Munnu, a boy from Kashmir blends many things in conflict

It feels great to write and publish what I want, when I wish to without the pressure of being relevant on the internet.

Munnu, a boy from Kashmir by Malik Sajad
Munnu, a boy from Kashmir by Malik Sajad

I would never have known of this book if not for my friend who is studying about art for resistance (broadly) in Kashmir. I was venting about not being able to find anything interesting to read and he lent me this. Only my 2nd graphic novel after Persepolis, and my first book on Kashmir, it was informative, while I cherished beautiful snippets from Munnu’s growing up years. I felt a personal connection with Munnu’s life because I got occasional anecdotes and a lot of insight into the politics and life in Kashmir from this friend who also worked there briefly.

Munnu is the tale of a boy who was born and raised in the Kashmir conflict, a slice of life depiction of him growing up in Srinagar. Owing to the complexity of life and politics in Kashmir, Munnu’s story is the reality of how politics, education, patriarchy, poverty, religion, and journalism are collectively abused by those in power, depriving Kashmiris of their basic freedoms, of everything. This is an old story some might say and has been going on for decades. It also might not end anytime soon. Only a little while ago a webinar about ‘gendered resistance to Indian occupation in Kashmir’ was cancelled as it is a ‘highly objectionable and provocative subject that questions the territorial integrity of India.’ Just an everyday reminder that this country is heading towards its death, but what can I do? None of the happenings in Munnu and the impact on the day-to-day life of Kashmiris are fathomable.
I just think that, for now, by reading (a book like) Munnu, I could learn a little more about Kashmir’s reality. It will be one less person believing in the stereotypes and perpetuating them.

Let me begin with the final scene of this graphic novel, which was the most disturbing for me.
As a cartoonist for Kashmir’s most-read newspaper, Munnu has been channelling all his energy into telling people about the battering of Kashmir. That day, ambassadors from the European union were visiting, willing to meet him and find out what the youth of Kashmir wants. Munnu prepared his best only to see that the very old white ambassadors have some tea, engage in small talk and leave him with a solar powered torch light, for the environment’s sake.
A dejected Munnu is walking back home in the dark of the night with this solar powered torch light when he is chased by dogs. He runs for his life to find an auto. He is stunned when he realises that a woman is being gang raped. Once it is done, the woman walks towards the dogs, clarifying to Munnu that the men are her brothers, while the men dismiss Munnu’s shock by calling the lady a ‘lunatic’, like she deserves what she got.

The irony hit me. Here is Munnu, struggling to show the world the abuse of power in Kashmir, and then the European Union showed Munnu a different shade of it. Another dimension.

The ghastliness of the novel culminated with this incident for me, which I think the author intended. It precedes blatant killings of people, subtle and systematic elimination of Kashmir’s history, culture and traditions, robbed childhoods, white saviour complex, all impacting precious lives day after day after day!
Munnu is passionate about his job as a cartoonist. When he starts, he sees it as his responsibility. He truly believes that telling the real stories of Kashmir will trigger change. As he spends more time in the business, he begins to feel that he may be toying with people’s emotions, giving them a false hope that something might actually change. Munnu’s disbelief in the final pages of the book speaks to the reader.

The book is a fine piece of work because it blends the harsh reality of Kashmir with endearing moments of everyday life.
Like the fact that Munnu’s favourite brother Bilal is always looking out for little Munnu giving in to all his childish wishes and tantrums. He gets him his first set of colour pencils, encourages him to be more curious and learn about things, helping Munnu realise his dream of drawing his way through life. The family of six is loving, supportive and protective of each other and Munnu is the most dramatic of all. The artwork is distinctive and I think you must read the book to understand why the characters are drawn as they are.

Munnu conveyed to me that life is made up of many small moments, that our religions are all an amalgamation (there are historical references in the book) and that we are all here, in this world together, if only we could see it. That resistance is necessary in this world that we made together.

Munnu is enjoyable, informative, heartbreaking and disturbing, all at the same time.

Originally published at on November 25, 2021.




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