For those who only associate Kashmir with the violence that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, Koul's lovely, elegiac memoir The Tiger Ladies (Beacon Press; 224 pages) shows that the isolated vale in the Himalayas was a heaven before it became a hell. In the simpler pre-partition world of Koul's majestic grandmother and anxious mother, Hindus and Muslims were united by their fiercely unique Kashmiri identity. The greatest threat was a harsh winter and even that, in Koul's lush prose, was to be cherished as a gift.
As a high-caste Hindu in an overwhel-mingly Muslim region, perhaps Koul should have known better. As her blessed childhood unfolds, she catches glimpses of the fire to come—a half-heard chant of "Long live Pakistan," Muslim boys smiling as they burn a tiny effigy of India's Hindu Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Koul leaves to raise a family in the U.S. just as Kashmir plunges into crisis. And she can only watch as it blows apart. But this is not meant to be a political treatise; it's a paean to the past. Koul succeeds through sensuous detail in summoning the vanished Kashmir, the one of rainbow days and clear mountains and Hindus living peacefully with Muslims. The one worth preserving in memory.