Unravelling Social Malaise

Kashmir, as a society, has for the past more than three decades been beset with varied kinds of social and psychological problems involving, especially, women and children. It’s heartening that local short story writers have attempted to portray the Kashmir society as it has been living through the chaotic times. In this regard, Mushtaq Ahmad Mushtaq’s dugosh (Blackout) is a noble attempt to bring out our social predicaments to the fore. It is an anthology of twelve short stories in Kashmiri which portray Kashmir’s social fabric that has got devastated over the years. These stories are: ‘sawal’ (Question), ‘maet aab’ (Chaos), ‘dugosh’ (Blackout), ‘shaap’ (Haunted), ‘thazar’ (Height), ‘sech’ (Information/News), ‘shishur’ (Frozen), ‘gumana’ (Idea), ‘amaar’ (Fascination), ‘vunal’ (Fog), ‘heero’ (Hero) and ‘pokhta yaraz’ (Fast Friendship). These stories depict familiar situations and characters.

‘Dugosh’ is both a short story and the title of the book that in itself is a testimony to how the author envisions his own society going through problems of various sorts. ‘Dugosh’ (36) portrays a half-widow (a woman whose husband has disappeared) Mehmooda, a middle-aged woman, whose husband was picked up by masked men and since then is missing. Her father-in-law has died, and her brother-in-law has dispossessed her of everything—house, shop and land (38-39). Even her own brothers have deserted her and told her to go for a second marriage “but I didn’t agree. God forbid, was he…if he came some day and asked me what I’ve done with his keeping? How would I face him?” (39). The “keeping” is the lonely son, Gasha, for whom the mother is waiting anxiously at home. He does return but only to send blackout to his mother by informing her that he was leaving her to study in an outside University.  She likens her son’s going away with her husband’s being taken away by the masked men.

‘Maet aab’ (Chaos, 24) is another painful but a realistic depiction of our political life. Those who suffered in jails and those who benefitted from the happenings around them. Asif Kamal has written a novel Chaos (maet aab) that has become popular with a political party. Asif Kamal has come out of jail after three years. His novel is being quoted in the public meetings as it depicts the sufferings of the people. He seems to be a very sensitive man who wanted to change the society which his wife Nusrat didn’t like. She became a part of Revenue Minister’s harem. The elections are being held and it appears that no party was getting a majority. A coalition Government was being formed. He expected that many previous minsters, especially the Revenue Minister, would be dropped. However, on the day of oath ceremony, he is shocked to see the former Revenue Minister, Mohammad Yunus, also taking the oath. On the other hand, ‘shaap’ (Haunted) is a tale of guilt of Khoja Samad. Long before he had given some money to his neighbour, Karim Lone, for the treatment of his son and in lieu of that had got his four kanals of land registered in his name. This guilt is haunting him like a neighbourhood house that is being dismantled as people believe that it was haunted. ‘shishur’ (Frozen 77) depicts the displaced community for whose return some conference is being held at Jammu. On the other hand, ‘gumana’ (Idea 93) is about father-son relationship in that the father’s illness becomes a problem for the son living in the city. The father undergoes so many tests, but the son is perturbed how his wife would behave on receiving his father. Unexpectedly, the wife welcomes her father-in-law that surprise the son, Ashraf.

‘Thazar’ (Height 53) reminds us of the 2014 flooding when the entire Kashmir valley got deluged. People got caught unawares and within minutes found themselves in a kind of death trap. However, some warriors risking their own lives appeared as angels and saved hundreds of lives from getting drowned. In this story too Adil and Aslam are saved by Sula Karnai’s sons when they had lost all hope: “I felt Sula Karnai’s sons as angels descended from heavens” (63).  ‘pokhta yaraz’ (Fast Friendship 142) is the story of children who suffer pangs of the separation of their parents at an age when they begin to understand the ebb and flow of life. How separation of parents can have a debilitating impact on children is portrayed through the predicament of Mukhtar Ahmad, a bright school kid and his friend Irfan. His teacher knew that Mukhtar is a bright student but for some days he has been seeing him distressed and morose. Taking Mukhtar into confidence, Irfan comes to know that the former’s father had left his wife which is why he was feeling sad that was telling upon his studies also. Irfan and the teacher together meet Mukhtar’s father and convince him about how their separation is affecting Mukhtar’s education. The mother returns and finding her in his home, Mukhtar feels very happy and appreciates Irfan’s friendship. This story is representative of so many children whose parents separated leaving their children in lurch. ‘vunal’ (Fog 120) is symbolic in nature. How a driver drives his vehicle through fog by bracing all odds teaches the passengers a lesson that life is a journey that confronts many hurdles, but only those succeed who brace hurdles: “After every darkness, there is light. Man shouldn’t lose heart” (128). ‘heero’ (Hero 130) is the search for a real hero in our life, not a fake one but the one like the ancient hero who defeated a dragon and got this valley emerge from satisar. ‘sech’ (Information 64) is about the feelings of a retired employees.

After reading ‘Dugosh’, we feel that these stories aren’t fictional but real as they touch familiar chords. Whether it is the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits, the predicament of half-widows, the plight of children whose parents have separated or the lack of real heroes or the corruption in our political system, all these themes are quite familiar to us. The writer has chosen events from real life but presented them fictionally so that the stories retain their aesthetic value. Sometimes, he is direct as in ‘dugosh’ but many a time he represents events and characters symbolically as in ‘vunal’ and ‘shishur’.  Dugosh is a good read and provides enough food for thought.