Seeking love in times of conflict

KASHMIRI WRITER

At the book launch of his latest novel titled The Book of Gold Leaves, Mirza Waheed, went on to describe how a ‘Military raiding truck’, nicknamed Zaal in Kashmiri (meaning spider web), symbolised what he called the ‘entire Military machinery’ in the valley.

Zaal’s rear had a mouth-like door and it was mostly used to pickup people during protests. Many in Kashmir have often claimed that the vehicles were used as ‘mobile torture centres’.

During his narration, the author described the vehicle as if it were a character itself and those who had come for the reading session hung onto every word by the author, as if they had already started to read the book in their minds.

The protagonist of his latest book is named after Revolutionary Pakistani poet Faiz. A Sunni Muslim, an artist and a poet who falls in love with Roohi, who is from a Shia family. Faiz, who supports his family by selling his hand-painted pencil boxes, eventually travels to Pakistan to train as a guerrilla fighter after witnessing a bus full of school children caught in cross-firing.

Waheed’s first novel was titled The Collaborator which was a story about a 19-year-old boy ‘employed’ by a Captain of the Indian Army. The unnamed protagonist is forced to collaborate with the Captain and among his main duties is to count the corpses and collect the identity cards of the slain militants.

The 19-year-old Collaborator spends the time, fearing, each day, that he will discover one of his friends lying amongst the corpses.

Upon being asked by Metrolife which of the two novels he considers to be his favourite, the author responded, “I have written two novels in eight years and both are equally close to my heart. I am proud to have written both.” “Roohi is fiercely independent, honest and strong minded. Besides enjoying Bollywood music, Roohi is a reader and particularly likes the writing of Akhtar Mohideen a Kashmiri writer of short stories,” said Waheed.

He added that the novel is also about exploring a couple whose lives change permanently in the midst of a war. The most memorable moment, according to the author, was when he wrote about Roohi receiving a letter written by Faiz in Pakistan and smuggled into Kashmir by a handicraft businessman.

“The valley is divided by the LOC and there are places where letters can be practically handed over or exchanged by people from both sides of Kashmir. But this line stops them.The book explores how ridiculous the whole idea is,” said Waheed.

The author, few weeks prior to his official book launch had written on a social networking website, “People tell me that my novels are political and I reply that’s how we think.”
While in conversation with Metrolife the author elaborated. “I don’t sit and decide that I have to write what people call as ‘political novels’. There is not really a pattern to it. I think of the characters, their lives and the characters happen to be from Kashmir which is a war zone. The conflict and the people are intertwined together and this impinges on my stories,” he added.

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