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.