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Lost in Terror
By Rashid Ali
Chronicle of hopes and despairs of women in armed conflic

Name : Lost in Terror

Author : Nayeema Mahjoor

Pages : 305

Publisher : Penguin Books

Genre : Novel

ISBN : 9780143416531

Language : English

Price : RS. 299

It is we sinful women.

Now, even if the night gives chase

these eyes shall not be put out.

For the wall which has been razed

don't insist now on raising it again.

While penning down such barefaced lines, the famous Pakistani poet Kishwar Naheed may not have thought of somebody else echoing the same universality of pain, trauma and glimmer of a possibility. But hang on! There is one more from Indian subcontinent. Nayeema Mahjoor brings in the same pain, trauma and hope through her latest novel- 'Lost in Terror.'

The novel chronicles the armed rebellion of Kashmir against Indian since 1980s. It is the tale of a young, educated, career-conscious woman who finds herself sucked into a maelstrom of death and destruction. She also cherishes the dream of Azaadi and plays strong to face the wrath of the security forces. But when she uncovers her husband's discreet links with gunmen who have become obsessed with the dream of Azaadi at the expense of the family's security, she becomes fragile and begins to lose her hold on her home, her relationships and Azaadi itself.

The novel tells of a quandary in which women are usually in the state of flux and uncertainty. It's a fiction of perennial contradictions. It is an intense autobiography where the self is thrown into altruism of an oppressive nation and also into the subjugating ideals of freedom. It's an ironic site of characters where freedom and un-freedom both degenerate into each other. It's a tale; a Kashmiri woman will instantly be familiar with. Or is it universal pain that goes beyond the persona of Nayeema Mahjoor and Kishwar Naheed?

On surface reading, the novel appears to be an example of Female Bildungsroman, a literary genre where characters keep improving themselves in order to achieve better life in the Faustian world of profit, delight, power, honour and omnipotence and in the process they let go of the past and lean into the future. At subterranean level, this evocative story gravitates towards the world of male dominance and fanaticism in a conflict-ridden state.

As the story unravels, one sees the advent of summer with the blue sky squinting at the remnants of the white snow and in the neighbourhood of such wondrous nature, an elderly man wants to show a two-beaked bird to her seven daughters. Suddenly, such scenic landscape is lost in the marvels of violence when Kashmiri people and armed forces of Indian state start disporting with guns in Kashmir valley. A place where girls could read stories and stroll the streets and where a father could fight against the orthodox norms of the society by sending his daughters to school is locked with a dead-end.

Inspired by the ideals of her father, the protagonist opens herself to further education and job. She soon gets married and goes for career pursuit. But as Kashmir begins to change; her life also gets caught up in turmoil. A vivacious girl who was once about to see two-beaked bird at her father's place, now can barely step out of her house. The minions (both Indian and Kashmiri) seem to be all around forcing her back to be cocooned within four walls. Injustices by Indian armed forces and her husband go hand in hand but she doesn't relent. She keeps trying to make her marital life work despite her husband sacrificing family life for the cause of Azaadi. She probes into her torn life-'my motherland and me, we were both enslaved by our oppressors, though each of us never realised it.'

She gives a vivid description of what she went through in her conjugal life as well as within a cordoned state. What 'Force' can do to a state and personal life is a gripping side of this novel. The author keeps revisiting the site of 'Force.' She avers-'I didn't know how and when 'force' entered my relationship. When I finally realised it, I had lost everything: my honour, my dignity and my self-respect.'

As Kashmiri resistance movement grows and Indian military comes down heavily upon it, her marital life further deteriorates. Her husband abandons her and she comes to stay at her father's place which was once 'a place of her own.' In such feeble times, she becomes pregnant. And yet she remains undeterred. Perhaps she seems to have internalised the poem of Nikolay Nekrasov-'what life once has taken, fate can't snatch from us.' But a streak of anxiety runs through her and amidst political unrest, a doubt apprehends her-'what if my labour pains start during a crackdown or when we are under curfew and I lose my baby?'

Weakened by his pristine inconsequentiality, her husband doesn't attend to her nor does he grow into the mantle of freedom which he inherits. It's much later in the life of protagonist that the husband realises that his personal life is as important as his political life is.

While she delivers a baby boy in the hospital, the head nurse surmises his birth as a gift of God to the service of Kashmiri people. Suffused with the clarion call of Azaadi, the nurse tells her with grittiness-'five babies were born during the night and they were all boys. Nature has her own way of keeping the balance in the universe's affair. The security forces are killing dozens of boys every day, but God gives them back to us.'

And in the end, she realises that she can't bury 'self' and she flies to a distant land to gather pieces of her life when she gets job offer from a reputed organisation. She leaves a question for the reader-'if she hasn't been able to ease the pain of of her motherland, will she be able to show it to the world through her eyes?'

Metaphorically, the novel begins with two-beaked bird in the childhood of the protagonist whom she could not see. Her adulthood is thoroughly ravaged by political as well as domestic violence. And in the end, an aeroplane like two-beaked bird carries her dreams. The novel also seems to suggest that the fight between the orthodox and irrational social norms is harder than the fight against government rule.

The novel also gives graphic details of the real incidents such as the eruption of armed movement, appointment of Jagmohan as the Governor, crossing of militants into Pakistani territory for training, exodus of Kashmiri Pundits, kidnapping of Rubia Saeed, rape in Kunan Poshpura by Indian army etc. But the author has her own disparaging view about the events or about the resistance movement of Kashmir itself. She wrote this novel after she became the media advisor of People's Democratic Party (PDP), a party which looks at the freedom movement of Kashmir very differently. It's akin to the national perspective of mainstream India. If an author surrenders to the political dispensation, s/he is not irradiated by history in Rushdian sense.

At times, she throws herself too much into the histrionics of events which makes her less credible. When she depicts the year 1993, she seems to be over-exaggerating things such as 'civilians and security forces were shopping like two harmonious communities of the valley.' She also seems to be posing as an immaculate character in the novel in spite of her surrounding turning into an inferno. It is here that the novel ceases to be transgressive and the protagonist yields to the pressures and coercion of the society and the state.

In spite of these flaws, the novel is not lost in terror. Rather, terror of patriarchy and nationalism loses its grip in the novel and is deftly revisited. The character sketch, plot and themes are well knitted. Though it does not have an overt historical motive, it does keep abreast history. Pitted against self versus other, perseverance versus apathy and universality versus narrowness, the novel is an essential read. And more importantly, the novel dispels a notorious myth that women write only about family and men write mostly about conflict. In fact, Nayeema Mahjoor has meticulously done justice to both-- family and conflict.

(The author teaches at Central University Jammu)

News Updated at : Thursday, September 7, 2017
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