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BOOKS ON KASHMIR ALWAYS HAVE conflict, but I do not speak of the literary device. There are grim essays on the insurgency and tall tomes that try to demystify Kashmir—but simple stories? They stay aloof. Feroz Rather rebelliously nudges his way onto my bookshelf with his debut novel-in-stories, The Night of Broken Glass.
Chapter by chapter, thirteen stories take us through Kashmiri narratives that explore caste, war, gender, religion, and even sexuality. The first, ‘The Old Man in the Cottage’ shows the oscillating emotions between revenge and remorse, as a man faces an inspector who once tortured him. In ‘The Souvenir’, a young atheist begins to weave a rosary from bullet shells instead of beads, and Rosy, in her eponymous story, battles with castism to be with Jamshed, a cobbler.
As these characters live their lives tiptoeing around curfews, they also smoke cigarettes by the brand ‘Revolution’ (go figure), have heated debates on how Lata Mangeshkar’s voice is saccharine, and wonder how they would order books off Amazon were they to quit their day jobs. It is in this contrast of narratives that rather shows the horrifying fragility of everyday life in Kashmir, and the constant loom of death.
I should warn you from the onset that the book isn’t an easy read. The sentences are as punctuated with gunshots and bullets as they are with commas and semicolons. And such is the sweeping effect of military oppression that even inanimate objects are defined by war vocabulary— willows lay siege to a cottage from all sides, lakes swell and hills shatter to mounds of ash.
Yet, there is an almost violent, fierce love for Kashmir, that makes the natives choose suffering over death. As what one character says to another: “How dare you think of paradise while Kashmir still exists on Earth?” Pick up a copy, and find yourself taken in by stories of this beautiful, conflict-ridden valley.
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