memoir.

The excellence and simplicity with which the complex subjects are dealt with is simply mind-blowing. The simple and pristine life of Kashmir valley as an upper class elite Pundit woman sees it is a heaven of its own kind. The reader is left unaware about whether it is the same for the ‘other’ community that she mentions in the form of people related to service at her home – the Fishwoman, Riceblind, Mohamdu and farmers who bring the ration to her home. She explains the simple and beautiful bonding of two communities arisen from the churning of historical imaginations of philosophies. The Kashmiri culture, as the book depicts, is nothing less than a concocted medicinal soothing, an example for the entire human kind. However, in the memoir, the uncomfortable facts of the political instability outside appear in a very challenging way to the reader. The author has been humble enough to state just as what she felt leading to many contradictions of her own. In her quest for identity, she juggles between being a Kashmiri and an Indian, sometimes being more of the former than the latter. She also ‘others’ (the process of excluding one’s own identity) her Indian identity from her grandmother’s statement.

The tourists vanish at the end of the season and in the valley it’s just us again, no outsiders, no strange languages. “You have to be very careful when you leave the valley,” says my patriotic grandmother, “there are all kinds of people out there.” We have always been here, we are born here, we grow up, study, get married, work and die here. In our minds the best place in the world is Mother Kashmir, which is what we call home. Everyone knows everyone because we have the same mother. We do not want to be anywhere else, particularly in the summer, which we have enjoyed in our way for generations… – Pg. 127

Towards the end, her quest finds solace in diversifying her identity of being a South Asian living in the USA.

However, her Kashmiriness follows her throughout the time. This book is largely the product of her search for identity and her balance between traditionalistic and modern lifestyles. She grieves at what has been happening in the Kashmir Valley and also reckons and foretells the loss of ethnic unity which could have spread the light in the entire world. She brilliantly puts down the vulnerabilities of the minority community in the difficult times. Also references to “outside” influences on playing the communal card, whether in the form of Pakistan-sponsored Kabailies (tribal men) or Indian security forces. Interestingly, her memoir also makes a special mention of the opinion poll that was promised to the Kashmiris.

Nehru and the Kashmiri leaders agree that the accession will eventually be formalized by a people’s poll… – Pg 30

Everything said and done, the author keeps hoping against the hope throughout the book like all of us Kashmiris still living in the distorted version of the first phase of her memoir. In her concluding paragraphs, she foresees change that would be initiated by Kashmiri Muslim Women of the new generation. The title of her book does fair justice by restoring faith in women and projecting them to be saner and rationale voices for justice.

The cycle repeats itself. Not everyone will benefit from peace, I think to myself. I flip open the pages of the crisp newspaper and look for the word Kashmir. I find it just below a photograph of a beautiful pair of green-blue eyes; the rest of the face is covered with a veil. I know that look. The young woman is a self-avowed Islamic fundamentalist and looks the part. She swears to the reporter that the status of women in Islam is equal to that of men. She is a leader of Kashmiri Muslim women and has a small female child. The reporter asks her what kind of a life she would like her daughter to have when she grows up. She says, “I would like her to be the Prime Minister.” I smell a tiger and rose petals…. – Pg. 228

In the end, it is a must read for homesick Kashmiris, for those who are interested in women’s voices from the valley and also for post-1989 born Kashmiris.

** The reviewer, Ms Inshah Malik, is a Ph.D Scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. She also did her MPhil from the same institute on, Impact of the on-going conflict on women in Kashmir. She has been constantly writing about issues of women and Kashmir movement in several magazines and web portals. She has also worked extensively with the issues of disability, Dalit and tribal rights in Maharashtra. She is presently working on women’s agency in different protest movements in Kashmir. It is an attempt to write women’s history of Kashmir.

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Rating: 6.3/10 (8 votes cast)
Roar, oh Tiger, For Thy Voice Should be Heard Far and Wide, 6.3 out of 10 based on 8 ratings

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This entry was posted on Saturday, February 19th, 2011 at 9:21 pm and is filed under History, Non-Fiction, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.


  1. February 19th, 2011 | Princess Poepi Poupons says:

    I am not Kashmiri, but I would like to read this story. It seems like the tyrrany of the giant Giant has been there too, in my own storied realm of Islegrove.

  2. February 19th, 2011 | Princess Poepi Poupons says:

    I am not Kashmiri, but I would like to read this story. It seems like the tyrrany of the giant has been there too, as in my own storied realm of Islegrove.

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