Friday, 24 April 2015

A book review- Half Mother by Shahnaz Bashir

"Mothers are hardly ever pitied"- Maxim Gorky (1868-1963) In his novel 'Mother' 

Why do I read fictions? Well, I read fictions because I am addicted to good stories told with good literature. I read fictions because at times I recognise myself in many of the characters and most of all I read fictions because they take me nearer to people and places yet unknown to me. But when I had picked up this book, I didn't really expect any of these reasons to be satisfied. First,The book had the words 'a novel' written on it as if it had no bearings with reality. Second,as a contrast to the story's synopsis on the back cover, the book contains only 182 pages. Third reason was that, this was the author's first novel and that didn't really make it a safe bet.

I started reading the book, which is a tale of a woman during the time of insurgence in Kashmir in 1990s. The story was familiar for me as it was often heard . But as I turned the pages, I started to understand Haleema and her life around her father Ab Jaan and son Imran. Simple people living a very normal day to day lives and then time and circumstances tear them apart. Ab Jaan is killed in an army ambush and Imran is picked up by the army never to return to his mother again. Haleema's jouney form a shy reserved person who sincerely minded her own business to a vociferous leader of ARDP- Association of Relatives of Disappeared Person and her end, respected and surrounded by many but without her son by her side, was not only heart touching but it somehow kept me hungry wanting to know what had happened next.

The author successfully keeps political opinions and controversies out of the book. It is almost as if Haleemas of this world are not touched by the politics of the political leaders and warring factions. Its a story about simple people who protested against the opressive forces around them. Simplicity of language and the flow of the tale keeps one engrossed. Nothing changes, but the search in different jails and mortuaries, for their loved ones goes on and on. The apathy shown by the army officer Khuswaha and a highly placed political leader Mir Sahab is almost parallel. None spares the plight of the poor victims. Power, and absolute power, corruption , a strange unwillingness of the people in power to do anything about the plight of the common people who would often get cornered by millitants and army both with political parties in the sidelines, is potrayed in the story over and over again. A touch of socialist thoughts are reflected with the sharp difference potrayed between the rich and famous in the valley and the suburban poor milieu.

The storyline is stargely reminiscent of Maxim Gorky's 'Mother' where Pelagea Nilovna mother of Pavel represents the working class in Russia under the rule of Tsers. She, like Haleema works and fends for her only son Pavel as the husband is spineless and weak and only a source of trouble. The thematic setting is almost parallell. In 'Mother' the story is woven against the backdrop of Pre-Russian Revolution and in 'Half Mother' the setting is the time of insugence in Kashmir. Both are the  tales of a mother raising her voice against the opressive forces of the time. In one of his interviews, the author Shahnaz Bashir does express his liking for many Russian authors like Leo Tolstoy and Gorky, Chekov. Hence an influence is but exopected.

The only disconnect that I felt with the story was that although the incidents were very linear, they were often very onesided and almost took an impassive view of the reasons behind the insurgency and the sufferings of many other communities in the valley. But then to defend the author, he did say that it is an imaginary tale and imagination will always have biased views.

But overall, its a brilliant attempt by the author to write about those terrible times. He uses the language beautifully to make his satement. The character of Izhar is interwoven in the theme as if to make a statement of what jounalism should be and what it is. May be one day the Imrans and Pavels would come back and find their homes empty, because time has posed as a villain and had robbed them off their lives. The line which beautifully sums up the plight of the valley is 'The reports on Kashmir are on the lower shelves- handy, yet dusty,scrabbled and shop soiled, Kashmir is mentioned everywhere-in books,news reports, political reports, but it has disappeared form the world, an enforced disappearance on its own.'

( Disclaimer: Besides the spoiler this article does not by any means contain my personal or political opinion about Kashmir)

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