Moralising through fiction
Mustaq Mehde is a fairly known literary figure in Kashmir and has already carved a niche for himself in the literary annals here. He made his presence felt by publishing two Urdu books: one, ‘aangan main voh’ (He/She/That in the Compound, 2009) which is an anthology of 21 short stories, and two, ‘shakar baba’ (Shakkar Baba, 2019), a collection of five radio dramas. Both the books were received well in the literary circles.
About Mehde’s skills as a fiction writer, late Professor Hamidi Kashmiri, praises him for using unorthodox techniques in fiction writing while taking every care not to lose sight of linguistic and stylistic needs. “In his stories we find an inclination to get benefit from individuality, impressionism and stream of consciousness,” writes Hamidi (‘aangan main voh’, p. 5).
Professor Majrooh Rashid also finds Mehde’s fiction unique in the sense that manifest his deep knowledge of fiction, and he knows the way situations, characters and language play an important role in its writing (‘kani myul zuv’, p. 11).
‘knai myul zuv’ (The Stone Got Life) is the first Kashmiri short story collection of Mushtaq Mehde. It has 19 stories and is a self-publication of 2023. In his preface to the book, the writer tells us what a fiction writer aims to say in his/her fiction.
According to him, fiction isn’t a photocopy of any event. A story is born out of imaginative rendering of an event, even if it were real (p. 8). The moment the present reviewer got the book in hand, I could guess from the title that the collection must be Mehde’s usual stuff of didactic fiction that aims to teach some moral lesson or deal with some saintly theme which talks about some miracle Baba. And, I wasn’t wrong.
On opening the book, my eyes went straight to the shorts story ‘kani myul zuv’ (p. 40) which is about a Baba giving life to a statue. The sculptor forces the Baba to give life to the statue:
“Baba…,” the young sculptor came forward and said in humility, “I want…that…beautiful stone statue to talk…yes…that…Give it the tongue…Khan Baba…Give it the tongue…make it talk…” (p. 46)
The Baba is surprised and asks the sculptor if he knew what he was talking about:
“Yes…Baba…I know…what I am talking about…nothing is impossible for you…I know you are wonderous…fulfil my desire too…” (op cit)
After some time, Khan Baba obliges the young man. He went near the statue and said, “This sculptor is lovelorn…your lover…a lunatic…Tell him what you have to say…tell him…tell him’ (p. 47). And, lo, “[a]t once the statue moved as if it had woken up from some deep slumber” (op cit). The sculptor felt happy and praised the Baba for doing this miracle and sought permission for touching his feet by prostrating (p. 48). However, the Baba doesn’t allow, and the story ends with an eight-line poem from the Baba’s tongue in which he tells us that bowing or prostrating can’t be done to a human being but to Him (seemingly God which is not mentioned).
What is the moral of this story? Obviously, our common belief that miracles can happen through ordinary mortals also, but they can’t be taken as God. That is how people take saints here. They attribute different unnatural and unimaginable miracles to their saints and seek their intervention in God’s affairs.
Thank God, Mehde’s Baba accepts that God is the ultimate creator, but what does the Baba’s giving life to the stone mean? Linguistically, this story is simple. However, it has taught me a new word, “maraets” (statue). I have all my used “kani potul” in my mother tongue. Also, in the beginning of the story, the writer has used “raas” for ‘rein’ when in Kashmiri, we use “laankam”.
This is not here only, in ‘maharaani’ (The Queen), the writer has used “khanakdaar” (ringing, clicking, jingly, p.27) for the voice in which the Queen talks to the sculptor (metaphorically, it can be used for or a ‘pleasing sound’, if that is what the writer meant?).
“khanakdaar” isn’t used in Kashmiri at all. Similarly, the use of “adhikaar” (right) and “dharam” (religion) also sound odd amid so much Kashmiri vocabulary. When there are simple Kashmiri words available, why use unfamiliar lexicals?
Another story which belongs to the same category is ‘shakar baba’ which is a short story version of a radio drama of the same title (‘shakkar baba’, 2019: 7-29). It is the story of a Baba who would distribute ‘candy, sugar, jaggery’ (give it any name you like), but who after meeting with a ‘mot’ (lunatic)—‘mot is used for a saint, dervish, a baba also—leaves the place for good, though some children and elders of the place ask him to stay back.
The encounter between the ‘mot’ and the Baba seems to have a turning point in the life of the shakkar baba who has distributed all his candy or sugar. People have disappeared and he seems to be now a useless fellow. He apologises to people for following his self. He tells them that there is ‘light’ in every soul that makes them move forward.
‘maharaani’ (interestingly, the author has used a long vowel [aa] in the second and third syllables of the word. In Kashmir, however, we say ‘mahraen’ with only two syllables, the second vowel is longer) is about a queen who gets enchanted after getting her statue made by a brave sculptor. She is enticed and falls for the sculptor’s art or the sculptor himself. She felt that the stature was more beautiful and admired the artist’s creativity. This is a kind of make-believe story which seemingly talks the beauty of art and the artist. Well, if you have to accept that any imaginative narrative could be a short story, this one fits in well there.
‘rata boch’ (Blood Thirsty, p. 15) is about corruption in offices and the protagonist’s determination not to given to these blood suckers. Ideally good but in practical life such things don’t happen very often.
As said above, the whole collection seems to me based on preconceived notions about saintly miracles and artistic creations that transcend normal thinking. I am sure this book would make literary critics and fiction writers think how far the fiction writing in Kashmiri could cross confines of the traditional fiction writing the world over.
Professor (Dr) Mohammad Aslam, former HoD, Department of English, Kashmir University
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.