His debut novel, The Collaborator, uses the Kashmir conflict as backdrop
London-based Kashmiri novelist Mirza Waheed has lauded the women of Kashmir for their resilience during the 20-year-long conflict, saying: “They are the bravest in the world.”
Speaking here on Sunday at the launch of his debut novel, The Collaborator, with the Kashmir conflict as the backdrop, Mr. Waheed said he always wanted to write a book, preferably a novel. Hailing the women of Kashmir for braving the odds during the conflict, he said: “They have suffered much more than we can imagine.” As he read a portion from the chapter titled ‘Milk Beggars,' which reflected the plight of women struggling to get milk for their babies during continued curfews, he nearly broke down and had the audience in tears. At one point, a grey-haired engineer stood up and told him to stop. “We cannot listen to these heart-rending stories as a collective audience. We may be able to go through these pages individually,” he said.
“But this is one of my favourite chapters in the novel and I wanted to read this,” he said.
The novel, published by Penguin Books, U.K., has already been listed among the top 10 novels of 2011 and is the first such piece of fiction by someone who was born and brought up in the haze of the conflict in the 1990s.
Mr. Waheed is a journalist with the BBC in London and worked in Delhi before that. He studied literature at the Delhi University. “I want to write another novel and that will be definitely about Kashmir again,” he said.
“The horror of the happenings continues to haunt me. As a journalist, I could not express my feelings adequately, so I decided to write a novel,” he said. “I started to write it in December 2006 after reading a lot — positive and negative stories written by Kashmiri journalists and world writers.”
He said he started writing at the age of 10. “I went to Delhi and in 2001, I went to London. I carried all my writings in floppy discs. The happenings of the early ‘90s have continued to haunt me… the crackdowns, bodies, and blood-stained roads. Memories of untold stories — especially about those who die while crossing the LoC or coming back from the other part, and whose bodies lie unnoticed,” he said.
“This is from where I picked [up] the thread and the rest followed.”
As for being in Kashmir to read from his book, he said: “This is an emotional moment for me.”
When asked how a “real life story” could be deemed a fiction, he shot back: “I write tragic fiction.”