A revitalised Kashmiri folklore makes for a promising debut, though a better publishing house could have helped
Self-publishing has been acting as a catalyst to literary production in Kashmir. ‘Two And A Half – The Knock of Chillai Kalan’ is a fresh product under the Lieper publication banner. The book re-emphasises the notion that forgiveness is the elixir of inner peace and highlights the annihilation caused by materialism and animosity.
Nida Noor, a young female engineering student, has shown promise by bringing to life the old folklore creatures of Kashmir in her 320-page book. Growing up reading Dan Brown and Arundhati Roy and influenced by the likes of Iqbal, Nida is an avid book reader born and brought up in Srinagar.
Set in the forty-day harsh period of winter known as ‘Chillai Kalan’, the book is about Kashmir’s mythical creature Waivoph who steps into the valley every year on December 21 (when the Chillai Kalan begins) with a sole pursuit: to ensnare the soul of a person in her dearest Kangir (traditional fire pot) to resuscitate her dead husband Sartaj, and revive the lost glory of her magical native land called Wanhaar.
Spread over twenty-eight chapters, ‘Two And A Half’ introduces us to a bygone Kashmiri folklore with a touch of realism through its main protagonist – Rehmat. Described as ‘shy and overthinker’, Rehmat is a young woman who resides with her father and grandma in Srinagar. She lost her mother at an early age and is constantly haunted by weird nightmares that leave her scared and clueless. Suddenly, the wintry night of December 21, 2000, turns the tables. Rehmat gets news that her dearest Saleem Mamu has passed away due to a fire breaking out at his hotel, Winter Wave. With a series of incidents that follow, Rehmat discovers that it wasn’t a simple accident but a mysterious one. Thus begins her quest to unravel the mystifying cause of her uncle’s death.
The first seven chapters of the book, through first-person narration, introduce us to the benevolent land of Wanhaar, winter in Kasheer, and various characters – Waivoph, Assad, Rehmat, Saleem. It then takes us through the protagonist’s quest of finding the origin of peculiar wickers, which would ultimately lead towards the truth behind the deaths caused by fire.
The storyline is intriguing and grips the reader especially in the second half of the story. Through lucid and comprehendible language, the writer has successfully created suspense and curiosity throughout. Besides, the significance of the deuteragonist, Inspector Waqas, has been sublimely composed. Various details are well-captured, such as the winter activities of Kasheer:
“People are extremely busy in covering their doors and windows with polythene sheets and newspapers, fixing them firmly with nails and tape. No gap has to be left unattended.” (Pg 16)
The description of Waivoph generates a sense of horror in one’s mind, whereas the elucidation of Wanhaar (before its destruction) comes as a solace. Also, the science background of the writer is reflected through the character of Zeenat, mother of Rehmat who was a Physics teacher.
“She would have created notes, formed equations, and drawn flow charts keeping the weird hangul fire as constants and colours, seasons, trees as variables, ultimately coming out with a valid theory.” (Pg 26)
The recreated folklore, apart from giving some chills and horrors, stimulate one’s thoughts. However, the descriptions could have been better when it comes to the winter food – such as harissa, kulcha, bagirkhani, kehwa, masali czoth, lavasa, kebab and tosha.
The book contains some interesting scenes. The fake car accident chalked out by Inspector Waqas and executed by Rehmat is one of the best scenes.
The title of the book complements the story and is directly related to the horrific Waivoph:
“I walk with my crown and knock at your door. Two and a half times I call. Please open the door. I need some fire to light my kangir. I am cold and weak.”
Although the story initially looks unhooked but later on every character and situation connects craftily. Some minor but important details of Rehmat are missing, such as her age, which makes it a bit hard to create her picture in the reader’s imagination. Besides, the plot runs at a good pace but towards the climax one may feel a fast and abrupt ending. Nonetheless, the story is stimulating overall.
Some of the best lines from the book are:
“It’s crazy to think how a person spends his entire life constructing a beautiful house, with a small garden blooming with flowers in spring. He makes sure everything is perfect. With constant love, affection and care, he tries to make this concrete space, a living home. But one fine day he just leaves everything behind. What remains are the fragments of memories that fade with each passing day.”
To conclude, the writer needs to be congratulated for regenerating the forgotten Kashmiri folklore in an engrossing manner. Two And A Half is recommended to beginners, teenagers, young adults and those parents who want to enlighten their little ones with native fable. Priced at INR 350, the book is worth a read and deserves a place on the reading shelf.
However, the publishing house must be held accountable for not thoroughly proofreading the script. But all in all, Nida’s debut is promising and her future works would definitely be much convincing with a better publishing house. My best wishes to her for all future endeavours.
The writer is a student of Mass Communication & Journalism at University of Kashmir. She is a feature writer and film reviewer.