By A.N. Dhar
THIS short write-up is not meant to serve the purpose of a critical review of the book in question when, within the space of a year only, as many as 23 reviews on it have already appeared in various journals and newspapers published in the country’. They include the latest one by Ravinder Kaul published in the December 2003 issue of the Koshur Samachar (having earlier appeared in the Daily Excelsior, Jammu). What I am going to present briefly is a point of view on an important aspect of the book which, as far as I am aware, has not been specifically discussed or touched upon in any of the reviews so far. My stand-point has somehow a bearing on what the author himself has maintained in response to some of the observations on the book contained in the review that was carried by the Daily Excelsior;Tajnath Dhar rebutted these observations in a subsequent issue of the same daily. Most reviews on the book have been positive and some of them very favourable, including Ravinder Kaul's. A thousand copies of the book, I am told, have been sold within a year of its publication. This indicates that the book has well-nigh turned out to be a best-seller.
During the past 13 years or so much has been written on the subject of militancy in the Valley of Kashmir and the resultant turmoil there. The displacement of our community from the land of our birth, almost en-masse, has been a pervasive theme in a number of literary works produced by our writers in Kashmiri, Hindi and English (prose as well as verse). The recently published work in Hindi titled Sahitya Aur Visthapan: Sandharb Kashmir,authored by the erudite scholar, Prof. Bhushan Lal Kaul, that is focussed on the literary works of Khema Kaul, Rattanlal Shant, Arjandev Majboor, Motilal Kemu and Prem Nath Shad, offers an interesting and intelligent appraisal of their contents. The volume, in fact, examines in depth and detail the displacement of about half a million Kashmiri Pandits, who got uprooted from the Valley.
Prof. Tejnath Dhar's book is a welcome addition to the literature of exile that has steadily grown up in bulk in recent years and is now engaging the attention of many critics and literatures, especially those from among the Kashmiri Pandits. The author is a well-known scholar of English, a researcher of note an expert in English fiction. With the publication of the present book, he had made his debut as a creative writer. Through the literary device of the Diary, he means to present a fictionalised version of the ethnic cleansing of a large number of Kashmiri Pandits and the consequent exodus of the community from Kashmir. The targeting of the minuscule community is seen as a pre-planned conspiracy by the diarist; the fear of the fugitives, especially as it grips their psyche, comes alive in the pages of the Diary. The book immediately reminds us here of another creative volume - the well-known book of poems titled of Men, Militants and Gods authored by Dr KL Chowdhary.
The volume Under the Shadow of Militancy consists of two parts - a short Introduction by the author and the Diary written by the “unknown Kashmiri”. The Diary consists of 67 units; how the author came by it, is explained in some detail in the Introduction. Interspersed with anecdotes and intellectual analyses of happenings, the Diary records how, with the outbreak of militancy, turmoil grew up in the Valley during the initial period (1989-90). The account given broadly tallies with what was reported in the local and national newspapers. The contents of the Diary are, on the whole, readable and absorbing, in spite of the unpleasant and gruesome-happenings recorded. The narrative grips the reader’s attention enlivened as it is by the many anecdotes and some diverting incidents that are not necessarily centered on the theme of militancy.
The Diary lays bare the psyche of the sensitive and thoughtful narrator, who as well performs the role of the protagonist. Till he meets his end, he is haunted by the prospect of his leaving the Valley, his homeland. Yet he is aware throughout of the prevailing ethos of peace between the Kashmiri Muslims and the Pandits. Many nostalgic references are made by the protagonist to the mutual amity that existed traditionally between the two communities in the Valley. Nowhere does the diarist express any bitterness against his Muslim friends, whom he continues to hold in esteem in view of their human and moral qualities.
One important feature of the book that has escaped the critical attention of most reviewers is: the technical device of the author’s distancing himself from the narrative and bringing in the diarist. It is relevant to mention here that the reader is likely to raise questions such as these here: (i) Are the events narrated in the Diary to be taken as true and authentic? (ii) how far has the author succeeded in distancing himself from the events narrated in the Dairy? (iii) does the Dairy pass for a piece of fiction? Yet the reader cannot dispute the fact that the author has succeeded in investing the narrative with an aura of topicality and contemporary relevance. Ravinder Kaul observes in his review of the book that the "Dairy is an important chronicle of its time". In my view, the diarist serves not only as the protagonist but also as the author’s mouthpiece. Significantly, the words of Andre Brook quoted in the Diary seem to specify the author’s own intention of writing about himself both as an individual and as a member of the community he belongs to. He has obviously attempted to distance himself from what is recorded in the Diary and, therefore, it is not fair on the part of a reviewer to question him for what is said about Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah or Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad (based on hearsay). At the same time, the illusion of the author’s being distinct from the diarist has perhaps not been fully sustained. However, in no case can it be maintained that the book is in any way flawed on that account. It is very readable and has sold well as a creative piece and as a "chronicle" or our time.
The sad story of the displaced Kashmiris presented in the fictional garb - a welcome book.
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