Ever wondered, how does it feel to see posters of “most wanted” people on walls of buildings in Delhi streets? People with similar, same religion, belonging to the same land, where I come from— Kashmir. I read names, saw pictures and probed expressions. Of course, it hurts somewhere deep in my heart. But let me confess I was scared too. Scared of being a suspect when I looked at those posters in Connaught Place, Delhi, early this year.
One night after returning from the launch of Kashmiri author, Mirza Waheed’s novel, The Collaborator at the British Council Library, with a bunch of friends, we were walking past and looking at the posters is when I told a friend, “This is why we should write. We have to erase our suspected image in world. We are proud Kashmiris and we should live proudly, not cowardly.”
The critically acclaimed novel is a fictionalised account of the ground reality of Kashmir conflict. The novel is set in a village, Nowgam near Line of Control (LoC), the de-facto border between India and Pakistan. It is the Kashmir narrative woven around a nameless protagonist.
The novel is history, present and who knows it may be future also. Living in Kashmir is a struggle in itself. We leave from home in morning, some return, some never do while some land in jails. Sometimes they do return but in coffins.
The Collaborator represents the daily conflict of the valley. As the author read some pages of the book, those were words of agony, words of tragedy, words of broken promises and the words of suppression. How people strive for their rights and yet get killed is the story of the novel.
Throughout the book, author narrates many anecdotes which give shape to what has been going in Kashmir for decades now and still continues. He writes about the militants and informers. Curfews and Crackdowns. How a governor visits the village to distribute gifts just to gain the support of locals. “Someone hissed something in my ear. I looked again. And saw the Governor of Kashmir walking towards us. The King of curfew himself.” (Pg-227)
Captain Kadian is a typical Indian army man. A north Indian, a Punjabi perhaps, or Jat probably. He has Maderchod and Behenchod (motherfucker and sisterfucker), the two chosen abuses ONLY for Kashmiris on tip of his tongue. He would have a nasty mood after some drinks and would talk to the boy.
This is not a surprise that what language some army men use. When the whole Kashmir was in strict curfew I could hear army abusing people. There was a day when army men didn’t allow people to offer Friday prayers. Anyone who would open window would get a stone thrown by slingshot. Now Mirza’s novel explains it all through this important piece of literature. Important, for future generations will get to know how it was in Kashmir years before.
In the seventh chapter of the novel, I could relate the language which Captain Kadian uses while narrating the killing of Zulfikar Ali to the boy with what I hear today. “Oh yes Zulfikar!. . .The chutiya was a Pakistani at heart. . .So we shot him dead along with three other men. Just some random guys. They were all from Handwar . . .” (Pg-94) I wonder is it Zulfikar’s photo on the walls of Connaught Palace buildings? Who is he? It seems they follow a principle, every Kashmiri is not an attacker but every attacker is a Kashmiri. This you can ask to Kashmiri students living in Delhi, Bhopal, or Pune. How do they feel after any attack in the city? Who visits them first after any attack? Why students trim their beards after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks? I hope you get the drift? This novel is the answer. It says what happens to Kashmiris. It speaks of their fate.
Every single day of Kashmir, then and now is same. One can understand what it was like last year when for seven days whole Kashmir was under curfew enforced by the army. Only stray dogs and Indian forces were patrolling roads. Milk was priceless. Like the water was for the son of Prophet Abraham, in Makkah. A Gift. Last year when a neighbour went out to buy milk I could hear his screams and bamboo sticks hitting his body making noises.
Reading a chapter from the book, ‘Milk Beggars,’ is how it is like living in Kashmir. These words express the pain of mothers who are wandering in search of milk for their children. “Do not turn us away empty-handed, baayyo, do not turn us away, we have travelled far…It will end some day. It will. One day there will be no curfew and then there will be milk. One day the Curfew King will die and there will be milk.” (Pg-181)
The recent report of State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) which revealed there are as many as 2156 bodies buried at 38 unmarked graves in several districts of Kashmir valley since the militancy began in 1990. So that day came when someone (SHRC) at last discover them and told others about what it has seen. The book mentions the graves too, “These look like sad, mournful dunes of mud basically, like faceless sleeping ghosts. . . . Five pretend graves in three days – I will never be able to finish this but someone will at last discover them some day and tell others about what he has seen. . . “(Pg-289)
The story goes further. The boy without the name is the last young man in the village, the son of the village headman. He is aware of the happenings around him. He tries to solve the mystery of how his four best friends: Hussain the singer, Mohammed with his faithful dog, Gul the dandy, and Ashfaq the wise, vanished away from the village. And he himself landed in a valley filled with corpses, this is the very place where he spent his childhood. His friends have crossed over to other side to return as trained militants. He wants to find them and get them back. He travels to the hill, to look for the guide who helps militants to cross over to other side. He fails to trace his friends.
The author has maintained the lucid language, lyrical prose, and the descriptive expressions which keep you glued to the book. As the pages turn a new brutal chapter of Kashmir history unfolds. The days, months, years make rounds in the head and a collective picture of Kashmir in time of conflict develops before eyes. It makes reader to feel, to see, and to understand. The collection of brutal ground reality of Kashmir fictionalised creatively.
Thumbnail photo: Bisma Tenzu