Call it the fume of jealousy or dogmatism, intolerance or narrow – mindedness, the comeliness of Kashmir is certainly getting deteriorated. In the past few decades attempts have been made to expose the versatile struggle and degrading condition of this Princely State, however, none of these attempts can jostle Professor Ashok K. Kaul’s novel Nativity Reclaimed aside. A native of Bandipur, Kashmir, Ashok K. Kaul capaciously elaborates his understanding and perception on the problems that has cobwebbed Kashmir. By putting Bandipur at the centre and revealing its blemished sides, he not only endeavours to show the fragility of Kashmiris but also exposes how ignorance and misinformation mystified the thought process of a past generation that produced unending disputes.
Braiding the story with genuine facts, Professor Kaul exhibits the grievances and wounded prides of Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pundits. Additionally, the struggle they faced to save their identity from getting eroded has also been effectively jotted down. Parallel to this is a running commentary on a disorganized political scenario, religious disturbance, Kashmir’s struggle for Independence that brought ceaseless complaints from both the sides and a few pleasing accounts of the valley narrated by those who abandoned it .
Not only this, the novel also comments about the upset relationship existing between Pakistan and India, different factions (camps) with their loathsome intentions, presence of anonymous elites and leaders across the border working to manipulate the minds of youth, along with criticisms on powerful countries using developing nations like Pakistan, as a means to achieve their ends.
Nativity Reclaimed is soaked with various facts and opinions. Life, in the novel starts in the region which is mystified and ends with the promise of new awakenings and hopes. Initially, we see how the blade of partition slits the friendship existing between Mohan and Hassan -a Kashmiri Hindu and a Kashmiri Muslim – forcing Mohan to abandon the valley and find for him a new accommodation. Tolerating Kashmiri Pundits in the valley was becoming difficult. They were compelled to answer the calls of extremists, that is, either to accept Islam and participate in ‘Jihads’ or to leave Kashmir. The situation became worst when they (Kashmiri Pundits) found peace neither in their homeland nor outside.
Reality was merely an illusion and illusion persisted because of incomplete knowledge. Because of illiteracy and poverty, the natives got no exposure to the outside world. They believed what was told and this built up the characters like Khan Sahib and Gulam Qadir, who perpetually fluttered in search of ‘AZADI’ , hardly realizing the fact that Kashmir’s ‘Azadi’ lies in accepting Plurality and not in forcing homogeneity. Iqbal and other innocent youth, consequently, became the victims.
“It was not possible to come back to healthy society until the past that was bloody, if not to be erased completely at least, it had to be silently put to break”.
The progression of the plot bring readers in touch with the new lot of Kashmiris, especially academicians, whose multicultural experiences and exposure with market mechanism not only influx enormous wealth but also helped in demystifying the phantoms they have had been harvesting since the time of partition. Contemplating the past life, they begin to reason out the predicaments that made their heaven shed its true hues. Solution was hard but different experiences and common pain and suffering bring them together. Sympathy is mostly with Khan Sahib and Iqbal, for the crime they commenced by helping fundamentalists to spread slumber in the valley; and playing havoc with innocent lives made them wise in the end.
The author has not bound his narration. He has enhanced the aroma of his storytelling by spreading the essence of romance and this is quite a relief. The smouldering love of Iqbal for Famba and later for Aisha, married Babli’s fondness for Bola, and her son, Rahul, blazing desire to marry Naseem, Hassan’s undying crave to meet Mohan, and the mystery of the boxes (ancestral heritage) which remained a secret till the conclusion , elevate it further.
Kaul’s analysis of the political scenario at the time of Nehru and Abdullah is also worth mentioning. He brilliantly understates the outcome of subjugation and negligence. Pakistan is presented as a country which is tolerated more than celebrated. However, it is also used as a scape-goat, a puppet in the hands of political elites and feudal lords using it to hypnotise others in the name of religion and at the same time enjoying peace and prosperity, relatively.
The box, which Mohan and Hassan kept at the time of separation, locked age, time and space in it. It amalgamated history, philosophy, literature, and life together, containing ‘an infinite rich in a little space’. Useless for the elders, its real worth was understood instantly by those who knew that difference prevails between practicing and preaching.
The power of the book lies in its shared vision. Professor Ashok K. Kaul’s Nativity Reclaimed shared nothing new but the truths. Giving actuality a rhetorical appearance the book expresses profundity of thoughts which calls for attention.
Ginnie Singh is a scholar from Dhanbad, Jharkhand with her major in English Language and Literature.