Narrator of Pain

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From the strife-torn Kashmir when Shahnaz Bashir came out with his woeful tale of the ‘half mother’, many reacted saying that a new spokesperson of pain has sprung on scene who after an eventful stint as novelist is now making a comeback, reports Mohammad Raafi

Shahnaz

Shahnaz Bashir.

Shahnaz Bashir dreamed to be a writer since childhood. But many, many years before his first book, The Half Mother, would become a success, the Kashmir-born scribe-turned-academician thought of quitting his childhood dream. However, he was quick to realise that his true calling lies in penning elaborate narratives—set in his native state—depicting complicated, human characters trapped in melancholic lives.

After detailing a familiar melancholy of a mother of a disappeared son, Shahnaz, these days, is working on another book revolving around the subject of death.

“In summer 2016,” says Shahnaz, while cooling his heels inside his office at Srinagar’s Central University where he teaches journalism, “my collection of short stories will be out. Besides I am writing another novel.”

Shahnaz’s writings are shaped, influenced by the disturbed nineties in which he grew up. The local narrative, caught in the uncertainty of life and death reflects in his writings. It was the same period when friendships and family relationships shifted against the backdrop of the turmoil. And the same troubled timeline drives him to write.

“I loved writing as a boy,” continues Shahnaz, “I wrote a lot. I had a story in mind, a dynamic between characters, a story about love and forgiveness and common human frailties. It was to be set in Kashmir. I just pictured it as a story taking place in a village in the 90s, which was a time and a place that I recall very vividly.”

The author gave vent to all his feelings, experiences and ideas in his The Half Mother – the book written in lyrical prose delving deep into a moving tale of a lone woman’s battle for life, dignity and justice in Kashmir.

“It took me a decade or more to learn how to write well,” the author breaks into a smile while saying this. “I always knew that there are stories to be told and I was sure that I will write on something one day. The theme was not my worry at all. When I used to write in my childhood, my apprehensions were different, not as serious as the book.”

Throughout his studies, Shahnaz had continued to write short stories in his spare time. He felt compelled to tell the world something of the life he had lived in the valley. In 2010, he decided to try expanding one of his stories into a novel.

“I think writing was not encouraged here during our times,” he says. “Even the teachers would not encourage us when we would answer a question using our own words. They would taunt us instead.”

Writers need to read a lot, he stresses – Magazines, books, periodicals… “They need to grasp the art of language, to appreciate the finer points of words. As they read, they should jot down ideas and capture thoughts as they come.”

Nothing inspires a writer like reading someone else’s words, says the author, recalling how avidly he would spend hours together at one of the Kashmir’s famous bookshop.

“I would spend 4-5 hours in the Kashmir Book Shop at residency road. The store was dark inside. The owner would use gas light to show the book racks,” says Shahnaz. “It was a difficult time as I didn’t have money to buy the books. So I would spend the time in the store itself and read. It would infuriate the owner initially. But with time he understood my problem and began helping me instead.”

As a writer, you’ll find yourself hitting plateaus and roadblocks when you aren’t reading, he says. “You’ll run out of words, if you’re not regularly being challenged through books and other material. This is an important step to become a good writer.”

The journey of the book The Half Mother hasn’t been easy. As Shahnaz evokes the time when he was in Hyderabad and had written some ten thousand words on his friend’s computer. “After writing ten thousand words I came to the valley to get married. When I went back, the computer was gone.” His friend had sold it!

Distraught, Shahnaz started writing longhand. Meanwhile, his wife gifted him a computer, the machine that later recorded one lakh words for the book.

After the completion of the first draft, the book, Shahnaz says, was rejected by seven publishers including the one that later published it. “It was distressing. However, later one of the publishers contacted me through a young friend and then we mutually agreed to publish the book.”

In December 2013, the final draft of the book was completed and the cover of the book took four months to get finalised. Now, the book has been declared joint winner for the Muse India Young Writer Award 2015. And Shahnaz is going to receive the award in the Hyderabad Literary Festival next month.

Today, when he reclines back and recalls what went into the making of The Half Mother, Shahnaz turns rapt to assert: “The day I wrote the last chapter of my book, I was a relieved man – like a father who marries his seven daughters off!”

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