Repudiating The Fathers: Resistance and Writing Back in Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator

by Rakhshan Rizwan

I write on that void: Kashmir, Kaschmir, Cashmere, Qashmir, Cashmir, Cashmire, Kashmere, Cachemire, Cushmeer, Cashmiere, Casmir, or Cauchemar in a sea of stories? Or: Kacmir, Kaschemir, Kasmere, Kachmire, Kasmir. Kerseymere? (Ali 3)

Agha Shahid Ali, the critically acclaimed Kashmiri-American poet, speaks of his personal and literary conundrum in these verses taken from his anthology The Country Without a Post Office. On the one hand, there appears to be a proliferation of Kashmirs: from the “Cashmere” of colonial times to the “Cauchemar” (French for “bad dream”), the political nightmare of the 1990s. On the other hand, the word ‘void’ is indicative of a jarring absence of any definitive sense of the physical and psychic territory of Kashmir from public discourse. This is because Kashmir as a “territory of desire” continues to experience colonial oppression at the hands of Indo-Pakistani neo-colonialists, both of whom have fought for the moral prerogative of controlling and classifying Kashmir (Kabir 1) (Fazili 213). This has led to the systematic curtailment and silencing of the Kashmiri voice which has been forced to occupy the margins and exist in a political vacuum, an imposed “void.”

Agha Shahid Ali, as a pioneer of Kashmiri Anglophone writing, shows a heightened awareness of the difficulty of writing in a “void” and reclaiming the Kashmiri narrative from hegemonic discourses. In recent times, many Kashmiri authors inspired by Shahid Ali’s innovative literary forms, choice of idiom and most importantly, his aesthetic and political concerns, have begun to penetrate the silence with a range of literary texts consciously composed in the English language and marketed to a global audience. Jaspreet Singh’s Chef (2008), Siddhartha Gigoo’s The Garden of Solitude (2010), Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night (2010), Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator (2011) and Rahul Pandita’s Our Moon has Bloodclots (2013) and are some noteworthy examples of novels composed by authors who choose to identify themselves, among other identity markers, as Kashmiri. In her scholarly paper titled, The Last Saffron, Agha Shahid Ali’s Kashmir, Claire Chambers, corroborates this view and states that the recent “upsurge in […] Kashmiri writing in English” has been made possible by the literary contributions of Shahid Ali (Chambers).

These Anglophone Kashmiri texts contribute significantly to the canon of Kashmiri Literature, which boasts a rich, multi-lingual history of its own and are seen to be part of Kashmir’s “artistic harvest” by Indian author, Pankaj Mishra (qtd. in Shaftel). However, Mishra does not view the publication of these texts as an isolated development within the realm of literature. Instead, he contextualizes the shifts taking place within Kashmiri cultural production by highlighting the way in which these shifts are paralleled, and in a sense, enabled by broader shifts taking place in the streets of Kashmir (Shaftel). According to some observers, the year 2008 marked a transformation in the poetics of resistance in Kashmir with a strategic movement from armed struggle to unarmed forms of political protest (Anjum and Varma 50) (Kak, The Fire Is xv). This movement, referred to as the “second revolution”, has been characterized by young Kashmiris leading a “massive, sustained and predominantly non-violent, civil disobedience” through the streets of Kashmir (Anjum and Varma 50). This street movement has been accompanied by and often orchestrated through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, online blogs and Youtube, all of which have emerged as “critical arena[s] of contestation” within the changing cultural and political dynamics of Kashmir (Kak, The Fire Is xv-xvi).

This paper focuses on Mirza Waheed’s debut novel, The Collaborator, which as a text, is symptomatic of the changing poetics of resistance within Kashmir. I argue that The Collaborator attempts to carve a space for the Kashmiri subject beyond the filiative control of local Indo-Pakistani father-narratives. It does this by resisting the hegemonic control of these narratives through the postcolonial literary practice of ‘writing back’. It is my contention that Anglophone Kashmiri authors ‘write back’ to a range of “texts” and in this way, lay the ground for the development of a distinctive Kashmiri voice.

Writing Back

The term ‘writing back’ was originally coined by Salman Rushdie in a newspaper article titled The Empire Writes Back with a Vengeance which played upon the title of a Star Wars film called The Empire Strikes Back (Thieme 3). It became associated with the project of dismantling “Eurocentric literary hegemonies” following the publication of Helen Tiffin, Bill Ashcroft and Gareth Griffiths’ seminal work, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures, which established ‘writing back’ as a central concern of postcolonial literature (Thieme 3). In practice, ‘writing back’ refers to the critical engagement of postcolonial texts with canonical English texts in order to contest the dominance of such a canon and the “discursive field” within which these texts operate (Thieme 1).

However, due to the fact that classical English literary texts occupy a central position in Tiffin, Griffiths and Ashcroft’s ‘writing back’ model, the latter becomes an inadequate tool with which to investigate the practices of writing back in Anglophone Kashmiri texts. In order to modify the existing model and make it relevant and useful within the Kashmiri context, I propose two fundamental revisions with regards to the theorization of the writing back model. Firstly, it becomes important to imagine “pre-texts” that are not limited to canonical English literary texts (Thieme 13). In light of this, the centre which constructs the “discursive field” within which a text operates, needs to be expanded to include other, non-English centres (Thieme 1). The usage of the plural ‘centres’ is deliberate to show that in addition to making it conceivable to imagine a non-English ‘centre’, the singularity of this ‘centre’ also needs to be contested in order to allow for multiple foci of writing back, multiple ‘centres’. Moreover, the notion of ‘text’ needs to be expanded to include non-literary formations such as national narratives and dominant political and media discourses.

Within the revised model, it becomes possible to imagine Anglophone Kashmiri novels as a body of texts that ‘write back’ to two local father narratives, two centres. I use the term ‘father narrative’ for specific reasons. Firstly, because the Indo-Pakistani claim over the Kashmiri territory is always expressed in filial terms whereby ‘Kashmir’ takes on the role of an estranged, and in some cases, child-like subordinate. Secondly, the trope of the domineering father and his artistic son, a common one in classical English texts, is explored at great length in The Collaborator. In a classical English text, the separation, whether physical or symbolic, from a father-figure is a crucial step in the artist-protagonist’s inner development (Buckley 19). This is because the father figure, whether it is Paul Morel in Sons and Lovers or Simon Dedalus in The Portrait of an artist as a young man, seeks to subdue the young protagonist’s artistic temperament by thwarting his “strongest drives and fondest passions”. (Buckley 19) In a similar vein, The Collaborator also highlights the importance of severing ties with paternalistic figures for the self-development and maturation of the eponymous protagonist. It contains instances of the artist-protagonist growing detached from his biological father (the headman of Nowgam) as well as a substitute, patriarchal father-figure (Kadian). This Oedipal ‘repudiation’ of fathers can be seen a metafictitious comment on the way that these texts ‘write back’ to Indo-Pakistani father narratives in order to sever filial bonds of political identification (Thieme 9) This enables the postcolonial subject, who is in this case Kashmiri, to carve out and claim space and to discover modes of resistance beyond the control of the ‘fathers’ (Thieme 11).

Possessive Parents in The Collaborator

Since the accession of Kashmir by India after partition, the region has been enveloped in turmoil serving as a flashpoint between the two post-colonial nations that it is located between, namely India and Pakistan (Schofield 99-101). In the past decades, Pakistan and India have, to varying degrees, attempted to control, conquer and sabotage the demands of the Kashmiri people in order to propound their own political narratives (Fazili 213-214). Victoria Schofield in her comprehensive work titled Kashmir in Conflict is in agreement with this view and states that both countries have adopted various tactical means to ‘absorb’ the territory, in particular, the Valley of Kashmir, within their respective national borders (Schofield xiii). For instance, Pakistan supported the demand of self-determination and of the Kashmiri people and the armed insurgency in the region for the primary purpose of furthering its political goals which it was unable to achieve through diplomacy and bilateral negotiation (Schofield xiii). On the other hand, India launched an armed operation in the region with a reported 150,000 army and paramilitary personnel being stationed in Kashmir according to certain estimates (Schofield 157).

This has led academics, in recent times, to equate India which controls two-thirds of the former princely state, Jammu and Kashmir, with a colonial occupier which governs the Kashmiri ‘periphery’ from the centre (Kaul 191). It exerts this control through its military occupation of the territory which it justifies by perpetuating the view that Kashmir is ‘atoot ang’, meaning a fundamental, unassailable or “unbreakable part” of India. (Kaul 192) (Rai 270) Parrey, in concordance with this view of the Indian state as a colonial power, also foregrounds the use of “force, coercion, propaganda and deceit” by the Indian state, alongside the deployment of military might, in order to sustain its physical and discursive control over the region (Parrey 239).

In keeping with the Indian filial narrative which constructs Kashmir as an integral part of its geo-body, the Kashmiri resistance movement is demonized as a “terrorist campaign” orchestrated by external elements (Roy 65) (Fazili 214). This is because it is seen as a political anomaly in the face of the hegemonic discourse of Kashmir’s ‘natural’ and therefore incontestable place within Indian borders. In order to depict the territory of Kashmir as ‘atoot ang’ as a natural part of India which pre-dates its contemporary demarcation, the Indian state selectively deploys certain events from Kashmir’s history such as the signing of the instrument of accession, the winning of successive wars, the holding of elections among others, in order to highlight the validity of its claim over Kashmir (Rai 251)( Fazili 213). Renan’s argument that “forgetting” and “historical error” is a “crucial factor in the creation of a nation”, therefore, holds true in the way that the Indian state establishes its discursive control over Kashmir by choosing to ‘forget’ certain historical moments in favour of certain others (Renan 11).This discourse has been perpetuated through national symbols and maps, and in contemporary times, it is carried forth by the Indian media which has been criticized for acting like an instrument of the state with regards to its coverage of the ‘Kashmir issue’ (Parrey 230). The Collaborator, therefore engages with the filial narrative of Kashmir’s natural and incontestable place within the geo-body of Mother India, and writes back to this discourse by exposing the fabricated nature of the Indian ‘colonizing mission’ in Kashmir.

In addition to this, the second ‘centre’ Pakistan is also ‘written back’ to. Pakistani political discourses emphasize the “Muslim connection” and foreground the “logic of partition” according to which Muslim-majority provinces were expected to accede to its nation-state, in order to lay claim to the Kashmiri territory (Fazili 214). Although the Kashmiri resistance movement finds sympathy within the Pakistani national narrative, the Pakistani government is criticized by Kashmiris for manipulating the sentiments of its people for its own political ends (Fazili 213- 214). In this way, there are observable similarities in the way that the Indo-Pakistani post-colonial powers imagine Kashmir by upholding it as a ‘natural’ and incontestable part of their respective nation-states. For this purpose they selectively deploy moments from their respective histories and supplement these with legal claims and counter-claims in order to create disparate filial narratives which are meant to strengthen their hold over ‘Kashmir.’

Therefore, The Collaborator repudiates the discourses of the two ‘centres’ in order to carve political and literary spaces beyond the fathers, and in particular, examines the persuasive language of political and media propaganda which is used as tool to secure and control the territory of Kashmir.

Narrating Kashmir From the ‘Centre’

The language of political and media propaganda is satirized in The Collaborator in order to show its contrived nature (Chambers). For instance, the eponymous narrator describes an exchange between the insurgents and the Indian army as “an encounter, a battle, a skirmish, whatever they choose to call it” (Waheed 5). This quotation shows the state’s control in presenting the incident by being able to alter its scale and either increase it to the level of a “battle”, or reduce its relative size and importance, to the level of a “skirmish.” Moreover, the phrase ‘whatever they choose to call it’ draws attention to the power of the Indian political and media apparatuses in determining the language that is used to report and discuss events within Kashmir (Chambers).

In addition to showing the Indian state’s power to narrate Kashmir, it also exposes the hackneyed idiom with which events in Kashmir are described and recorded. For instance, the eponymous protagonist expresses his frustration with the “sporadic shelling on the LoC” and places this phrase in inverted commas to indicate that he is mimicking the contrived language of Indian news reports (Waheed 129). In addition to this, he juxtaposes the language of the media with scenes of bomb flashes and forest fire, which shows the disconnect between the tidiness of news reports in mainland India and the situation on the ground. This disconnect is made more acute by the manner in which events are actively “staged” by state actors from the media or the armed forces (Chambers).The text satirizes the media’s “framing” of events which describes a military exchange as either a “big hit” or the result of a thwarted “major attempt” (Waheed 130). The text draws attention to the sensationalist and hyperbolic language that is used to depict events on the ground by exposing the spurious nature of the media coverage.

In another instance, the ‘staging’ of the conflict is shown to be driven by an intention to misrepresent events on the ground. When a television crew from Delhi arrives in Kashmir in order to film “foreign militants”, Kadian claims that he possesses the ability to make any corpse resemble an Afghan using “old photos” and “clothes”(Waheed 9). These references to the disguising of bodies in order to manipulate their identities through the use of costumes and visual media have a theatrical element to them. By alluding to theatrical performances, the text highlights the way in which events in Kashmir are orchestrated and staged through the media (Waheed 9) (Chambers).

In addition to media discourses, the language of ‘official’ military reports is also scrutinized. The protagonist, for example, describes his experience of reading a report on infiltration as dizzying insofar as it causes him to “roll[…] over and over through the ‘howevers’ and ‘subsequents’ and ‘further tos without making much sense” (Waheed 138). The report is depicted as incomprehensible because of its elliptical structure and lack of relevant content which produces the sensation of ‘rolling over and over’ in the protagonist.

Therefore, by writing back to media and military discourses, The Collaborator highlights the way in which the conflict in Kashmir is staged for the Indian public. This serves to counter the Indian narrative of Kashmir’s unassailable place within India by exposing the unnatural existence of propaganda and physical oppression aimed at ‘fixing’ Kashmir within the Indian imagination. In other words, the idea of Kashmir’s natural and integral place within the Indian nation is deflated by being exposed as a myth held in place by fabrication and the use of physical oppression.

The strategy of exposing the Indian colonizing mission in Kashmir is also achieved by critically dissecting the language and self-presentation of the military establishment. For instance, when curfew is imposed in the region, the announcement is made in an “alien voice” which is described by the eponymous narrator as: “Someone not local- someone not from among us- was making an announcement. In rather unpolished Hindi, Urdu, Hindustani, whatever, the voice declared in an offhandish tone, that there was to be a Cordon and Search operation in the area” (Waheed 177, 217). The ‘alien’ quality of the voice which makes the announcement in Hindi or in Urdu, instead of the local Kashmiri language, leads the author to conclude that the announcer is ‘not from among us’. By showing the ‘alienness’ of the Hindi/Urdu language within Kashmir, the author draws attention to the ‘alienness’ of the Indo-Pakistani control over Kashmir. In this way, the alienness of the language is used metonymically to indicate the artificiality of the Indo-Pakistan discursive claim over the Kashmiri territory.

The use of an ‘alien’ language is further thematized when the Governor of Kashmir, to the bewilderment of the artist-protagonist, delivers his address in English. This governor’s choice of language produces confusion in the crowd indicated by their “disoriented glances” and “ears bent over tilting shadows” (Waheed 232). The narrator notes that despite the crowd’s failure to comprehend the Governor’s message, the latter “railed in never-ending English sentences” (Waheed 233). Here, the use of the English language to ‘instruct’ a crowd of Kashmiris leads to cultural misunderstanding which is created due to the fact that the Governor has a tenuous grasp of the local language of the community he governs from the centre. By showing his linguistic ineptitude and the ensuing cross-cultural confusion, the author highlights the disconnect between the centre and the periphery. This disconnect can be understood as a cultural gap between ‘India’ and ‘Kashmir’ which are distinct from one another on account of language, regional customs and traditions. The gap can also be understood as a gap in power-sharing due to the fact that ‘India’ rules the region from the ‘centre’ instead of delegating authority to the Kashmiri periphery which serves to create alienation in the local community. On the whole, this gap in cultural norms and power-sharing is meant to deflate the discourse of Kashmir’s unassailable and ‘natural’ place within India by showing the two regions, not as synonymous (Kashmir is India, India is Kashmir) but as considerably detached from one another.

Moreover, the usage of ‘English’ by the Governor hints at India’s post-colonial heritage because of which English became one of the official languages of the state. It is of interest to note that in The Collaborator ‘English’ ceases to be the language of the ‘old’ centre, but instead is the chosen language of the ‘new’, the Indian, ‘centre’, and therefore any writing back is understood as a writing back to India. Bearing this in mind, the strangeness of Indian English in the Kashmiri periphery metonymically highlights the strangeness of the Indian colonial control of a territory which, according to the Pakistani narrative, was acceded to India against the will of the local community (Schofield 71). In this way, we observe the diminishing importance of English pre-texts, within the writings of Anglophone Kashmiri authors, and therefore the argument that the ‘centre’ does not refer exclusively to Britain can be sustained.

Along with the choice of the language, which is meant to show the cultural gap between mainland India and ‘Kashmir’ and to draw attention to the latter as the neo-colonial ‘Centre’, the content of the speech is also crucial. The governor addresses the crowd in the following words:

My dear brothers and sisters, let me tell you something… The bond between Kashmir and Mother India is based not just on your king Mahraja Hari Singh’s Instrument of Accession and the articles and clauses of India’s great constitution; it is held together by far more tenacious and lasting forces that neither the convulsions, tribulations and tremors of history, nor the anarchy and cynicism of contemporary politics can break up. (Waheed 232)

Here, he emphasizes the bond between India and Kashmir which, according to him is unbreakable and exists despite the “convulsions” and “tribulations” of history. This bond is one of filiation insofar as it is enforced by “lasting forces” which alludes to the enduring and immortal nature of this relationship. In contrast to these ties of “lasting” kinship which have allegedly existed since times immemorial, both politics and history are seen as unnatural interventions that seek to dent the biological bloodline that links Kashmir with India.

He continues with his speech and mentions “the three-nation theory and Sheikh Abdullah and the temple of the Sun God at Martanda and Nehru and General Douglas MacArthur and the history of failure and the ‘too late’ and ‘too late’, and Article 370, and Namaste Saradadevi, Kasmira Mandala Vasini and Kashmir’s ineradicable place in the Indian vision!” (Waheed 233) This quotation contains carefully selected historical and religious references which serve to ‘fix’ and claim Kashmir as a ‘sacred’ part of the Indian national imagination.

Furthermore, the author again uses meta-theatrical allusions to describe the Governor’s speech in order to expose its constructedness, which is meant to parallel the constructedness of the discourse which is written back to. The Governor slams his hand on the rostrum to produce an “orator’s thump” and delivers his speech passionately in a “saliva-spitting frenzy” varying his tone “with deliberation” to the extent that his delivery possesses a “well-rehearsed rhythm” (Waheed 231-33). This leads his young officer to refer to the event as a “successful show” which is followed by an elaborate photo-session (Waheed 230). By using these theatrical allusions, the governor’s speech is likened to a dramatic performance which Sanjay Kak, in his exhaustive review of the novel, classifies as a monologue (Kak The Ghosts will Walk ). Both the speech and the photo-session thus serve to emphasize the theatrical and performative quality of the event (Waheed 236).

Thus, it can be observed that The Collaborator writes back to Indian political and media discourses in order to deflate the notion of Kashmir’s “integral” place within the Indian nation-state. It does this by showing these discourses as constructed, actively staged and held together by the use of violence, media propaganda and military might.

Cartographic Renditions Of Kashmir

In addition to satirizing the language with which Kashmir is ‘fixed’ within the Indian imagination, the novel also analyzes the way in which maps are used to depict Kashmir as a sacrosanct part of India. Stuart Hall argues that, “Maps are not merely pictures of the world, but depict a world that can be shaped, manipulated, acted upon” (qtd. in Mullaney 41). Based on this view, maps become “expressions of power” which advance the ideological goals of its makers (Mullaney 41). Therefore they cease to be neutral cartographic sketches but become visual depictions of the “spatial and temporal dimensions of Empire” ( Mullaney 41). According to Graham Huggan, due to the fact that colonialism and cartography are so intimately connected with one another, post-colonial literature often interrogates the usage and deployment of maps within colonial discourse (qtd. in Mullaney 42). The Collaborator, thus, continues this practice of interrogating the bonds between cartographic maps and the discourses of the ‘centre’.

According to Mirdu Rai, nation-states continue the colonial practice of laying claim to a geographical territory through the visual aid of a map. This is done by presenting maps as “depictions of ‘pure’ signs of physicality in a space that is presumed to have existed a priori its demarcation” (Rai 251). This aspect of colonial cartography is relevant in the Kashmiri situation insofar as the region is claimed as an integral part of India even before, ‘India’, in its modern, post-partition form came into existence. Rai focuses, in particular, on maps of India that are more conspicuously laden with ideology such as anthropomorphic renditions of India in the shape of a Hindu goddess. This particular practice began in 1905 when the artist Abanindranath Tagore painted a portrait of ‘Mother India’ in the form of a goddess (Rai 252). Even in post-colonial India different anthropomorphic renditions of ‘Mother India’ as a feminine Hindu goddess continue to exist and proliferate. In her book The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India, Sumathi Ramaswamy explores the evolving renditions of the Indian nation-state before and after partition and offers a detailed visual analysis of each image in a fully fleshed socio-historical context. Due to the breadth of the topic, I will limit myself here to one of the renditions which Ramaswamy has discussed in her book. According to Ramaswamy, this image in particular (see fig. 1.1) is “ubiquitous[…]” in “picture postcards, calendar art, processional pictures and the World Wide Web” (Ramaswamy 39). It is taken from a picture postcard printed in 1990 by the Karnatak Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and part of its tagline reads: “I am India. The Indian nation is my body” (Ramaswamy 40). However, the motif has its origins in an older image, originally published in a Tamil textbook, but one which has continually been reproduced over the years (Ramaswamy 38). It depicts the Indian nation-state as a “bejeweled goddess” whose body occupies the Indian geo-body in its entirety (Ramaswamy 39). Futhermore, Ramaswamy notes, that the region which would be occupied by the territory of Kashmir in a normative map of India is eclipsed by the head of the mother-goddess (Ramaswamy 39).

The result of depicting the Indian nation-state anthropomorphically as a divine deity is that the geographical space becomes a sacred territory with a divinely pre-determined outline (Rai 253). Bearing this in mind, the partition of this territory would constitute a blasphemous action insofar as it would be the result of the dismemberment of the sacrosanct Indian geo-body (Rai 253).

The Collaborator engages with cartographic images of India which are carriers of nationalist discourses pertaining to the sacredness and incontestability of its spatial co-ordinates. For instance, the Kashmiri Governor in his address to the inhabitants of Nowgam village refers to the place of Kashmir in the Indian imagination in the words: “Dosto- these forces have one objective- one motive- to break Kashmir from India, to chop off what everyone now knows and sees as an integral part of India. They want to sever the crown on Bharat Mata’s head!.” (Waheed 231) In keeping with the vision of the Indian nation-state as a sacred territory, the partition of Kashmir from the main body politic constitutes a sacrilegious act, a symbolic decapitation. The Governor of Kashmir promotes the Indian filial narrative by drawing upon the anthropomorphic image of Mother India in order to emphasize the sacrilege of ‘severing’ a part of it. Therefore, by referring to this particular image he tries to “fold” the territory of Kashmir into “Bharat Mata’s crown, her “halo” [and] […] her “flowing tresses” (Rai 254).

In The Collaborator, the image ‘Bharat Mata’ or ‘Mother India’ as a feminine goddess superimposed onto a post-colonial map of India is contested and ultimately transformed. While describing the geo-body of the Indian nation-state, Captain Kadian replaces the figure of the maternal and life-giving universal mother with that of a vengeful behemoth. He describes ‘India’ as a “colossus with countless arms and limbs and tongues and claws and hands and mouths” (Waheed 278). Therefore, the life-giving and maternal figure of ‘Bharat Mata’ is re-signified as a monstrous creature which, by virtue of its agents, its “countless arms and limbs”, exerts control over its territories. He goes on to elaborate on the nature of the Indian “colossus” in the following words:

Even if you have these small ulcers festering in various places and crevices, they don’t matter to it; it uses one of its many hands or claws to scratch at the sore, soothing the irritation, and then waits until the ulcer dies on its own, or just plucks it off and throws it away. (Waheed 278)

In this quotation, the “small ulcers” symbolize ‘troubled areas,’ such as Kashmir and certain north-eastern states, which have been involved in insurrections against the state. The usage of the phrases “small” ulcers and minor “irritants” to describe territories like Kashmir is meant to highlight the relative importance of the rest of India which can, by its sheer size and by the strength of its power apparatuses, quell rebellion in selective territories. The latter can be tamed by being “scratched” and “plucked.” These verbs are rather passive in terms of their action, and by way of their passivity, indicate the ease with which the Indian state can control insurrections in troubled regions. However, at times the “giant” can also “wave” its hands and “blow” and “crush” which highlights the destructive potential of the Indian geo-body that can also use violence to suppress an uprising (Waheed 278).

It can be seen from the discussion thus far that The Collaborator writes back to Indian filial discourses which constructs ‘Kashmir’ as an integral part of its geo-body by dissecting the cartographic form of a map, which as a visual aid, has been crucial in the perpetuation of these discourses.

The Second ‘Centre’

In this section, I will examine the way in which The Collaborator writes back to Pakistani filial narratives which construct Kashmir as a legitimate part of the Pakistani nation-state. The novel satirizes the manipulation of the Kashmiri struggle on both sides of the border — in Pakistan and in India — for the achievement of political gains (Fazili 213). The artist-protagonist engages with this fact and states:

You know sometimes I wonder- because for Kashmir there is always an Indian and a Pakistani version of everything – what if they have their own stash of the infiltration residue? Young men who have lost their lives while walking the perilous path to freedom. (Waheed 15)

The author plays upon the word “version”, and posits the question that if India and Pakistan can have their own political narratives, their “version” of the Kashmiri resistance movement, then they must also have a ‘version’ of Kashmiri casualties. He draws attention to the fact that even though Kashmir’s post-colonial fathers speak so insistently on the Kashmir ‘issue’, each upholding his own political narrative, they do not have a stake in the oppression suffered by the Kashmiri community. By skillfully highlighting this aspect of the Kashmiri situation, the author valorizes the Kashmiri self-narrative by freeing it from the hegemonic control of Indo-Pakistani political “versions”.

In addition to this, the “logic of partition” which the Pakistani discourse tries to foreground in order to lay its ‘rightful’ claim over Kashmir, is undermined in The Collaborator (Fazili 214). As mentioned earlier, according to this “logic” Muslim-majority regions were to accede to the newly created state of Pakistan. An example of the text’s subversion of Pakistan’s filial narrative can be found in the sarpanch or headman of Nowgam’s narration of the local retaliation against the tribesmen from Pakistan who came with the purpose of “liberating” them from Indian control (Waheed 27) (Schofield 49). The Pakistani tribals belonging to the North-West frontier are referred to as “shameless” and “invading marauders” which depicts them as opportunists and goes on to highlight the lack of identification between the Kashmiri community at the time and their Pakistani “liberators” (Waheed 27).

The aspect of opportunism which underlies the Pakistani diplomatic support for the Kashmiri resistance movement is highlighted further in the text. For instance, the deceased Rouf Qadri describes being welcomed in Pakistani training camps across the border and taught how to operate weaponry which draws attention to the fact that they were exposed to violent means of resistance by their Pakistani “supporters” as a consequence of which they lost their lives. The text refers to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir paradoxically as “sad Azad Kashmir” where the adjective ‘sad’ stands in opposition to ‘azad’ (“free”) in order to foreground the fact that the freedom promised by the Pakistani filial narrative was of a superficial and self-serving kind. This leads the protagonist to refer to the Pakistani nation-state, scathingly as a country “which is never at rest and will never let anyone else rest in peace either” (Waheed 152) (Chambers)

The text also highlights the ‘passion’ of the Pakistani discourse with its emphasis on the filial ties between ‘Pakistan’ and ‘Kashmir’ and contrasts this passion with the relative detachment and murky conduct with which the Pakistani army administer its activities on the ground in Kashmir. The narrator mentions the “intensely worded, longwinded statements” issued by the Pakistani leaders, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto in support of the Kashmiri resistance movement (Waheed 87). In contrast to the passionate lip service paid by the political leaders, the author draws attention to the presence of “miniature Pakistani outposts” which are visible “sketchily” with soldiers who watch the valley from “dark check-posts” (Waheed 98-99). This shows that the check-posts are at a relative distance from the carnage in the Valley and thereby detached from the activities on the ground. This physical and moral detachment is contrasted with the emotionally charged rhetoric of the Pakistani political figures.

Moreover, the Pakistani army voyeuristically ‘observes’ the carnage that Kadian spreads in the Valley from their ‘dark check-posts’ without intervening which goes on to expose them as complicit in the destruction. The narrator articulates this complicity by stating that for both the Indo-Pakistani fathers the Line of Control was like a “fireworks exhibition” in which Kashmiri lives become “tinder” (Waheed 129). This indictment serves to expose the Indo-Pakistani narrative as one of political intimidation exercised by exchanging cross-fire in which Kashmiris lost their lives. Furthermore, by mentioning India and Pakistan as a singular, monolithic entity, the protagonist does not differentiate between the two and thereby holds them equally complicit in promoting volatility in the region. In doing so, the text further deflates the discourse of the Pakistani nation-state which constructs itself as the ‘supporter’ and proponent of the Kashmir cause.

In this way, The Collaborator writes back to Pakistani nationalist and political discourses which uphold ‘Kashmir’ as a legitimate part of its nation-state by drawing upon filial ties that bind the two territories. These ties are built on the basis of Pakistan’s role as the helper and liberator of the Kashmiri people and its moral and emotional investment in the Kashmiri cause for autonomy. The Collaborator repudiates these narratives by exposing the underlying manipulation and moral detachment of the Pakistani nation-state which is viewed as almost as complicit as India in the suppression of Kashmiri voices.


By contesting the discourses of the fathers and writing back to the ‘centres’, Kashmiri authors carve a space for a distinct Kashmiri identity and literary ‘voice’. Both novels repudiate Indo-Pakistani filial narratives which try to claim Kashmir as an integral and unassailable part of their respective nation-states. By contesting the categories, narratives and epistemologies of the fathers and by claiming political and aesthetic space, the Kashmiri voice is shown to possess and engender agency. Moreover, through the disavowal of Indo-Pakistani parental paradigms, the text resists the construction of ‘Kashmiris’ as the ‘rebellious’ or estranged children of two colonial parents but instead voices emanating from the region are depicted as nuanced, self-constituting and worthy of being heard.

Primary References

  1. Agha, Shahid Ali. The Country without a Post Office: Poems. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997. Print.
  2. Waheed, Mirza. The Collaborator. London: Penguin, 2011. Print.

Secondary References

  1. Anjum, Aaliya, and Saiba Varma. “Curfewed in Kashmir: Voices from the Valley.” Ed. Sanjay Kak. Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir. New Delhi: Penguin, 2011. 50-63. Print.
  2. Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures. London: Routledge, 1989. Print.
  3. Buckley, Jerome. Seasons of Youth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974. Print.
  4. Chambers, Claire. “The Last Saffron: Agha Shahid Ali’s Kashmir.” Contemporary World Literature (2011): n. pag. May-June 2011. Web. 29 July 2012. .
  5. Fazili, Gowhar. “Kashmir Marginalities: Construction, Nature and Response.” Ed. Sanjay Kak. Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir. New Delhi: Penguin, 2011. 213-28. Print.
  6. Kabir, Ananya Jahanara. Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2009. Print.
  7. Kak, Sanjay. “The Fire Is at My Heart: An Introduction.” Introduction. Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir. Ed. Sanjay Kak. New Delhi: Penguin, 2011. ix-xxiv. Print.
  8. Kak, Sanjay. “The Ghosts Will Walk.” Web log post. Kafila. N.p., 5 May 2011. Web. 30 July 2012. .
  9. Kaul, Nitasha. “Kashmir A Place of Blood and Memory.” Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir. Ed. Sanjay Kak. New Delhi: Penguin, 2011. 189-212. Print.
  10. Mullaney, Julie. Postcolonial Literatures in Context. London: Continuum, 2010. Print.
  11. Parrey, Arif A. “Kashmir Three Metaphors for the Present.” Ed. Sanjay Kak. Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir. New Delhi: Penguin, 2011. 229-49. Print.
  12. Picture Postcard. 1990. Photograph. Berkeley. The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. 40. Print.
  13. Rai, Mridu. “Making a Part Inalienable: Folding Kashmir into India’s Imagination.” Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir. Ed. Sanjay Kak. New Delhi: Penguin, 2011. 250-78. Print.
  14. Ramaswamy, Sumathi. The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. Print.
  15. Renan, Ernest. “What Is a Nation.” Nation and Narration. Ed. Homi K. Bhabha. London: Routledge, 1990. 8-21. Print.
  16. Roy, Arundhati. “Azadi: The Only Things Kashmiris Want.” Kashmir: The Case for Freedom. By Tariq Ali, Hilal Bhatt, Angana P. Chatterji, Habbah Khatun, and Pankaj Mishra. New York: Verso, 2011. 57-71. Print
  17. Shaftel, David. “Kashmir’s Literary Harvest.” Livemint. N.p., 2 Sept. 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. .
  18. Schofield, Victoria. Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unfinished War. London: I.B. Tauris, 2000. Print.
  19. Thieme, John. Postcolonial Con-texts: Writing Back to the Canon. London: Continuum, 2001. Print.

Rakhshan Rizwan is a PhD candidate at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

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