Beyond Dal Life

Prof M L Raina

An artist, of any literary genre, is believed to hold mirror to nature. The writer of the novel Gul Gulshan Gulfam,  Pran Kishore, holds mirror to a slice of the valley’s panoramic beauty in the shape of highlighting the charming contours of the famous Dal Lake, the pride of Kashmir and the envy of the world.

While describing, on the sidelines of the main subject of the novel, the mesmerising level waters of the Lake, skirted by the much traversed boulevard which, in turn, is skirted by hills, forests and mountains which are dotted by historic places and monuments such as Shankerachariya temple, Zaberwan  mountain and garden, Pari Mahal (palace of fairies) now in ruins, Mugal Gardens and so on, the author has mainly focused on the life of the owners of the stately houseboats, the star attraction of the visitors of all shades, and other dwellers of the Lake, living in hamlets in the backwaters of the lake. The houseboats, arrayed in  rows, cut a dash from a distance. They  stand beautifully anchored on one side of the well known Dalgate, a long and broad waterway. It is verily the gateway of the vast vistas of the Dal Lake. The well decorated houseboats bear their distinctive name plates with fascinatingly invented names, that lure the visitors by hitting their imagination. These huge and capacious boats, aesthetically decorated from within and outside, are like mini-palaces on water. Their graceful looks and serenity set them apart form houses on the land, far away from the din of the city life.

Gul Gulshan Gulfam are the names of three houseboats, owned by one boatman. These names, very well conceived, are romantically evocative and suggestive in that they encapsulate the breathtaking and bewildering beauty  of  the Dal Lake and its dazzling features. Gul word stands for a flower, Gulshan for a garden and Gulfam for charm and grace personified. As such, the beautiful scenes of the lake, like green marshes with lotus flowers, multiple grasses, broad lotus leaves with glitteirng mercurial drops of water, like dew,  on them, oscillating tantalisingly with the up and down movement of the gentle waves, sensuous multicoloured flowers,  growing on the land around the houseboats  whose mingled aroma and colour enriches the environment on all sides. These names symbolise the panoramic beauty, not only of the Dal lake, popularly called the Jeel-e-Dal, but the entire valley of Kashmir.

The owner of these boats, namely Malla  Khaliq, created by the author as the protagonist of the novel, is the colossus, so to say, of the boatman fraternity of the Dalgate area and beyond. He possesses sterling qualities of prudence, sagacity, worldly  wisdom, and courage to face the buffets of hard times. He is truthful and honest in his dealings with his visitors and the people around him. He behaves as the friend, philosopher and guide of his fellow boat owners, as well as his family. He plays the role of the patriarch of his family. The writer presents him as the hub around  which the family wheel revolves. His advice is very well taken by all the inmates. This  type  of family environment  reflects an important feature of the age old culture of Kashmir, namely obeyance of the commands of the eldest member of the family.

The author has appropriately introduced another important character, namely Narayan Joo, a Kashmiri Pandit, full of wisdom, and friendly to all. He is portrayed as the bosom friend of Malla Khaliq. The mutually reciprocative friendship between the two friends symbolises  the centuries-old communal harmony and amity as also the strong bonding of the two communities – an essential feature of the composite culture of  Kashmir, despite minor  hiccups now and then.

The exchange of ideas between the two friends, occasional discussions and what happens on the ground, throw light on the commonality  of some cultural facets like well knit family relations and cohesion, some of the marriage rituals, mutual trust, fervent participation in the social and religious functions, nuances and subtleties of language, phraseology and proverbs, and most importantly the distinctive sharp mental acumen, quick perception of situations, humour  and wit, which set them apart from the people of  other communes and climes.

The prevalent peaceful atmosphere referred to in the novel suffers a great setback in the valley when suddenly a hurricane of violence sweeps the length and breadth of Kashmir in the early ninetees and continues unabated.

Infact the turmoil that overtakes the valley, forms the backdrop of the novel. The  insensate violence hits hard the tourist industry. It has a disastrous fallout on the houseboat tourist trade. The number of tourists, starts dwindling progressively. Malla Khaliq, like his fellow boatmen, waits every day anxiously for a party to arrive.

Narayan Joo, whose travel agency  itself is in doldrums, tries his utmost to arrange sporadic flow of parties for his friend to ease the latter’s tight financial position. While eagerly awaiting tourists at the ghaat, he goes down the memory lane and recollects the best days of the past and  contrasts them with the present horrendous days of poor means of livelihood.

In consequence of the persistent lawlessness, anti social elements, as is their wont, fish in the troubled waters and  plunder the people at gun point. The Dal dwellers have a bitter taste of what goes by the name of drug trafficking. This menace of collecting narcotics and selling them in parts of the country through agents, besmirches the pure environment of the area around the houseboats. Youngsters without any means of livelihood are attracted by this insidious trade.

The author makes a mention of how drug traders sneak into certain hidden swamps of Dal and sell their drugs to the agents. An English lady of easy virtues, Jane by name, entices young boys with her amorous glances. This disturbs the well preserved tranquility and cohesion of  Khaliq’s family whose two sons get involved in the drug trafficking trade.

The element of love, which serves as icing on the cake of any novel, has been well introduced  by  the author. Parveen, Malla Khaliq’s darling daughter, falls in love with Razac, Malla Khaliq’s servant. Razac conscious of his low socio-economic status, responds fearfully. The two get separated when Razac runs away from the family. But the author reunites them in the end when Razaac, having become an inspector of police, has become  acceptable to the family, and ultmately he and Parveen get united in wedlock.

The writer has put his heart and soul into the novel, with many dimensions, and with a vast canvas. He takes the reader to varied scenes and situations. He gives a freelow to his pen which describes the vast spectrum of life to depict the concourse of humanity. He makes a pointed reference to the three generations of Malla Khaliq’s family, with their temperaments, vicissitudes, idiosyncracies, aspirations and the change of traits and preferences which evolve variously from generation to generation. The novel paints on its eleborate canvas, a jumble of characters from all walks of life and religious faiths.

The author makes his characters move from one historical place of Srinagar to another and also places outside the valley. Many scens  are laid  in Bombay, Maldives etc.

The style is marked by a wheeling movement in the sense that  scenes move forward and backward by way of flashback, fade-in and fade-out techniques.

It is creditable that the English translation  has retained the nuances and flavour of the Kashmiri language in which the Kashmiri version of the novel appeared first.

This english version of the novel will reach out to  a sizeable  number of readers in India and abroad. The Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora who have  now lived away from their homeland for long ears will enjoy the novel immensely for they will find the attractive scenes and sights of the Dal Lake and other places come alive on the printed pages of the book.