Kashmir in Three English Novels

Javaid Iqbal Bhat

In this essay I analyse three novels and how they engage with the tumult and violence prevalent in Kashmir. The novels The Collaborator (2011) by Mirza Waheed and No Guns at my Son’s Funeral (2005) by Paro Anand have been published after 2000, and one of the novels The Rage of the Vulture (1948) by Alan Moorehead, came out in 1948. The works by Waheed and Anand are heavily influenced by the historic events following the start of armed militancy against the Indian state. While Waheed is clearly critical of postcolonial India for the intense militarization it has perpetrated on people, Pakistan, as well, is not spared. The unknown narrator roots himself in Kashmir, away from the masochistic nationalistic posturing of India and Pakistan. Paro Anand, on the other hand, has produced an extended propaganda piece bolstering the Indian standpoint. The official line of India has been that the armed fighters in Kashmir are “misguided” “indoctrinated” youth, who are otherwise quite innocent to carry arms against India. Moorehead’s work becomes pivotal through its engagement in the original moment of modern Kashmir conflict, and it returns us to that meaningful year when India became free of British control and Partition of India took place, leading to the creation of two nation states of India and Pakistan. The Rage of the Vulture is set in Kandahar. For the uninitiated, it might seem the location is Afghanistan where the province of Kandahar is situated; however, all the geographical details and incidents confirm that the place is Kashmir. Immediately after Pakistan emerged as a separate country, the dispute over Kashmir began. Both countries laid a claim on this territory.  In circumstances which followed, war ensued between the two newly independent countries in 1947. Each blamed the other for provoking the war and thus causing the internationalization the dispute. India took the dispute to the United Nations where it remains unresolved for the last more than sixty years, while the conflict has consumed thousands of lives in Kashmir, not to mention the casualties in the wars between two countries. When the war erupted between India and Pakistan in 1947, some irregular forces, from tribal areas of the newly formed Pakistan, and sought to liberate Kashmir from the Indian control. Moorehead’s novel is based on some hundred odd Europeans who at that time resided in Kashmir. The novel focuses on this entrenched community, for whom Kashmir was traditionally a soft retreat from the harsh weather of the plains of India. They used to visit Kashmir to spend their holidays and go hunting, play golf or just wander about the hills and mountains of the Kashmir valley, which reminded them of their native country, England.

There are two other writers who wrote novels on the theme of this “invasion”, one is H. E. Bates and the other Mulk Raj Anand. The latter wrote Death of a Hero and the former The Scarlet Sword.  However, H. E. Bates had never visited Kashmir and Mulk Raj Anand is reported to have visited the setting of his novel long after the “invasion” took place. Unlike them, Alan Moorehead was a correspondent of The Observer published from England, and had firsthand experience of the “invasion,” therefore, lending his novelistic appraisal of the situation more authenticity. The Rage of the Vulture keeps its lens on the “embattled” assortment of European residents, officials and globe trotters, who were in Kashmir at the time of Partition and the subsequent war over Kashmir.  For long they had been visiting the place laying out “tennis courts, golf courses and croquet lawns” (Moorehead 11) and were thus quite reluctant to leave despite the onset of violence and chaos around them. In Kashmir “they felt the fresh wet breeze they had not know since they had sailed from Portsmouth and Tilbury docks” (11) and moved in with their Indian bearers, “their fishing rods, their copies of Punch and cases of whisky” (12). Most of the action is seen through the eyes of Ian Pearson, an ex-naval officer turned commercial traveller. Ian falls in love with Elizabeth, a wayward society beauty of enormous charm who is tragically partially blind. Their love for each other is violently curtailed when as a result of the tribal ‘invasion,’ the European residents are evacuated. Ian takes the Calcutta plane; Elizabeth is bundled on board the aircraft bound for Bombay.

Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator was published in 2011. The action of the novel starts around 1990 when the indigenous armed movement began against Indian rule in Kashmir. The 19 years old eponymous narrator from village Nowgam is working with an Indian army officer, Captain Kadian. His job is to collect the Identity Cards from the corpses of militants who died fighting against the Indian army. His four childhood friends Hussain, Gul, Ashfaq and Mohammed have all crossed the border to Pakistan for arms training and “army had started capturing and killing hundreds of boys attempting to cross over to Azad Kashmir. They saw, they shot. They saw more, they shot more” (117). As violence rages on between “terrorists” and Indian army, almost his entire village is depopulated as people run away for safety. He also contemplates crossing the border for arms training but his father, the village Headman, rescues him from taking a step which could have led to his death.

Paro Anand in her 172 pages novel reveals the double self of the protagonist Aftab. During day time he is close to his family, and as night descends he slips out with the “terrorists”, chief among which is Akram. The latter is shrewd enough to indoctrinate him into fighting against the Indian army, creates communal feelings in him against the Hindus, draws him away from his family members, and eventually leading to his violent death. The authors points out how innocent children are misled during the conflict and made to believe in the concept of holy war against the infidels. In a verbal encounter between Aftab and his mother, the latter becomes the author’s, or dare I say the Indian official spokesperson, in which the Kashmiris are not just naively depoliticised but also infantilized:

“And what exactly do you know about Delhi and the people there? Who has been filling your head with all this? And is your head so empty that you’re willing to fill it with any garbage that comes your way? Do you why our Kashmir has come to such a state? It is because of people who have come from across the borders. Who have no iman of their own. No religion, no roots. They come here and sever the roots. Our roots, our children’s roots. …Don’t get mixed up with these dangerous people… (18)

So what is the connection between The Rage of the Vulture and these two novels published after 2000?
First of all, the three novels revolve around the conflict status and nature of the disputed territory of Kashmir, and violence is at the heart of this dispute. The Rage of the Vulture though focused on the Europeans caught in the initial violence, does suggest the scope and nature of the problem in future. If it could be fought over so ferociously in 1947, just a few months after the withdrawal of the British, what will the state of the dispute sixty years down the line, when no party to the dispute has stepped down from her fundamental position, and with all the accumulated complexities of the subsequent decades, not to mention the changed geo-political situation? The Collaborator and No Guns at My Son’s Funeral, both, deal with the armed insurgency which followed the massive rigging of election in 1987. So the latter two novels are an extension of the depiction of the dispute and the subsequent violence, in which ordinary lives and families, largely unaware of the political games going on the higher level.
Being a European, holding a cultural distance from the rest, there is somewhat of an objective tone in the narration of Alan Moorehead, the same is missing from that of Paro Anand. Mirza Waheed was born and brought up in Kashmir. He saw the violence first hand, was an eye witness to many violent incidents which took place right next to his neighbourhood. He is the first Kashmiri to write a novel about Kashmir. Hence, his narration is authentic in terms of the lived conflict. Until his novel was published, the novelists were either Europeans, mostly British, or Indian, who brought their own cultural baggage while narrativising on Kashmir. Therefore, it won’t be wrong argue that in a postcolonial world, with two warring nation states, Mirza Waheed represents the native voice, with all the misery and suffering imprinted on the lives of people caught in one of the oldest conflicts of the world. Aftab the protagonist in Paro Anand’s novel is shown as being misled by Akram, the latter being a hardcore Islamist, who has nothing but pure hatred for anything except Islam and Muslims. Aftab is shown separated from his family, and the reason for that is Akram. Aftab is a thoroughly ahistoricised, depoliticised automata, a robot, who is merely pushed around by Akram, ideologically and otherwise, and finally prepared to fight against India.

One trope is consistent from the narrative of Alan Moorehead to that of Paro Anand and Mirza Waheed. It is related to the “invaders” or “Kabailis” as they have been memorized in local parlance. Moorehead, like H E Bates and Mulk Raj Anand, demonises these irregular fighters. One of the critical reasons for the demonization is their attack on a Franciscan Christian mission in Baramulla, in which the inmates were mistreated. That incident drew instant sympathy from the then European powers and many official and non-official narratives shaped the image of these “invaders”. Both Paro Anand and Waheed do not depart from that tradition of writing about them. They’ve been painted as rapists, looters and merciless murderers.  It is beyond the scope of this essay to write in detail about the militia which have been termed as invaders. The official narratives have overshadowed any effort to do grassroots study of the nature, motivation and scale of violence inflicted by these forces from the tribal areas of Pakistan. However, it is true the depiction of violent and aggressive militarisation of Kashmir in Mirza Waheed’s narrative has paled into insignificance what was perpetrated by the “invaders”.

Generally, Moorehead is concerned with the psychology of the departing foreigners who had lived under the glory of the British Raj. Now that was all over; “The British Raj had collapsed at last and left them naked. All the memory of hard they had worked, of how honestly they had tried to govern, had only brought them to this bitter exit. They were exposed at last to the mob” (168-69). Apart from being considerate toward them, he is sympathetic to the views, lives and perceptions of Kashmiris. He refers to the long suffering of the people under different rulers, including the Sikhs, Afghans and later the Hindu Maharajas.  He highlights the cry for independence in Kashmir amid the chaos of Partition and the claims and counter claims from India and Pakistan. Though there are characters like Habib who vouch for Pakistan and believe Kashmir belongs to Pakistan due to geographical and cultural proximity, major space is given to one Nawab Azam who is fighting for the independence of Kashmir, favouring equal distance from the two new dominions. This tone of independence embodied by the fictional Nawab Azam and Ibrahim is carried forward in The Collaborator, where the eponymous narrator is distancing himself from the claims of India and Pakistan, with even more zest, following the brutalization of the society by unprecedented militarization from the Indian state.  Paro Anand’s novel is brazenly overrunning the orientation of popular consciousness by pitching forward an Indian claim on Kashmir.

Each novel is also different from the others. The Rage of the Vulture is still caught up in the Raj atmosphere, and the brooding Europeans, who feel unbalanced to note the changes around them. The local ruler, who was not more than a superior servant of his Majesty, was now dictating terms to them, ordering them, snatching their belongings where could with the help of his employees. The Europeans meet this state of affairs with a state of shock and disbelief, and perhaps gradually, but unwillingly, resign to their fate. There is a refrain of “luggage” in the novel, how careful they are to pack all things, preserve them and carry them along. This anxiety about luggage is symbolic of their hardwork, exploits in the colony and the final disconnection, as masters, with the Empire. Paro Anand’s novel hosts an Indian desire to control Kashmir, despite all the odds; it celebrates the culture of tolerance, freedom and tourism in Kashmir before the freedom seeking “terrorists” destroyed everything. Mirza Waheed, the first Kashmir novelist, writing in English, expresses the native desire and the pain of living in a conflict, where fear haunts the best happiness and where life is determined by curfews and assassinations, and disappeared people and mass graves.

Works Cited
Moorehead, Alan. The Rage of the Vulture. Portway: Cedric Chivers Ltd, 1973
Waheed, Mirza. The Collaborator. London: Penguin, 2011
Anand, Paro. No Guns at my Son’s Funeral. Chennai: Roli Books, 2005

Javaid Iqbal Bhat is an Assistant Professor of English Literature at Kashmir University, South campus. He is finishing his doctorate in English Literature from Ohio State University and is also consulting editor of Kashmir Lit. He can be reached at [email protected]

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