Books

Backyard of Corpses: Narratives from Kashmir

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Book: Backyard of Corpses: Narratives from Kashmir
Author: Syeda Afshana
Publisher: Patridge India, New Delhi
Year: 2013
ISBN: 978142801002
Price: Not mentioned                          
Pages: 194


Mushtaq Ul Haq A. Sikander 


Kashmir and the narratives woven around it mostly deal with history of betrayals, violence and conflict. Kashmir has been rendered synonymous with human tragedy because no discourse about it is complete without documenting the miseries of those surviving in a violent conflict. Most writers, except those writing fiction, have missed the aspect of human toll that Kashmir conflict has taken on the innocent masses who have to bear the brunt of the violence in which they are often rendered  cannon fodder. Few opinion makers and columnists have taken a stock of their situation, given space to their miseries and articulated their demands and visions for life. When the violent conflict rages, only the players who sustain or resist it matter. Others are forgotten in whose names these players tussle for power politics.

There are exceptions to this norm, among writers who articulate their concern for the masses, who document their stories and who give a voice to the tongue-tied. One such writer is Syeda Afshana, who in her columns regularly writes about a number of issues that concern the common people. She is an academic and author. The book under review is a compilation of her articles that she wrote over the years on various themes, but they have the same thread, theme and thrust running through them, i.e., to speak for the subaltern. The book comprises forty six articles that are arranged under four different themes.

Death, separation from kith and kin, lamentations for the beloved, ordeals of parents whose sons got disappeared, bloody violence, arson, rape and lost childhood have been documented in the book. The use of metaphors like terming the vitasta and waters of Kashmir that sustain life as backyard of corpses gives new meaning to the nature’s bounties that conflict has turned into horrors. “Is Mehda Khan Alive?” is one such satirical piece that uses metaphors while commenting on what some people are doing in Kashmir. Depicting conflict, Afshana aptly observes, “Even the vacuum was void. No song shivered in the air. The depths of darkness and despondency had snarled all. The memories of loss had flapped into oblivion. Life had gone for good. Death was overbearing. And memory had miserably failed. Forever!” (p. 11).

The impunity that soldiers enjoy in Kashmir has been contrasted with the impunity that elites have when it comes to robbing the chastity of poor women without being held guilty. “Perhaps, her cry goes forever somewhere into those upper regions, beyond the pretentious probity of her plunderers, who swear by the high religion and sin by their beastly instincts” (P-7). Afshana has discussed the erosion of social and moral values in Kashmir, problems of women, the degradation of education and medicine as a profession, rage of youth on roads, drug menace and suicide of children who are coerced by their parents to excel in exams, the pollution of water bodies, and the soulless piety that is manifested in construction of big mosques and growing sectarianism. These issues concern common masses, but few have articulated their position on them.

While commenting on the difference of paradigms, context and nativity about Kashmir, that elevate it to a territory of desire for some and abomination for others, Afshana uses the winter season to make her point, “Maybe for outsiders winter in Kashmir means joy, nature’s delight. For insiders, it means, it darkness in every way”. (p. 73). The darkness of winter represents every darkness, cynicism, pessimism that surrounds us all. Afshana ends her book on a sad and pessimistic note about pervasive darkness and fatalism, “Not only this, even our bigger issues face the same fate. We don’t have roadmaps for anything at all. We are born to waste our time, waste our resources and waste our energies just this way. There is no hope. There can be no bon voyage” (p. 194). It is a factual depiction of the mess that surrounds us all in Kashmir.  

The book is a welcome addition to the ever-growing narrative about Kashmir. It reads like a novel, with each article connecting to the next one, a testimony to the gifted writing style of Afshana which keeps the reader glued to the text. The book has a few mistakes like (p. 76), “Miraculously, I reached my goal”. These small mistakes will hopefully be rectified in the next editions. This book elevates the status of Syeda Afshana from an academic to a proletarian historian. She has certainly documented facets of what can be described as a people’s history.

The reviewer is a writer-activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at sikandarmushtaq@gmail.com 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 December 2015 on page no. 21

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