WAHEED’s novel is yet another addition to the growing number of novels on the political situation in Kashmir. But it is different from them as it is located far away from the areas of trouble and its protagonist belongs to the small community of Gujjars.
Although the novel goes back and forth in time, it draws a clear contrast between the past and present condition of the village. The past was a time of peace, of meaningful living, when the protagonist and his friends did whatever they liked and dreamed of a promising future. The Indian army was hardly visible then. But things change when a new priest comes to the village to awaken its people to the vision of freedom, and urges the young to join the growing number of mujahids. One by one, the friends of the protagonist disappear. He too tries to join them, but fails. He is told that he lacks the spirit of revenge as his father is with the government.
So he takes a job with Captain Kadian: to collect the ID’s and weapons of the mujahids shot by the army and dumped in a secluded place. His conversations with the Captain bring out the different shades of the army’s attitude towards the insurgents, and the reason for their action: “If you hadn’t taken it too far, nothing would happen.” The protagonist takes us to the guides who help people cross the border. We also see the effect of rising discontent among the residents, the entry of the army into the village, and brutal deaths. The novelist also documents the excesses of militants and their brutality towards those who do not help them.
Waheed has written a complex novel. It has beautifully written evocative passages about the place and powerfully rendered army and militant violence. The protagonist’s first encounter with the dead youth and his lighting of the fire to burn the pile of lifeless corpses in the last scene testify to his skill as a craftsman. And when he curses India, Pakistan and many others for the troubles of his people, we feel his pain and agony. Sadly, Waheed dilutes the novel’s effect by needless repetition and faulty characterisation. Nevertheless, the novel deserves to be read for its absorbing narrative and also for raising some interesting questions about the happenings in Kashmir.
(Penguin Books, Panchsheel Park, Community centre, New Delhi-110 017)