The Paper Rants

A dance of words and chapters

Archive for the tag “South Asian Writers”

The Collaborator – Mirza Waheed


It was the summer of 2008. We were tightly packed in an old beat up Mazda 929 as it hobbled up and down the jaunty road of Rawalakot (Azad Kashmir) leading to Hajira. I was visiting North with my family to kill the summer heat and there was no better place to be than at Rawalakot, a cool bustling city near the outskirts of Muzaffarabad. As we rode the rusty creaking car to the nearest village to the LoC, the rain overcame us and by the time we reached, a dread had already crept into each of our person. It was an exciting place to be – the beautiful streams toppling down from the giant mountains, the clouds brushing past along the wind, the green inevitability of the land, the terrace fields of colored flowers, everything about the place sang of the exquisiteness of the valley. But the threads of the natural beauty unhashed as soon as upon exchanging pleasantries with the locals and receiving warm welcome, we heard about a Pak-India encounter at the LoC. It couldn’t be more timed. Just what I wanted to know about the situation at the LoC came to me in the concerned frowns and misty eyes of those people. Kashmir was beautiful during the day but dreadful at night. There was an ominous ring to everything that went about in Hajira valley. The fear, the trepidation, the anxiety of the place was haunting. Though everything was quite alright, I was never able to fathom that dread till today.
After reading Mirza’s novel, I came to understand that dread. The valley that hides many a secrets and stories in its limitless folds emanates that fear. Mirza’s book encompasses one of such stories, out of millions of others that are probably muffled over by now but not quite dead. The grief of each story collectively screams out of the valley and anyone visiting the place cannot help but discern that feeling of anger and helplessness. The story is about a boy who is unnamed during the entirety of the novel, takes on a special duty to collect belongings off the corpses left to rot in a hidden gorge. Though the boy is disgruntled and takes on the job out of fear, he’s constantly ridden by guilt and longs for the company of his friends who went missing – most probably crossed the border to Pakistan to get military training and pick up arms against the Indian army. While some of those men who cross borders to dream of upending the fate of the valley and turning revolutionaries encounter Indian Army, others left in the valley find it difficult to live under the constant surveillance of the same. There’s hardly any climax in the story. It finishes off smoothly as it starts, showing the adeptness of Mirza’s lyrical language which confers much without being overly dramatic.

A must read from this part of the world.


Shalimar the Clown – Salman Rushdie


All the time while I was reading this, I was specially reminded of the ‘Kashmir Hour’ broadcasted on PTV during the late 90s when the photos of mutilated bodies and wailing mothers used to repeatedly flash on the screen that made an 8 year old me cringe and get chilled to the bones. The fight for freedom was rich and loud while we dined and the TV blasted off songs of Humera Channa calling out to the world’s justice. We had no other option to switch a different channel. We had to realise that the war of freedom is hollering worse than ever until it got muffled over the years on our ears.

So this book is about Kashmir. Rushdie wanted to spit venom and did a tremendous job of it. Though the story rocked me out of my blazers, the long winded lament of Kashmir was a tad bit overdone. Rushdie wanted to come out ugly. He succeeded.

Such violence. Much drama.

The book starts in an intense manner when India (Kashmira), a smart woman of 30, harbours sexual thoughts for her father’s chauffer, a lean handsome Kashmiri man inducted specially for her father’s services. Later when her father, America’s counter terrorism chief, Max Ophulus (whose name is so wildly sensual) gets assassinated, the assassin turns out to be none other than the handsome chauffer himself who happens to be the husband of India’s mother. So there, now that you have a great Bollywood twist there, let’s move on to the more pressing matter at hand, Rushdie’s political concerns, which are not hard to discern through the text.

Rife with anti-Pakistan sentiments, Rushdie moves on to create a really ugly picture at the Line of Control, which is though somewhat true, stands out relentlessly as a biased stance of a one man’s propaganda. Other than that the book was an epitome of smart writing and rich cultural history. The realism, the dark magic, the Kashmiri food, the villages, the smell of the valley, the richness of the dialect screamed through the pages and while you can shrug off Rushdie’s biasness of Kashmiri’s fate, you cannot help but laud him for the powerful piece of writing.

I know the guy had gone through a lot of hate in the past, some deserved and some undeserved, but this book stands a chance to be read and analysed, along with other literature on Kashmir. And so while I cannot say it is one of the best books on Kashmir, it exists and it makes sure to leaves off a mark that is hard to rub off.

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