‘Refugees From Fullai’ is a poignant, engaging and emotionally charged novel that delves into the lives of the Pandits pre and post-exodus from their homeland, Fullai. The story begins in a place called Bargat, where the protagonist resides. The author has cleverly chosen to use fictitious names for the real places, which serve as just metaphors adding depth to the narrative. It commences with a call from the protagonist’s old friend, Posh, visiting him in Bargat, setting the story in motion. Tragedy strikes when the protagonist receives news of his mother’s demise, becoming a defining event that sets the tone for much of the initial chapters, revolving around mourning and grief. Like a skilled alchemist, Adarsh Ajit deftly amalgamates historical nuances, human complexities, and existential dilemmas to create a work of profound significance.
Like the two states of dreaming and waking, the novel deftly oscillates between the past and the present, conjuring a literary chiaroscuro that heightens the reader’s sense of dislocation akin to the exiled Pandits. The book talks about the changed attitudes of the Pandits post-exodus and their indifference towards a serious occasion such as Death. Throughout the novel, the unnamed protagonist emerges as a sort of complex and enigmatic character grappling with conflicting thoughts and emotions that neither the readers nor the protagonist fully comprehends.
Noteworthy amidst the intricate tapestry of this literary composition is the deliberate play of nomenclature. While certain personages are bestowed with names, others remain shadowed in anonymity. The protagonist, shrouded in a cloak of namelessness, reverently invokes his wife by her name while his siblings – three brothers and a sister – languish in a state of unspoken obscurity. Within the family, his daughter’s name finds resonance, while the son remains faceless in textual silence. Amidst the constellation of names, the father’s designation finds a place, yet the mother, held in the deepest chambers of the protagonist’s heart, remains unnamed. Such deliberate elisions of names act as both a mirror and a void, inviting the readers to dwell within the enigmatic interplay of identity and oblivion.
One chapter hints at the protagonist’s hidden contempt for a ‘Swami’ who performs rituals on the day of his mother’s death. “Had my cousin not held me, I would have slapped him,” the protagonist remarks when the Swami, on entering the house, comments “The head should be towards the east; otherwise, she will go to hell.” The protagonist in the subsequent paragraphs hints at the hypocrisy of the Swami, who had advised the protagonist once not to take his daughter to any doctor but rather chant a specific mantra for certain times. However, a conversation between the Swami and his wife reveals to the protagonist that the Swami had advised his son to take medicines and seek a doctor when his wife told him about his health. The protagonist expresses displeasure with Swami and contemplates Swami’s hypocrisy in other matters, and yet he continues visiting the same Swami as if he derives some sensory pleasure from seeing the malicious nature of Swami. Alternatively, it could be that the protagonist deliberately chooses to visit Swami despite knowing his flaws. This choice might serve as an excuse for the protagonist to dismiss or mistrust any other saints or peers, using Swami’s behaviour as a justification. The protagonist is in a perpetual dilemma like a child who does not believe in any satsangs or religious functions, saints or peers, yet he keeps the photograph of a lady saint handed over to him by a group of travellers in his Pooja room until three years later he comes to know through media channels that the lady was a fraud. The protagonist’s internal conflict and his perceptions of Swami’s hypocrisy raise intriguing questions about his motivations and beliefs.
Within the novel’s core lies an emotionally resonant account of filial love, where the protagonist’s heartrending journey through the corridors of loss and grief elicits a profound empathic response. The major portion of the book chronicles his mother’s persisting illness, highlighting his deep love and care for her. Yet, the trajectory of this tale goes beyond the personal as Adarsh Ajit delves into the socio-political undercurrents that roil the collective consciousness of the Pandit diaspora. Slowly the political threads start to weave into the story with the introduction of Ishqpechan, a leader of the Pandit organisation called Maen Fullai. Ishqpechan is introduced as a genius, a literary and well-read man but above all, a liar. The tale meditates on the birth of the Pandit organisation, the support that it garnered and lost throughout the years, the split of the organisation into three factions, and the changing colours of the treacherous and morally corrupt leaders leading the whole Pandit community astray and leaderless. The plight of the Pandit community, bereft of a steadfast and enlightened leader, becomes an emblem of sorrow and aimless wandering. The hues of their destiny change like the kaleidoscope, each revolution engendering disillusionment and despair.
On one hand, the protagonist lays bare the atrocities committed by the Muslims of Fullai and, on the other hand, balances the scales by lauding their inherent benevolence. In one chapter, the protagonist writes that one time when his mother was ill, he went to a Pandit doctor, and as he knocked on the door, he was lied to by the Doctor’s father about his unavailability, whereas the protagonist had himself heard the Doctor speaking to his wife and thus it was then a Muslim Doctor who had shown willingness in helping him. In another episode, when the protagonist’s mother needed blood, all his Pandit relatives refused to help, whereas his three Muslim friends came out like messiahs and managed to come despite the road blockage and other hurdles along their way. The protagonist nonetheless confesses, “I knew there was a conflict in me regarding the identity of Muslims of Fullai”, and again at another place, “Muslims are difficult to understand. On the one hand, they kill, and on the other hand, they offer water.” Thus, with nuanced strokes, he portrays the juxtaposition of good and evil, compassion and cruelty, perpetrated by both Pandits and Muslims alike.
The tragic tale, which is actually a memoir of the protagonist, who writes it from a place revealed only at the climax and culmination of the book, travels through the memory lanes of the protagonist, where he recalls the horrible days when rapes, mass murders, and kidnappings were at their peak in the valley of Fullai, evoking horror and anguish in reader’s hearts. Later, he meditates on the unbearable conditions the Pandits faced after their exodus to Bargat. The portrayal of hardships endured in Bargat, replete with snakebites, dehydration, days and nights spent under puny canvas tents and the ominous dance of nature’s furies, draws one towards a visceral confrontation with the bitter fruit of diasporic existence.
Overall, ‘Refugees From Fullai’ appears to be a deeply emotional and introspective novel that delves into the complexities of human emotions, relationships, and the impact of historical and political events on individual lives. It is a poignant and thought-provoking read that leaves a lasting impression on its readers. In essence, ‘Refugees From Fullai’ is an emotional tribute by the author to his mother and motherland and is reminiscent of a heartfelt poem by an Iraqi poet, capturing the ache of separation and the hope of reunion:
what does the void cling to?
The hope of seeing you again
is a wound
onto an avalanche