Author: Shakoor Rather
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: Rs 350 (paperback)
It is an art to present conflict before the world in formats people are interested in. Of late, Kashmir has generated a breed of young authors who have successfully penned down accounts highlighting one aspect or other of the long-running conflict in Kashmir. The Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer played a pioneering role in this regard.
A new book has been added to this genre, a novel written by Shakoor Rather, a journalist with years of first-hand experience of the Kashmir conflict. It is based on the theme of romance and innocence amid blood and suffering all around. Life in the Clock Tower Valley builds itself over two parallel stories through which many of our inherent biases and corruptions have been pinpointed. The author has all along remained apolitical in this exclusively political affair. Nowhere has he tried to put the reader face to face with any situation that would lead him to draw perplexing conclusions. He has presented situations devoid of drama and has egged the reader to make of it whatever he is capable of making using his own intellect.
Although the book is a novel but no native of Kashmir would treat it so after going through it. All the people, places, events mentioned in the book seem real, commonplace here in the valley. The novel has talked about everything, be it our customs, traditions, habits, tastes, beliefs, myths or superstitions, through the lives of its characters. Since the characters are local, inhabiting real places, their stories also seem truthful.
The author has talked about, for example, the daily struggle of commuters in the decrepit matadors of Srinagar through the lives of two university students entangled in a love affair. The kind of conversation passengers make while they travel keeps on elongating to unreasonable lengths. Or the beggar, who laments before people travelling in these vehicles, fails to grab their attention because all of them are busy with their mobile phones. The mundaneness of the situation is such that it fails to provoke any emotions.
The new engagements of youth with the internet and the diminishing of traditional social spaces has also been dealt with in the novel. Use of social media to woo the opposite gender and incidence of crimes due to animosity harboured through it has been highlighted through reference to news of the murder of a teenager.
Similarly, the political intricacies of Srinagar known as Sher-Bakra bickerings have been beautifully depicted. The gravest part of this enmity prevented the two main characters of the novel from getting married as their families professed two opposite ideologies.
With the help of allegories, the author has highlighted many of our collective infirmities. There is the example of a female matchmaker whose marital life in the city proved unsuccessful as she belonged to a rural area. In another illustration, the depravity of in-laws towards their daughter-in-law because she was unable to conceive for long is depicted through their relentless jibes and taunts. The role of faith healers (pirs) in such cases has also been explained well with a touch of humour and sarcasm.
Our system of belief and its changing intricacies among our youth has been brought to light by using the parable of an Imam, who changed his lifestyle after attending a religious seminary outside the state. The interplay of innocence between a loony youngster named Pintoji and Sana, a little girl, shows the many dogmas our society is founded on. A slap on the face of Samar in public transport by some self-appointed moralist on finding him caressing the hand of Rabiya, his beloved, shows another trouble we face here.
The general plight of people has been manifested through the story of a family losing their cow amid a curfew. This might seem weird to some, given the loss of humans we witness on daily basis, but it is not out of sync with the theme of this novel. The cost of conflict on the city of Srinagar has been illustrated by the fact that after eight in the evening, only rodents, dogs and journalists remain in the streets. The author, himself a journalist, has thus tried to wryly recognise the role of journalists in the conflict while giving a larger picture of the state of affairs on display here.
The damage done to our water bodies by encroachments and pollution has been lamented in the novel through a foreign tourist out on a ride on Dal Lake. The tourist is told that the splendour of the lake can now only be recalled but not recreated again. This explains everything about our will and perseverance to save these gifts of nature. We have been reduced to beings who only know the art of self-gratification. The all-round pessimism has taken the best out of us and this pessimism nourishes and flourishes on the crop of conflict which never ceases to grow in any season.
The book is thus a worthy addition to one’s bookshelf and deserves appreciation. It will provide food for thought but it will neither shake your established notions nor make or break any of your affiliations. It will solely take you on an exploration of your status vis-a-vis the obtaining circumstances all of us have got mired into.