“Salma’s Story” The Half Widow is every Kashmiri's story

Trapped in inertia and choked for years Kashmir writers   have broken their silence. They have started telling their story- telling it boldly. “He who writes his story; Inherits the land of that story, wrote years back the great Palestine poet Mahmud Darwish.

That Kashmiris are yet to tell their story- truthful story to the world has been an overwhelming grouse with the common people.  Like many others, I also craved for having our own literature in the vein of internationally recognized, ‘Palestine Literature’- a literature that ‘takes its testimony from the place it is born- ‘a literature written within a specific historical context- a context which may be immediately situated within the contemporary struggle.’ There can be no denying, many important European and Americans historians, writers and novelists during past sixty year have candidly told the Kashmir story to the World.  Nevertheless, Aga Shahid Ali first broke the long Kashmir silence with his The Country without a Post Office.  He became first ever ambassador from Kashmir to the world of literature, who effectively told woeful  tale of his land to the world:

“They make desolation and call it peace” 

Shahid is no more with us but younger generation of his land has been endearingly and enthusiastically pursuing his legacy. On Saturday, The Half Widow, a novel by Shafi Ahmed was released. The novel   strengthened my belief that the time has come when Kashmir-English-Literature will be recognized as important genre of the international literature like that of the Palestine Literature. 

The Half Widow is the forth important book, let me borrow phrase from Edward Said’s comments on the Country without Post Office, which    ‘responds to Kashmir agony”. The earlier ones being Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer, published by Random House and Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator, Published by Penguin, UK and Siddhartha Gigoo’s The garden of solitude published by Rupa Most of these works have well received across the globe.  

The Half Widow debut novel of Shafi Ahmed   published by the Power Publishers, Kolkata is an important work placed in the contemporary Kashmir.  The story revolves around agonized life of Salma- luckless woman whose husband Aslam, is bundled into a car without number plates    never ever to return to his wife and children. Like thousands others, who have earned the title of half widow Salma has not given hope about the return of her husband.

Her trauma is the trauma of Kashmir. Handling the theme of the novel with all deftness of an artist the novelists has succeeded in telling the whole Kashmir story with sublimity. Narrating the stories of   betrayals, broken promises, deceits and attempts at changing the Kashmir narratives the writer debates some intricate political issues like legality and veracity of the accession of the state. These debates remind   me of a famous quote from Franz Fanon essay on national culture- in the wretched of the Earth how the powers that be behave in a situation like that of ours:

‘These are not satisfied merely with holding people in its grip and emptying the native’s head of all form and content. By a perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people and distorts, disfigures and destroys it.’

The novel is a wonderful blend of historical, political and graphic novels, which vividly brings out the situation as obtained in Kashmir during past two decades. The scenes of nineties and after roll before eyes like images inside a bioscope. They come to life and with all their vibrancy, the slogans and dialogues resonate and echo from all sides. The novelist is innovative in as much as in artistically interspersing Kashmiri dialogues in the text of the novel.  This technique has enabled him to bring out the pain in the life of his characters- that melts even the stone hearted. This technique not only extends poignancy to the story but also gives it authenticity.

The novel very subtly deconstructs the dominant narrative that the struggle is not all-inclusive and many ethnic groups have not been supporting it.  A grand narrative of pity, poignancy and pathos exposes apathy of the authorities towards the violation of the rights of the people. It is document on human rights violations. The author has very ably weaved some sordid tales of rights violation in his story that send   shake waves down the spine. 

 Many a time while reading the novel, I was feeling that I was going through the pages of a very well maintained journal- an authentically recorded day-to-day diary with every character in it coming to life with dizzying power of the storyteller that keeps one glued to the book till end. The novelist has not lost sight of the suffering and endurance of Kashmir pundits who left their home and hearth in a huff amidst rumors and propaganda.   

In the character of Zafar – a devil incarnate, Shafi Ahmed has summed up the whole phenomenon of “Mujahid” turning renegades. He tells us how the fringe elements in the society took to guns for the fun of it and tore the pluralistic fabric of Kashmir society. It did not matter to them who they gunned down Hindu or Muslim and with what objective. Zaffar kills pretty daughter of neighbor milkman for lust. Sprays bullets in broad day light    on   Ramesh, his neighbor a for a sport.  Murders Mir Sahib a respected neighbor and ardent supporter of larger cause for his closeness to a rival militant group and paints all of them with stroke of one brush as Mukhbirs.

The novel is a social document, in which the storyteller has not forgotten the issues like matchmaking that dominated the social scene during the peak of militancy. With thousands of young men picking up Kalashnikovs it became difficult for prospective brides to find a match. As disturbingly gripping tale   about the suffering of young woman who dares insurmountable difficulties in waiting and searching for her disappeared husband is a sad commentary on collective failure of Kashmir society that has failed to provide succor to thousands of half widows.
The novel is yet another milestone in Kashmir literature- a must read.

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