Sitting on my desk for writing my column, I suddenly remembered somber morning of February 9, 2013, when at 7.30 A.M. an SMS by a journalist friend on tiny screen of my cell phone announced “Afzal Guru hanged in jail” and verses after verses of Mahmoud Darwish had started ringing in my ears. Making me to sing in symphony with him:
“Teach me an extra string!
Because the house is farther, and the road to it prettier—
that’s what my new song would say. Whenever
the road lengthens the meaning renews, and I become two
On this road: I … and another!”
Our story is full of somber mornings, darker days and carmine nights. In our darkest days, history taught ‘us to cope up with life, stop despair with one hand’ as Franz Kafka wrote in his diary in October 1921, ‘ and at the same time, use the other hand to remember what we see in the ruins, because we could do something different and something more than other people.”I remembered this quote of Kafka quote from an old article, “Edward Said’s Thoughts and Palestinian Nationalism” while reading a recently published book, “White Man in Dark” by Dr. Rumana Makdoomi published by Patridge- A Penguin Random House Company. The young doctor engaged in her profession has truly lived up to Kafka’s quote by chronicling bitterest days of our immediate past. ‘She has done something more and something different than other in her profession do.’
During nineties, when public discourse on Kashmir situation in New Delhi by commentators, journalists, writers and academics had ‘sunk to equivocation’ and the repetition of official propaganda. And as Said calls it, when ‘first-class writing and thought’ on macabre in Kashmir had disappeared from even ‘academic establishment, truly, it were few intrepid journalists, like Yusuf Jameel and Late Qaisar Mirza reporting for international media and newspapers like the Greater Kashmir that told the Kashmir stories to the world. Most of the reporters and photojournalists risking their lives covered gruesome incidents of violence, arson, blasts, shoot outs- the death and destruction during nineties was of terrible magnitude that it was impossible for journalists and reporters to tell the whole story. Many an individual and collective human tragedies were lost in the din of machinegun fires and guerilla actions. The only repositories of the news reports were the deep pits of archives; where from perhaps these never would be retrieved and told.
The 183-page book by Dr. Makhdoomi dedicated to doctors who stood upright and died ‘un-mourned’ in Kashmir is blend of autobiographical anecdotes and Kashmir narrative during nineties. The author has ably brought out painful individual stories and collective pain that hardly journalists, who those days were inundated by flow of new and were chaotically meeting deadlines would be able to tell.
Minds of all those witness to nineties are full of horrendous stories. Every day was a day of agony, bloodbath and carnage. The author very rightly says that incidents and episodes cannot be prioritized and for this, the book is more or less anecdotal rather than a continuous narrative. She writes, “There is a huge gathering, a huge jumble of them in my mind. I wish they would form a queue, an order so that I can put them forth one by one. But, disorder engulfing us, no incident can be recounted in a sequence or narrated in order.” Notwithstanding disorderly situation as it obtained finding a reflection in compiling the incidents the book gives a holistic mirror picture of the gory years.
Every story in the book is like a goblet brimming and foaming with pain and sufferings. The gory details of individual tragedies that transpire from every leaf of the book tell tales about the infinite sacrifices offered by the people during past two decades.
The story of one of her ‘kind hearted’ neighbor working in government, who every day parked his scooter in the compound of author killed on his return from office in police firing leaving behind his ailing parents and two small children, who did not understand the magnitude of the tragedy that had befallen them. And his ailing father dying eight days after the death of his son is not an individual story but collective tragedy of Kashmir. The story of Zafar son of an Imam, who recited nait and mankabat at the shrine of Makdoom Sahib was shot in his head is symbolic representation of tragedy of thousands of fathers whose sons were gunned down with impunity. His mother consoling herself by showering flower petals on the body and calling him a mahraza- a groom is the story of hundreds of mothers who lost their children in the prime of youth. The author by bringing out pain and agony of individuals in her neighborhood and acquaintance writes painful history of past twenty years with narrowest details.
The book is different in as much as it is an intimate account of the grisly and ghastly happening as witnessed by a young girl who graduates to be a doctor to witness suffering humanity of far bigger magnitude she could have imagined. The bullet injured succumbing to his injuries, the world of pellet hit youth becoming darker forever within seconds and her iconic teachers like Dr. Ashia and Dr. Guru killed in cold blood- with question marks on their killing still prominent.
The book also exposes the villainous characters in the society who not only derived sadistic pleasure out of the sufferings of fellow citizens but also fattened on their plight. “The Medical Institute was looted by all who could. Machines, laboratory equipment ….microscopes endoscope were stolen.’
Giving firsthand account about the difficulties confronted by the medical students in pursuing their studies in chaotic situation when many Hindu teachers migrated to Jammu and Delhi and many others went abroad for ‘greener pastures’, the author has a word of praise for Principal Medical College who against all odds kept college going.
The story of her husband a super-specialist in neuroscience from one of the premier institutions in India sporting a beard tells volumes about the insecurity that even the minds – contributors to humanity suffer. This anecdote is as powerful as poem, ‘identity Card’ by Darwish.
The author like a master craftsman has dexterously woven some beautiful Kashmiri phrases, like peche-i-dars, Aol Gol! Tas Mari Bab Mol- yus yath bathroomas choor kari.
The book has just four chapters, the blast, the chaos, lulls, reply and an epilogue but every chapter is great mine of untold stories about the twenty-two years sad saga. While it is a must read for everyone at the same time it is certainly going to serve as lodestar for researchers interested in understanding the phenomenon of nineties and chronicling the armed uprising with all its dimensions- crackdowns, curfews militancy, renegades, protests and role of men in uniform.