Novels and Our Narratives

Our story must be told by our own people



‘Our story is yet to be told to the world.’ Like in some old popular Kashmiri ballads, this pithy sentence has found a refrain in many of my columns in the past. Looking for intellectuals and ideologues like Franz Fanon and Edward Said, one day   standing    by our side, sometimes,  I also started searching   for writers in our weird literary landscape, who could write as powerfully as Henri Alleg author of ‘The Question’ or could produce a powerful narrative as  ‘The Gangrene’ translated into English by Robert Silvers. These books about Algeria despite being suppressed by the French government including by General Charles de Gaulle were sold in thousands and revolutionized the thinking of people in France about Algeria- ultimately also changed mind set of De Gaulle and made him announce freedom for Algeria. 

The other day, at a bookstore, when I saw two young girls looking for English novels by Kashmiri novelists, I had to correct myself and start believing that we have started telling our story to the world. True we have had rich tradition of storytelling and in contemporary situation we also had master storytellers like Akhtar Mohi-u-Din writing in mother tongue and through words portraying agony and pain of Kashmir. But, these stories did not reach even a wider readership in Kashmir not to say world outside. It were travelers and writers from outside who told stories about this salubrious land to the world.  In 1947 and after, some classical books on birth of the Kashmir problem were written by European and American writers. But, history can hardly recapture the past in its totality or reconstruct the agonized scenes or revive the echoes of sobs and moans of suffering people- that way our story has even been told by foreign authors only half.  Stories of Kashmir:  heroic struggle of shawl weavers, revolt of silk factory workers and rising against bigoted and autocratic rulers did offer subjects for novels as powerful as ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. But Kashmir failed to produce writers to tell these stories to international readership. Three novel in English were written by non-Kashmiri writers on the 1947 happenings.  These included, The Scarlet Sword by H. E. Bates, Death of Hero by Mulk Raj Anand and Rage of the Vulture by Alan Moorehead. The Scarlet Sword was about happenings in Baramulla church and mission on 24-25 October, ironically, Bate never visited Kashmir.  Death of a Hero glamorizes Maqbool Shervani and The Rage of Vulture is weaved around British citizen in Srinagar when Afridis were about to enter Srinagar. To my understanding, Shalimar the Clown published in 2005, is the first major novel that narrated Kashmir story to the world. 

Though the story line runs through various continents but Kashmir with all its agonies is at the heart of the novel.  In dealing with the Kashmir tragedy as one of reviewers has written ‘The author’s style is genuinely passionate; this is a paean of love to a destroyed homeland.’  After ‘Midnight’s Children’ most engaging book of the author is ‘Shalimar the Clown’.  The way story of Booni Koul wife of Shalimar and American Ambassador Ophuls has been woven some reviewers have rightly seen it as ‘a parable of the carelessness of American intervention on the subcontinent’.  

In the literary history of Kashmir 2011 is an important milestone. In this year, ‘The Collaborator’ by Mirza Waheed, first major novel in English by a native telling Kashmir story with all its pain  caused  ripples in the world of literature.  In fact, so far it is first debut novel by a Kashmiri novelist that got ravishing reviews world over. The novel lives true, to novelist’s belief that ‘fiction should agitate people, make them sit up and think’.  It undoubtedly agitates the mind of an average reader and sets him thinking.  In 2012, another novel ‘Torch Bearer: In Dark Circles’ by Ghulam Nabi Gauhar published by Raider Publishing International, New York, London and Cape Town was added to English literature on Kashmir. The 1183 page novel that captures the social, cultural and religious ethos of the land and heroic struggle of its people for freedom from oppressed rulers is a herculean task that needs “exuberant energy.”  It was well received in Kashmir but hardly got any review at international level.

This year two new novels ‘The Half Mother’ by young Shahnaz Bashir published by Hachette India and ‘Shadow beyond the Ghost Town’ by Shafi Ahmad Published by Partridge India were published. Shahnaz Bashir’s 182 pages debut novel, with Haleema mother of Imran a teenager who suffers enforced disappearance as protagonist is in fact tale of hundreds of mothers who children were picked up by men in uniform for question and never returned. Shafi Ahmed’s 302 pages novel with Ama Ganaie an upstart  contractor as central character   is an engaging novel that boldly tells  the whole story of nineties when hundreds of youth had joined the armed struggle. Like in Dickens novel characters in Shafi Ahmed novel are real. Characters like Ama Ganaie with all their deception were galore in nineties even after. For their double role many got consumed. In a story brimming with death, destruction, killing of innocents, enforced disappearance, catch and kill, brutalities of renegades, vested interests fattening on the sufferings of the peoples the novelist has very beautifully captured cultural ambiance of rural Kashmir. Shafi Ahmed as a good story teller introduces many a characters in his novel and deftly weaves a story around them. In narrating love story of a beautiful lady army officer Arti and Nazir handsome son of Ama Ganaie- who later suffers enforced disappearance the novelist very subtly exposes the grave human rights violations.  

‘Shadow Beyond Ghost Town’ is second English novel of the author. His earlier novel The Half Widow was recognized as commendable addition to what has come to be known as the ‘resistance literature of Kashmir. And his second novel is equally a good an important contribution to Kashmir narrativ