By ALTAF KHAN
Ordinarily, one is eager to take a note of another perspective on the Jhelum, the symbolic river of Kashmir, because one assumes it to cover several emotional layers of the Kashmir conflict.
At the outset Anita Krishan finds it strange that “the effect of nature’s tranquillity on its inhabitants hasn’t been same in Kashmir as it is in Himachal Pradesh,” the state where she grew up. The writer proudly claims to have Kashmiri roots, but then a little bit of google on her “motherland” would have balanced the tears of the Jhelum from either side. There is a section of Indian writers who revel in enchanting us with the scenic beauty of Kashmir but forget to google a bit about its clichéd couplets! It was not any “Firdaus” who praised the beauty of Kashmir in Persian, rather it was the Emperor Jehangir. Even the couplets have not been properly copied!
Her novel has a plot wherein a Muslim family faces a situation just like what author believes Kashmir Pandits felt in 1989. So her protagonist, Wali, laments: “Today when my house has been raided by those who are drenched in innocents’ blood, I have realised the pain of the wounds inflicted on so many innocents’ blood, I have realised the pain of the wounds inflicted on so many innocent Hindus of the valley (sic). A few moderate Muslims have suffered, but the entire Pandit populace was targeted by hellish forces.”(p291). And as a reader one does not find a difference between an academics and Jagmohan.
The writer seems adept at handling the flashbacks but the chronology does no good to the idea of narrating the ordeal of a family victimised by a serpent who comes to haunt the very family that milked him. It is this character, Shakeel, typifying the definition of “terrorist” that an ordinary Indian has grown watching through Bollywood as also the chauvinistic media, and which a sizable section of KPs also relate too. Her definition of terrorist is one who is untidy, unkempt, snotty and ugly. It seems most of the characters of novel have been straight away lifted from Sunny Deol’s jingoistic film “Ma Tujhe Salaam”.
Apart from the conceptual mistakes there are some glaring factual errors as well: “No immediate decision regarding Kashmir’s fate could be reached on the eve of independence.” Now whose independence are you talking about? “So we hung in thin air…neither here nor there,” which side of the fence you belong to; you gained “independence” and yet your fate “hung in the air.” Anita has been didactic against communalism yet she smacks of the same sin! “Being a Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh finally agreed to an accession with India despite the fact that the majority of the population of the valley (sic) was Muslim.” If it was less ambiguous, she adds, “But it was nothing more or less than a desperate move.” Quoting the official figures the author writes some, “70,000 Muslims were killed in the eastern Jammu post partition riots. Then she balances it, “Thousands of Hindus and Sikhs were killed in the Muslim dominated area of Poonch in Western Jammu.” Jugglery of official versus unofficial at work. Isn’t the exaggeration “thousands” appropriately inappropriate? The baggage of murdering and butchering is put on the Muslim shoulders (p112 “Not a single Hindu reached the city alive”).
Often enough one gets a semblance that the author hasn’t followed the “Jhelum” to narrate her “tears” so closely. Kashmir of Wali Mohammad suffers an identity crisis in her portrayal. Who is Wali: an orchardist, a tradesman or a houseboat owner whom we call “Hanji” in local parlance. The lead character has multiple identities; he is conservative and can’t accept Veena, his daughter-in-law even after her conversion, and yet the very character Wali knows what “Kashmiriyat” stands for. There is Wasim who helps Wali to escape and yet the protagonist feels, “People have become insane. There is not a one soul you can trust anymore.”
She offers lessons on freedom and how free Kashmiris are in India of the writer’s making. “Freedom? What freedom? Aren’t we free people already? Isn’t our valley (sic) a free land? What are you talking about, Shakeel? We are nobody’s slaves. We live in a democracy; under a government chosen by the people.” While she talks about the high ideals of non-violence preached by Gandhiji she doesn’t write a word about custodial killings, enforced disappearances, rapes committed by her forces. All the space of the book has been occupied by “terrorists” who throng the Valley. There is some passing reference to the Hindu extremism, Babri Masjid demolition, Bombay and Godhra riots but all this has been put into context. Her antagonist Shakeel watches violence perpetrated against the Muslims that boil his blood, but here too she finds fault at him! Shakeel says “adaab” to Wali (p249). Where have you seen a Kashmiri Muslim greeting one from his community this way? Hashim a character playing “terrorist” calls Shakeel a “terrorist” which is simply ludicrous. With every new chapter pops up a new character, in the back and forth chapters we find our protagonist waiting for us. There are some redundant words as well, “selfish-predator”; well predators are always selfish. A lie told to save someone is not a lie, really! It would make for an ideal Doordarshan propaganda serial lulling the afternoon viewers to siesta. For the author most Muslims were once KPs and this line comes right from the “gharwapsi” ideologues!
In the end one would have to remind the author of her own words in response to the armchair depiction of Kashmir: “Wali, the difference between an educated and an illiterate mind is not bookish knowledge. It is the capability of appropriate interpretation, of accurate analysis of situations, and not getting swayed by hysterics. An educated mind seeks logic. It has the intelligence to probe, to infer, and to find answers.” Wish she had put some of these lines in practice.
—The author is a teacher. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org