On the Shores of the Vitasta

On the Shores of the Vitasta

By M.K. Santoshi

"On the shores of the Vitasta" is a collection of four novels about Kashmiri women by Parneeta Khar. The novelist was born and brought up in Kashmir and completed her education there itself.

The present collection is the testimony of her deeprooted love for Kashmir, deepened further after the eruption of militancy in the Valley. The theme of her present literary work is not current political upheavals in Kashmir but the changing psyche of its people. The novelist has selected early fiftees as the period for her four novellas. The writer’s aim seems to be to highlight the changing times and women’s role in it. It goes to the credit of Parneeta Khar that she has cast her women characters in these four novellas in challenging circumstances and exhibited their courage and wisdom. The sociological study of her community with all its negativity has really helped the novelist in her descriptions.

The feudal outlook of Kashmiri people has been dilated in these four novellas. But the main aim seems to be to highlight the role of women in social and domestic prosperity against male dominance.

In the story ‘Pamposh’ one of the leading characters Shyama voices the concern of the novelist in these words- “women are no more the unclaimed-slaves of men. Women will have to come free of these shackles and progress by their own efforts.” There were times when morsels of women were grudged, when in a husband’s house she was never served a curry to wet her rice. When they were taught to curb their desires, when they had to learn obedience so that they would not revolt under oppressive conditions. ‘Umavati’ the grandmother in the story ‘Pamposh’ represents the old social order but her daughter-in-law Shyama is total negation of the the traditional thinking. She brings up her children in the unorthodox manner.

The caste restrictions are still followed among Kashmiri Pandits but not with such intensity as is followed in other communities. But a few decades ago slackness in caste considerations was not acceptable. Bulbul of the story ‘the gap and the bridge’ becomes the worst victim of caste barriers. This story can indeed be called a love story. The novelist has chosen a Pujari boy as its hero and the daughter of a family proud of its name in the society as its heroine. The new upliftment of the pujari family upsets Sunderlal (father of Bulbul). He could not reconcile how a boy whose forefathers had survived on the charity and alms of Sunderlal’s forefathers. Father a pujari and son an engineer, this social-imbalance is going to cause havoc; thought Sunderlal. But Bulbul partly to rectify his father’s attitude and partly to console herself, implores upon Lassa the son of a pujari and her old time lover to give his name to her child who henceforth shall be called neither by Vasant Razdan nor Vasant Koul bu Vasant Sharma. The novelist truly disapproves of caste-consciousness and advocates a more progressive attitude in our social relations.

‘Ruby among Pearls’ is a story par excellence. It exposes the pseudoasceticsm of our society as a blot on the name of our pious-heritage. It ridicules those who use Swamis as a camouflage to conceal their illusions.

All the four novellas in this collection are domestic in their structure. They reveal as such the domestic-parodoxes of our society but without going satirical. Infact the novelist has surprisingly avoided satrical utterances. In the novellas, there come many such occasions, when she could use satire like a whip but she chooses to let it go. Sometimes such gentleness of a writer is not appreciated by the readers. But Parneeta Khar’s success in writing these novellas is to bring to focus those times when in Kashmir new thinking was taking shape particularly among women. Bulbul, Chuni or Keshani  represent this new thinking. In trying circumstances her representative female characters with all their novel thoughts emerge victorious. The gender consciousness of the novelist seems to be the motivating force of these stories. The behaviour psychology of Kashmiri people has found a genuine place in this book and then love for exhibitionism and worldly excellence are also focussed at.

Parneeta Khar has a flowing style and easy vocabulary. She does not mean to impress the reader  with her knowledge of the English language but uses it as a medium of her expression to reach to those people who live in diaspora. She is here different from those-exile writers of Kashmir who have not yet overcome their nostalgia. Parneeta Khar shares no such nostalgia with these writers. She has depicted those times when Kashmiri women were fighting for a new identity and a new place in the society. The book as such has a sociological relevance. The usage of ethnic words have found liberal place in these novellas. A good list of such words can be presented. A few of such ethnic words are-Pheran, Gobra, Atgath, Khos, Dejhour and Dongas. Its usage can not be irksome even to those readers who are non-Kashmiris as their English translation is kept attached. It will instead definitely enrich their vocabulary. On the ‘shores of the vitasta’ is a literary piece of writing where in there are no guns, no terrorists, no violence, no crackdowns, no refugees’ camps no hatred, nothing of the sort. It takes us to those times when our mothers were struggling hard to prove their worth. A good sociological reading apart from its literary merits.

The writer is a well-known Hindi poet and a short-story writer.

Writer Parineeta Kour, 
Publish By: Writers Workshop 162/92 Lake Gardens, Calcutta-700045. 
*Price- Rs 150/- (Hard Bound), 
  Rs 100/- (Popular Edition)

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