Fiction chronicles human tragedy in Kashmir conflict

NEW DELHI :  Through the violence and bloodshed, and the failed dialogues and trust deficit, Kashmir continues to wait for the time when the conflict that has riven the Valley could be confidently called a thing of the past.
But till that time, IPS officer Danesh Rana tells us in his debut novel, for the ordinary people caught on the knife’s edge of strife there is only one seeming inevitabiity, to someday have “red kernels of maize instead of yellow,… So much blood will seep through our land”.
In a grim portrait of a conflict he has seen from close as an officer of the Jammu and Kashmir cadre, the author sets out in “Red Maize” (HarperCollinsIndia) to “depict the painful nuances of a colossal human tragedy of our times”.
Kausar Jan is a widowed mother of three strapping sons in the nondescript village of Morha Madana. She remembers a happy time in the not too distant past when life was a gentle melody, but the current action opens in the dead of the night with loud knocks on her door when she is visited by the second of her offspring, Shakeel, the area commander of the tanzeem, or the militancy.
That visit is soon followed by another one, by jawans from the local army camp, where Major Rathore is desperate for Shakeel’s scalp as that will be his ticket to a posting to a peace station, and marriage. This initial exchange sets the tense mood for the plot as a cat and mouse game of sinister machinations ensues against the backdrop of “Firdous”, the heavenly vale of Kashmir.
Rana draws his characters from the common stock of the farmers, the extremists and the army. There are no heroes in the story unless one considers the heroic suffering of Kausar Jan. The author shows that real tragedy does not stop at the frontiers of the imaginable but, in Kausar Jan’s life, proceeds inexorably towards the inevitable; that slide will end in crash.
“She had become a metaphor for Kashmir… She was the battle between the mujahids and soldiers… She was victim and aggressor, terrorist and soldier, jannat and jahanum, Firdous and Shakeel,” that is Kausar Jan’s fate as the book sombrely flows on to its chilling denouement.
Firdous is also the youngest son of the hapless widow and while she is still uncertain as to the fate of her eldest, Khalid, the third born is recruited as a Special Police Officer to assist the army to hunt down the enemy.
Several of the characters in the book talk about the vicious circle spun by the conflict wherein, even as one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, killing leads to killing and triggers more vengeance and vendetta until there is no goal or direction, only mindless justifications for violence.
The last action unfolds simultaneously on the inscrutable heights surrounding Morha Madana and the high table of talks between visiting Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001. Slowly as the curtain falls, the author shows a failed negotiation and another fallen innocent.
As to Kausar Jan, “amidst the bloodshed, gunfire and body bags, (she) might survive with obdurate hope”.
The novel of Rana, who is an inspector general of police in Jammu, has been shortlisted for the Tata First Book Award. (PTI)

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