Levity gave way to sobs and tears as debutant Kashmiri novelist, Mirza Waheed, swung into the closing section of a public reading from his Collaborator here on Sunday afternoon.
As Waheed closed the book, the packed hall at the Hotel Grand Mumtaz caringly refrained from applause, out of respect for the innumerable victims in Kashmir whose pain and suffering the writer had just given a glimpse of in his stark and simple words.
Perhaps the first public reading in Srinagar of a newly released book on the deadly fallout of the conflict in Kashmir, the event arranged by publisher Penguin at the writer’s request had evoked widespread interest, with many prominent figures, including former vice chancellors, a number of academicians, journalists, former top government officers, human rights campaigners and students among the large audience.
A Kashmiri telling fellow Kashmiris their own story of grief, made for long, poignant moments –the reading virtually turning into a marsia (dirge or elegy) of what they had lived through in the past two decades.
There were many moist eyes, and stifled sobs could be heard in the hall as Waheed moved from scene to scene to describe what Kashmiri womanhood had endured as the deadly conflict unfolded in the valley.
An overwhelmed listener got up, beseeching Waheed to stop, saying that his depiction was too painful for him to bear.
Moments earlier, the mood had been one of hilarity, with the audience repeatedly bursting into laughter and applause, feeling avenged as Waheed made his hero give a pithy and irreverent account of people in high authority, their tormentors.
Discussing his craft and motivation with Basharat Peer (author of the Curfewed Nights) who accompanied him on the stage, the writer recalled how he had transported his childhood experience of seeing dead bodies lying on the roadside as he walked for an army crackdown in his native Srinagar.
“This scene has stayed with me, particularly our collective helplessness as we were unable to do anything when one of bodies, still alive, moved its lips, perhaps asking for water,” he said.
To a question from the audience whether he had been influenced by Salman Rushdie, Waheed denied that the latter had been an inspiration, as his was an entirely different genre of writing.
“I write tragic fiction,” the author quipped, when asked how he could bear to fictionalize the suffering and agony of Kashmir.
This article was published on the Kashmir Observer