“Great art is one in which we can hear the very heartbeat of life,” Mohiuddin once said. Perhaps that’s why his works reflect the society he lived in and the society his pen predicted, unintentionally
By: Bilal Handoo
In 1838, Edgar Allan Poe (American author aka horror-god) released his only complete novel, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” termed “a very silly book” by critics. Even then, the book went on to inspire heavyweights like Jules Verne (French Novelist) to write “An Antarctic Mystery” and Herman Melville (American Novelist) to write “Moby-Dick”. The outstanding point of Poe’s novel was its startling prophecy that placed it on banner headlines some half a century later.
One intriguing episode in the novel is when a ship gets lost at sea with four crewmen onboard. Once out of food, the men drew lots to see who would be eaten. The unfortunate decision lands on a young cabin boy named Richard Parker.
It all happened in fiction and had supposedly no bearing on facts. But what happened forty-six years later simply shook those who could join the dots between the fiction and the fact.
In 1884, an actual ship with four men onboard got lost at sea. Akin to Poe’s fictitious novel, the men drew lots and decided to eat their cabin boy. If that wasn’t enough of insane coincidence, a bizarre story that followed left all tongues wagging. Decades later, a distant cousin of the Richard Parker (the fictitious boy in Poe’s novel) showed up and stumbled upon the connection! In other words, fiction had strangely turned factual.
But then Poe wasn’t only one to predict future events unintentionally and, yet accurately.
Some hundred years before the celebrated Hollywood director James Cameron would show the world his classic cinema “Titanic”, American author Morgan Robertson had written a novel “Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan” in 1898, predicting the sinking of an “unsinkable” ship, Titan. The novel described Titan as “the largest unsinkable craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men”.
Fourteen years later, there was an actual sinking of an “unsinkable” ship, Titanic, at sea. A fact-finding exercise later revealed that both ships (fictional Titan and factual Titanic) were British-owned steel vessels. Both were around 800 feet long. Both had too few lifeboats to accommodate every passenger onboard. And, both sank after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic, in April, around midnight.
Kashmir might not has had storytellers like Poe or Robertson, but it definitely had a visionary author like Akhtar Mohiuddin, whose works akin to Poe’s and Robertson’s made some startling future predictions.
During nineties, the author inside Mohiuddin was getting restive upon observing Kashmir’s disturbing slippage under security blanket. The distressing wave of checking and cross-checking of identity of natives at the hands of non-natives provoked him to write some intriguing short stories that showed the mirror of the society he lived and witnessed. One such short story is Aatankwadi (Terrorist).
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The bylanes treaded by Bauba Tathi had an Army patrol party coming from the other side. The moment young Shafiq saw the soldiers, he started crying. He rolled on the street, tugging at his mother’s clothes and refused to move. Bauba Tathi scolded him and distracted him with imaginary gifts but to no effect.
The Army officer thought to himself that the moment these Kashmiri children see us, they get terribly scared. He was lost in these thoughts when he said to young Shafiq, “Don’t be scared, son.”
Bauba Tathi replied in a mixture of Kashmiri and Urdu, “Hell, scared! He is crying because he wants your gun. Dupta hain gun de do (He wants your gun).”
The Army officer was shocked to hear this. He couldn’t react for some time, clenching his teeth and muttered to himself: “Terrorist, bastard!”
And hurried on.
* * *
Many years after this short story, a video of Kashmiri child crying and pleading before an Indian trooper for gun went viral on social networking sites. The kid, in the video, is insisting his mother to give him gun of the trooper. His mother like Bauba Tathi attempts to distract his attention. But, no consolation calms down the crying child akin to one in Mohiuddin’s Aatankwadi. The child moves closer to the gunman, crying loud and harsh, before being taken away by his mother. The video ends well before recording the final reaction of the trooper. But perhaps deep inside him, the demand of crying child might have shocked the trooper in the video like the trooper in Mohiuddin’s short story.
When the video surfaced on social network, those aware of Mohiuddin’s works were in fact watching visual treatment of Aatankwadi! The only difference, however, was—the characters, the storyline and the dialogues—were all determined by destiny than any human donning the hat of a director.
That the video is the Poe, or the Robertson moment for Kashmir cannot be contested. And that fiction sometimes is stranger than facts can only be reaffirmed.
Perhaps this unintentional weirdness of a writer to show futuristic signs of a society makes him/her a departure from the usual. This weirdness, many argue, comes from meticulous mapping of societal mood. In that case, Mohiuddin, whose son and son-in-law were consumed by the Kashmir conflict, is indeed a fitting case. His collections of short stories published posthumously reveals a mind constantly grappling with violent transformations in Kashmiri society.
Well before Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider showed its script writer, Basharat Peer stepping into the role of a man standing numb and frozen at a door, it was Mohiuddin who portrayed the same man in his another celebrated short story Nav Byemaer, or New Disease, as the ace Indian actor Irrfan Khan tells Haider’s heroine Sharaddha Kapoor who questioned the condition of the frozen man in the film. Later, Haider’s script writer, Peer would admit in one of his media talks that his inspiration behind enacting the scene of the ‘frozen man’ in the film was indeed Mohiuddin, the writer, whose works are known for the modernist fictional techniques: stream of consciousness and interior monologue.
But interesting part is that what Mohiuddin termed as Nav Byemaer in his short story, as a matter of fact, later came to be known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—Kashmir’s mental agony since nineties.
As a writer, Mohiuddin identified himself with the political struggle of Kashmir. He addressed the history of the crisis in his work. He was the first Kashmiri writer to dedicate his novel Jahnamuk Panun Panun Naar in 1975 to the person “who would fire first bullet to set things rights in Kashmir”.
Mohiuddin rallied behind the release of incarcerated JKLF leader Maqbool Bhat whom he considered “Kashmir’s National hero”. “Gandhi Ji’s India won’t gain anything by hanging Maqbool Bhat,” he appealed Indian authorities during eighties when news of Bhat’s hanging came. But as Delhi remained adamant by hanging Bhat, Mohiuddin in protest returned his Sahatiya Academy Award, a literary award given purely for the merit of his works. He was the first Kashmiri to get this award in 1958.
Later in protest to Gaw Kadal Massacre, he also returned Padma Shree Award given to him in 1968. In both occasions, Mohiuddin was hailed for his courageous act to return the honour. He didn’t stop there. He kept writing to different ministers besides the home minister about the atrocities that Indian forces were committing in the valley during 90s, urging ministers to put a check on excesses in Kashmir. When his pleas fell on deaf ears, he took to his writing and wrote about the disturbing times.
Born on April 17, 1928 in Srinagar, Mohiuddin is considered to be a trend-setter among the Kashmiri prose writers. He laid down the strong foundation of modern Kashmiri literature. He was one of the founder members of Progressive Writers’ Association in 1950s. Kashmir lost this great man on May 2, 2001 at 74.
“Great art is one in which we can hear the very heartbeat of life,” he once said. Perhaps that’s why his works reflect the society he lived in and the society his pen predicted, unintentionally.