A trend setter for Kashmiri literature

Psychiatric ward, a novel by Dr. Sohan Kaul.
Mushtaque B Barq
Contemporary fiction or realistic fiction creates imaginary characters and situations that depict our world and society. It focuses on themes of growing up and confronting personal and social problems. The Psychiatric Ward, a novel by Dr. Sohan Kaul, fits into this genre and serves as a wake-up call to those who are sensitive to the necessity of satire in literature. It is a never-ending saga of an unwell society wherein a common narrative is bedridden. The style that has been adopted from exposition to the conclusion is dissimilar to conventional formats for the reason that the third-person narration is in the past tense, which not only restricts unnecessary and hyperbolic descriptions, which was a mode of heightening satire in the past, but also obliges concentration that, in reciprocity, adds severity to the scene and setting. The contour of the story is sublime in consistency on the one hand, but on the other hand, the foreshadowing covers the historical perspective of space and time. The skeleton of the novel is a superb specimen of intricate fragments of serious case studies of an asylum where sickness not only exposes the social taboos but also demonstrates the emotional support of a nurse and doctors in particular and the plight of the patients in general.
The exposition of the novel depicts a female psychiatric ward with a senior doctor, Mushtaq, and an energetic nurse, Saima, handling the patients with compromised psyches. The novel begins with Dr. Mushtaq attending the conference in the USA and Dr. Naveed taking over. Doctor Farah, Dr. Naveed, and the nurse are held in a love triangle, but the conflict that arises in the novel is multilayered. It starts with an internal conflict between Dr. Mushtaq’s research and Dr. Farah’s conventional methodology that she employed to treat the patients, but the author has probed deep into society and exposed the plight of the compromised psyche of society. On the return of Dr. Mushtaq, an old woman who was under his treatment was already given a shock that not only spoiled the woman but his entire research. The conflict was heightened when he tore down all his papers and submitted his resignation. But in the background of his resignation, the marriage between Dr. Naveed and Dr. Farah signified the unexpressed love of Saima. Dr. Mushtaq’s track 2 diplomacy and Saima’s presence add tension and turbulence in the novel. The climax shocks the reader when Dr. Farah is diagnosed with a case of Motor Neuro Disease. Running parallel to the main plot are the micro-stories of Mouj and Shazia. The plight of Mouj and Shazia heightens the micro-threads of the main plot. Shazia’s sickness has been associated with gun culture and the consequences of which Shazia was a brutal victim. The main plots have been skillfully merged into one with the return of Shazia and the death of Mouj. The fall in action, as usual, is brief, with the dying demand of Dr. Farah suggesting Dr. Naveed marry Saima.
The technique that has been employed in this novel is a bit different from that expected of Dr. Sohan Kaul. His narrative style and apt diction have been added features of the novel. The satire that has been put forth not as a device but as a social commentary, is well marked as a powerful apparatus in contemporary culture where realistic fiction is independent of excessive use of imagery and fancy. The author has utilised tools like dramatic irony and humour to create a successful satire. The author has brilliantly brought forth Horatian satire into play for the purpose of poking at a situation, unlike conventional usage that pokes fun at a person, but the author has modified this type of satire by poking at the situation in the Valley not in an entertaining way but as an awakening when doctors were requested to adjust the patients in the ward to avoid social stigma. The satire which is dominant in the novel is Juvenalian satire, which is dark and speaks volumes about revealing the truth to control. As a situation in the novel, when a bribe is offered to the doctor to keep a lady patient in the ward to perish in thin air.
Another feature of the novel is that whenever the background details take us off track, the author sincerely pulls us back on track. Without twists and turns, the author uses a catchword as a switch over to connect the reader to the lady psychiatric ward to nurse the “forward movement” of the plot. The seasons have glorified the culture of the Valley, which the author has used to fit the setting. The historical perspective and ailing health conditions of asylums have found a good mention in the background of the novel. There are some serious symbols that have been employed by the novelist that have long drawn out the scope of the novel beyond the confines of a psychiatric ward. The use of the phrase “Iron Gate” is one such unambiguous symbol of forlornity and responsibility. It has vividly exposed the two sides of the psyche: one where empathy is bedridden and the second where sympathy is but a formality. Another powerful symbol is “The Wall Clock”, which has enhanced the sensitive eye to relate the time, which behind the “Iron Gate” is labelled as termination, while outside the same gate it is a moving wheel of fortune.
If the title of the novel had been A Lady in a Psychiatric Ward, it would have lessened the catharsis. The title is apt for the reason that it tells us about the entire humanity which has been turned into a ward for every home, and every nook seems like a projection of asylum. This novel is a trendsetter for Kashmiri literature as far as its theme and characterization are concerned. Dr. Sohan Kaul’s contribution in the form of this novel will certainly help the reader to carry on the trend of novel writing.