Kashmir: The Agony of Conflict


Book: The Half Mother
Author: Shahnaz Bashir
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 192
Year: 2014
Price: Rs 236

Bilal Shaheen

The life of people is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short, explained Thomas Hobbes while describing the political uncertainty of the 16th century England. Hobbes gave a gloomy picture of a society in the absence of political authority - civil war, choas, unrest, anarchy.

The Kashmir of 1990s resembles Hobbes’s English society in one familiar aspect - conflict, war, fear and loss. The outbreak of popular war against the brutal Indian state proved inconsequential and catastrophic. The radicalization of politics altered the centuries-old social fabric and brought in place a corrogated political order of disturbance, uncertainty and anarchy. Thousands perished, tortured and disappeared in the darkness of insurgency. It was a period when detention almost meant disappearance.

In the recent past we have witnessed many bold attempts made by the young and energetic Kashmiri writers to retell the horrific story of post-1990 Kashmir. These writers deployed fiction to narrate the agony of Kashmiris’ turbulent past. The growing voices which are willing to articulate the horrors of state repression through the cathartic medium of fiction are Basharat Pir’s Curfewed Night, Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator and many others.

Shahnaz Bashir’s The Half Mother is the latest attempt to tell the heart-wrenching story of those women who lost their fathers, brothers and sons to custodial interrogation by the Indian army, only to be never found again.

Set against the backdrop of militancy of 1990, The Half Mother is a heartbreaking story of one woman’s restless, in the end a futile, struggle for life, love and loss. The Half Mother is a story of Haleema’s (the protagonist) search for her son (Imran) who was whisked away by the Indian army and never returned.

The story begins in serenity of Natipora in the Joo family with Ab Jaan’s (Haleema’s father) tireless experiment with different jobs to secure a better living. Apart from a firm homemaker, Ab Jaan was deeply aligned, albiet badly affected, with the politics of his strife-ridden state. Ab Jaan’s unbridled faith and later disenchantment of Shiekh Abdullah reveals the growing political mobilisation among common Kashmiris.

Insurgency just began to overthrow an alien political order which in turn proved catastrophic and disturbed the calm of the valley. The failed election of 1987 left Kashmir simmering in turf war between political rivals.

Haleema’s never-ending lonely existence came in the guise of Ab Jaan’s killing by Major Kushwaha. Ab Jaan’s death meant a colossal loss for Haleema who lost a responsible guardian, a lone bread-winner and a sympathetic father.

As Haleema mourning the death of her father, came a tragic event which shattered her consciousness between life and death, love and loss, fear and courage. The following night, army picked up Imran, thus began Haleema’s disparaging struggle of lonely hope and despair.

The novel turns sour and meloncholic when we see Haleema hurtling from police station to army camp, from the radio station to Papa 2 (torture centre), an unlikely flaneur in a landscape of loss.

Her beauty faded in mourning, her conscience shattered by screaming and her existence is invaded by loneliness. Her face was a poignant reminder of the passing of time.

Shahnaz Bashir’s language is simple, sarcastic and imagery. Its at its best when it evokes the inseperate alignment of political and personal.

The dedicatedly drawn characters, loathsome and unpleasant reality and discursive narrative is what makes the novel an artistic work of fiction.

Written in lyrical prose, The Half Mother is a devastating debut novel of a Kashmiri which portrayed Kashmir’s tryst with unfreedom.

Bashir is too subtle a writer to draw an explicit connection between the isolation of a bruised mother and the rest of Kashmir as it enters the third decade of war that will haunt it with catastrophic human cost.

Shahnaz Bashir’s novel, its vivid style, meloncholy and one mother’s stiff resistance to power leaves the reader to easily relate his life to the harrowing story so beautifully woven in the novel.

One of the most remarkable features of this novel is its sublime presentation of motherly affection being tormented by the arrogance of conflict so adversely gripping Kashmir society.

The novel, a slim volume on personal tragedy wrought by Kashmir’s unrelenting struggle to win back freedom, is a terrific satire which speaks of the common Kashmiri daily encounter with vengeance and despair.

The Half Mother is another bold attempt by an enthusiastic voice to tell the gory tale of Kashmir’s brutal war. All in all, The Half Mother is a devastating, deeply moving and a much needed book.(

The reviewer is a research scholar of Kashmir Politics at The Institute of Kashmir Studies, University of Kashmir, Srinagar.
 He can be contacted at

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 August 2014 on page no. 21

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