Srinagar: Downtown Srinagar has been given a new lease of life in Mirza Waheed’s new novel The Book Of Gold Leaves. Its culture, its aromas, its shrines, its people, its resistance, its politics, its streets, its struggles, its art come alive in the novel in such a way as if one is living its golden ages, its decay and the early years of the resistance movement.
A small audience got a feel of such vivid portrayal of the city when Waheed read excerpts from the book at a reading held at a local hotel here Tuesday. It was his first reading of the novel.
While the setting of his debut novel The Collaborator was the hills on the border dividing two Kashmirs, The Book Of Gold Leaves unfolds in Khankah-e-Moula, where Waheed often visited his grandparents during his childhood and grew up playing with good-hearted rowdies he said are known by the derisive term, ‘khaer’.
“Downtown Srinagar is the throbbing heart of the novel. Old city stands for our culture and wealth. I love its congestion, its houses, its buildings and its decay. I knew I would write about it one day,” Waheed said during an interaction after the reading.
“There are no ordinary places in the old city; its residents are not ordinary people, they have fought everything: tyrannical military oppression, oppression by their own local mini tyrants. The novel deals with such subjects,” Waheed said.
Asked if the politics naturally comes to the writings set in Kashmir, Waheed said, “I do not plot my stories. I start with characters and places and my impulses draw from people. If they have lived flesh and blood, it would automatically reflect in the story. If you are honest about what are writing, it will show.”
The most political portion of the novel appears to be the chapter, The Zaal, which describes the military juggernaut that gobbles up people on streets in action. In reply to a question, Waheed said if politics is wedded to the lives of the characters he writes about, then politics can’t be avoided.
“Latin American writers are writing about dictators, coups, killings all the time. They find this question, whether their works are informed by politics, as amusing,” he said.
During the discussion, Waheed said he got a chance to listen to a recording in which Aga Shahid Ali described his famous work The Country Without a Post Office as a response to “what India was doing in Kashmir”. He added that though attempts were being made to de-politicise Shahid, the poet had explicitly said what one of his works was meant to be.
“The main character of my novel, Faiz, wants to paint the happenings on the ground. He struggles with changing realities of the ground. He is unable to reconcile with the arrival of the military. He consider city as his home. The city changes for him. Soldiers come near to his house window. His godmother is killed by Indian military. The reality observed by the characters figures in the novel. People here live in oppression. Ultimately such things are laced with politics,” Waheed said.
Waheed said he had to face lot of negative response from South Asia after he wrote The Collaborator.
“I received praise and love for The Collaborator as well,” he said, “But I remember a former general’s rubbish directed against me for writing the book. But I did not respond to such foolishness,” he said.
The journalist-turned-author said that Kashmiris need to write more about their place to highlight their stories of pain and sufferings internationally.