Growing up in one of the most violent villages in Kashmir, Mr. Rather continues to grapple with how to write about the disturbing events he witnessed. One of his most recent short stories was about his neighbor who was forced by the Indian Army to lick antiestablishment graffiti off a brick wall.
“After the Army made him lick the wall, bruising his tongue, they beat him severely, and the next day he left for Pakistan to become a militant,” writes Rather.
Though he had few resources growing up in Kashmir during the conflict, he says he found his writing voice through the words of James Joyce's "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."
“The novel shattered me and made me cry like a little boy,” Rather says, who is now earning a master of fine arts in fiction at California State University, Fresno. “It vindicated my belief that I will cease to exist the moment I subscribe to the grand-national narratives of India or Pakistan.”
Such experiences, he says, have made it easy for many Kashmiri writers to turn away from supporting the Harud Literary Festival.
Still, Vijay Dar, the main organizer of the now-canceled festival and former adviser to the prime minister of India in the mid-1980s, insists that the objective of the event was to give young writers and artists like Rather more exposure.
“There are a lot of youngsters who are into writing and the arts, not only in Kashmir but also in neighboring regions like Jammu and Ladakh,” says Mr. Dar, who owns the school where the festival was supposed to be held.
His school is located next to Kashmir’s biggest military base – also a point of contention for many Kashmiris who wondered why the festival was being held in a heavily militarized area. “We thought a literary festival could give them a lot of coverage and maybe become an international festival.”