Jammu Lit Fest –
RED MAIZE BY DANESH RANA
Of an enflamed horizon, ruddy Earth and the air between
Danesh Rana’s debut novel – Red Maize, is a shout, an expose, on men, machinery and
machinations. It uncovers a unique cocktail of intrigues to lure, entrap, mutilate and torture. It’s about selling your conscience for plum postings, self-claimed leadership, medals and badges, even a marriage. It’s about bed and betrayal, money and moolah, faith and faithlessness.
‘Red Maize’ is a searing cry of Jammu and Kashmir, of a bloody horizon, the ruddied earth and the air between, that threatens to puncture the water veins and infuse it with blood of innocents, bringing forth a harvest of red maize.
The book is set in a humble hamlet of Morha Madana in Doda district of Jammu, a mountainous region surrounded by snow peaks, its rich soil bearing bountiful maize, life flowing sonorously like the melodic poetry of river Chenab. Then comes a time when the languorously grazing village, being an ideal hiding place for stealth, is quietly invaded by a market of blood shops- selling human flesh and death.
Morha’s insulated location, in the lap of snow peaked mountains and inhospitable jungle terrains, makes it an ideal abode for spreading religious radicalism. The radical wave swiftly turns into virtual reality, giving birth to the meanest, ugliest forms of indoctrination, where stakes are high, contrasting between–Soldier or Militant, between -‘A Heaven on Earth! or ‘A Heaven in Afterlife!’
It is a story of how a venomously planted thought mercilessly snatches youthful sons and pretty daughters and pushes their mutilated bodies into ignoble graves. Where mothers like Kausar Jan or Fauzia’s mother stand trembling, knowing little difference between an unbearable life and a living hell! It sucks your innards as they carry forth their fractured existence, brought by mindless ‘men’ in their lives.
In this death street one of the shops –‘Tanzeem’ – sells its merchandise of Jihad – holy war. The village gives it, its first indigenous militant commander, Shakeel Mujahid, that changes the destiny of the entire village. Shakeel, a loving jobless youth and the love of his widowed mother Kausar Jan. Basking in the sun on green slopes, while his goats grazed, fascinated by cricket matches and antics of militants, Shakeel follows the bloodhounds and falls for their gruesome playground of guns and gore.
Gul Mohammed’s is another such shop, of ‘mukhbirs’, craftily tri-timing at various opportune times – village folk, army and militants alike, sacrificing his daughters in this horrifying game of chess.
His lifestyle reminds one of stashed wealth, grabbed, usurped and stowed away by many such flourishing shops, blessed by political dispensations. The proof of this are mushrooming luxurious bungalows in cities and towns and hundreds of them scattered along remote villages and the countryside in Kashmir and Jammu. The ‘region of turmoil’ surprises many a visitor with some of the finest upcoming and completed bungalows. Not only did such money fund plush homes, it was weaned into high priced education in foreign countries of children of influential families, jet-set politicians, heads of high decibel organizations, radical and separatist associations and religious councils.
While their own wards are ensured to be safe and privileged, street youth are instigated, charmed, compelled and coaxed to pick up the gun or turn into a ‘sangbaaz’, the stone throwers, whiling away their youth and lives in jails or playing hide and seek in dangerous jungles and snow peaks with guns and bullets as toys. Where mothers like Kausar Jan are crushed under the dual extraction of dues from both militants and soldiers, besides becoming pawns in the hands of unscrupulous greed.
The third shop is that of the army- which no doubt kills, blows up, exterminates in the name of the country but is also a beneficiary, with AFSPA and PSA cushioning them from prosecution. Many trophies, medals, badges, promotions, peace postings, besides atrocities, tortures, killings, rapes, fake encounters and unmarked graves have stories with threads connected to the army.
Danesh has woven a story of intrigues sparing none – the army, locals and the militants. Shakeel Mujahid, in the story, is the manifestation of youth lured. His brother Khalid- the payer for his brother’s deeds by helplessly turning into a militant and his youngest brother- an easy dispensation for trophies!
Major Rathore comes across as manipulative, essentially less-ugly in his interaction with Kausar Jan, the mother- but brute, intimidating and cunning in the name of fighting militancy in remote areas. Rathore also has a match – a super ego demon unleashing nameless atrocities and creating killing fields.
How a NTR (nothing to report) is recognizable to villagers as a moment of relief; the rookie ‘kaapi’ (cadet) indoctrination to carry out everything to create Hell for a Promised Heaven, is revealing. Use of words such as ‘Passementerie’ (essentially embroidery on military uniforms) for adornment on the local salwar kameez of a Kashmiri girl gives a clue on the writer, a police officer. A Kashmiri’s typical reaction to situations like singing of Wanwun -the wedding songs on the death of a Mujahid is etched observantly. The reality of children in Kashmir playing ‘Encounter-Encounter’ with cricket bats as Kalashnikovs makes it well researched.
The book seems to be written in the times of early 1990s as Agra’s failed -walk the talk- steps in much later.
The writer’s use of Kausar Jan as a metaphor for Kashmir — the coveted vale of conflict, of lust and love, of mujahids and soldiers, being wooed and humiliated, of millions of blooms strewn with deadly thorns, Jannat and Jahannam, a nuclear flashpoint, a laboratory of death, is truly a wake-up call for the administration, politicians and the armed forces.
‘Red Maize’ calls for the protector to take the first humane step and not turn perpetrator. It calls for vigilance and healing, a touch marinated in much love and compassion. Perhaps AFSPA should be removed or replaced with a less draconian law, much as most of Kashmir believes the militancy is a Fassad and not Jihad (mischief and not a holy war).
Perhaps, the new political dispensation of Mehbooba Mufti develops a vision to erase some of the stains of political, police and public manipulations, and close few of the blood shops, with a touch, albeit, a woman or a mother’s healing touch, that may bring some comfort to Kashmir, is an awaited wish.
Writer can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org
FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON FEBRUARY 3, 2016