Someone has said it and said it beautifully, ‘words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.’ Truly, once the stories of the resistance movements or the fallouts of the political conflicts become part of the international literature, it makes a difference. It very subtly speaks about the success of the resistance movement and whispers resolution of the conflict.
In the twentieth century, which is largely recognized as the century of decolonization, literature played an important role in ending colonial rule in many parts of the world. In this regard, Algeria emerges as a classic example. In this country which was for about a century under one or another colonial rule, in the mid-twentieth century, new literature started growing, ‘exploring Algeria’s struggle for independence and the subsequent attempts to establish a new national identity.’ A novelist like Mohammed Dib and Mouloud Feraoun through their short stories and novels significantly contributed in earning support in France and other parts of the world for their movement. Frantz Fanon, outside the fiction through his works like ‘A Dying Colonialism’ and ‘The Wretched of the World’ was able to prick the conscience of people in France in general and the intelligentsia in Europe and beyond.
Notwithstanding, sending authors of these works into exile, persecuting them, banning them, these works were sold in thousands. The power of the right word in right order not only pierced the conscience of French intelligentsia but also shoved them to play a proactive role in mobilizing French and European opinion in support of the Algerian resistance movement. It was ultimately word of power and its cascading effect in changing French mindset against Algeria including that of General Charles De Gaulle, President of the country. The changed mindset caused the 18 March 1962 Evian Accords between France and the government-in-exile of Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) and the Accord was put to a referendum on 8 April 1962, ninety-one percent people of France voted in support and on 3 July 1962 De Gaulle pronounced Algeria an independent country.
History is replete with instances where written word, poetry, fiction and non-fictional works have played an important role in the struggles against apartheid, social injustice and for freedom. Kashmir, since the early nineteenth century, has been part of international literature. The land, in fact, was in a big way introduced by Thomas Moore- a Dublin born English poet through his Lalla RUkh- an epic about an oriental romance. Moore never visited Kashmir. Nonetheless, it was lines like ‘Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere, with its roses the brightest that earth ever gave,’ that made thousands of Europeans to take an arduous journey to Kashmir through high mountain cart roads. Many of them on their return to their native lands not only talked about the beauty of the land but also wrote about the overwhelming population of the land under the gaze of the Viceroys of India suffering discrimination for their faith worst than apartheid.
Kashmir does find a mention as a place of romance and beauty in some important English and other European fictional works of the early twentieth century about the sub-continental. Nonetheless, the dispute that caused three wars between two neighbors failed to become major subject for any major work of fiction of international standing. Till the middle of last decade of the twentieth century, it failed to catch the imagination of novelists of Toni Morrison and Orhan Pamuk standing- that have a global reading. In June 2017, after the release the Ministry of Utmost Happiness a novel by Arundhati Roy Kashmir conflict once again shot into prominence after a gap of few years in the international literature. Her debut novel, `The God of Small Things’ was published 20 years back.’ That had won the Booker Prize – one of the prestigious literary awards. For this award, the novelist overnight had made it to stardom of literature in the world. Nonetheless, it was her activism as environmentalist and campaigner against injustices and denial of fundamental rights that had added to her prestige internationally.
‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ has a very wide canvass and it is very difficult, to sum up, all the theme in a column- that in no way is its review. Nonetheless, the most interesting thing about the novel is that many important reviewers in the international press were attracted by treatment of Kashmir conflict and its fallouts by the novelist. Yvonne Zipp, Deputy Editor of The Christen Science Minister captioned the review of the book, ‘’The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ is a sprawling tale in which Kashmir looms large’. Equally, Caroline Moore the reviewer of the book for Independent London titled his review of the novel, ‘Arundhati Roy’s new big cause: the conflict in Kashmir’. In his review, he writes, “The Big Cause in this novel is the conflict in Kashmir, where shock and horror are the natural (though not the only) responses to the catalog of historical atrocities. How is a novelist to embody this in fiction? Ominously, Roy rejects the straight-forward fictional ploys of narrative: ‘How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.’
Some of the parts of the novel are mesmerizing, moving and gripping. Notwithstanding, the author has dealt many subjects in one novel, it is major work of fiction that tells the Kashmir story lucidly like that of The Collaborator by Mirza Waheed or ‘Shalimar the Clown’ by Salman Rushdie. Shalimar the Clown published in 2005 as I had written in this column was first major novel on the Kashmir Conflict that had brought Kashmir resistance and conflict into the domain of international literature for the first time. But, it had not got as many reviews at the international level as The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.