A revitalized ancestral Kashmiri folklore muffled in verisimilitude
A Review by Arbeena Shah
Two And A Half- the knock of Chillai Kalan is a debut fantasy novel written by Nida Noor, a young female writer. This 320-page book has been published recently by Lieper Publication.
The 24-year-old Kashmiri writer, born and brought up in Srinagar, is a Mechanical Engineering student. Inspired by Dan Brown and Arundhati Roy, Nida is a fanatical book reader and also a fan of Iqbal’s poetry.
Set in a forty-day harsh period of winter known as ‘Chillai Kalan’, the book is about Kashmir’s mythical creature Waivoph who steps into the valley every year on December 21 (when the Chillai Kalan begins) with a sole pursuit; to ensnare the soul of a person in her dearest Kangir (traditional fire pot), equate her balancing pans, resuscitate her dead husband Sartaj, and revive the lost glory of her magical native land called Wanhaar.
Spread over twenty-eight chapters, ‘Two And A Half’ introduces us to a bygone Kashmiri folklore with a touch of realism through its main protagonist- Rehmat.
Described as ‘shy and overthinker’, Rehmat is a young adult girl who resides with her father and grandma in Srinagar. She has lost her mother at an early age and is constantly haunted by weird nightmares leaving her scared and clueless. Frustrated by these recurring dreams, she feels detached and lost in this world. None of the things cheers her up except chit-chat tea at Shehjar Cafè with her best friend Sadiya.
Suddenly, the wintry night of December 21, 2000, turns the tables. Rehmat gets news that her dearest Saleem Mamu has passed away due to a fire breakout at his hotel Winter Wave. The death news of her favourite person sends her shock waves. With a series of incidents taking place afterwards, Rehmat discovers that it wasn’t a simple accident rather a mysterious one. Thus, begins her quest to unravel the mystifying cause of her uncle’s death.
The first seven chapters of the book, through first-person narration, introduces us to the benevolent land of Wanhaar, winter in Kasheer, and various characters- Waivoph, Assad, Rehmat, Saleem. It then takes us through the protagonist’s quest of finding the origin of peculiar wickers, which would ultimately lead towards the truth behind the deaths caused by fire.
The storyline is intriguing and grips the reader especially in the second half of the story. Through lucid and comprehensible language, the writer has successfully created suspense and curiosity throughout. Besides, the significance of deuteragonist, Inspector Waqas, has been sublimely composed. Various details are well-captured and nicely written such as the winter activities of Kasheer:
“People are extremely busy in covering their doors and windows with polythene sheets and newspapers, fixing them firmly with nails and tape. No gap has to be left unattended.” (Pg 16)
The description of Waivoph generates a sense of horror in one’s mind, whereas the elucidation of Wanhaar (before its destruction) comes as a solace. Also, the science background of the writer is reflected through the character of Zeenat, mother of Rehmat who was a Physics teacher.
“She would have created notes, formed equations, and drew flow charts keeping the weird hangul, fire as constants and colours, seasons, trees as variables, ultimately coming out with a valid theory.” (Pg 26)
The recreated folklore, apart from giving some chills and horrors, salivate one’s mouth with the frequent mention of known customary food- such as harissa, kulcha, bagirkhani, kehwa, masali czoth, lavasa, kebab and tosha.
The book contains some interesting scenes. Among which, the fake car accident chalked out by inspector Waqas and executed by Rehmat is one of the best scenes.
The title of the book complements the story and is directly related to horrific Waivoph:
I walk with my crown and knock at your door.
Two and a half times I call.
“Please open the door.
I need some fire to light my kangir.
I am cold and weak.”…
The translated story of Wanhaar highlights the repercussions of animosity, materialism and betrayal. Overall, the book is loaded with a message that it’s solely through forgiveness one can find peace and open the channels of love and kindness within oneself and everyone around.
Although, the story initially looks unhooked but later on, every character and situation connects craftily. Though minor, but important detail of Rehmat is missing such as her age which makes it a bit hard to carve her picture in the reader’s imagination. Besides, the plot runs at a good pace, however, towards the climax one may feel a fast & abrupt ending. Nonetheless, the story is stimulating overall.
Some of the best lines from the book are:
“It’s crazy to think how a person spends his entire life constructing a beautiful house, with a small garden blooming with flowers in spring. He makes sure everything is perfect. With constant love, affection and care, he tries to make this concrete space, a living home. But one fine day he just leaves everything behind. What remains are the fragments of memories that fade with each passing day.”
To conclude, the writer needs to be congratulated for regenerating the forgotten Kashmiri folklore in an engrossing manner. Two And A Half is recommended to beginners, teenagers, young adults and those parents who want to enlighten their little ones with native fable. Priced at INR 350, the book is worth a read and deserves a place on the reading shelf. My best wishes to the young writer for her future works.
Arbeena Shah is a student of Mass Communication & Journalism, University of Kashmir. She is a feature writer and film reviewer.