BOOKS Abhay Narayan Sapru's “The Valley of Shadows” captures a soldier's mind and heart in Kashmir
It is not easy to make sense of Kashmir. The issue of Kashmir (or Masla-e-Kashmir as it's locally called) has defied the most distinguished of experts' attempts to box it in a category.
However, a man who has been at the heart of it all develops an intuitive sense about its rhythm and undercurrents. Abhay Narayan Sapru, Kashmiri by birth and a former paratrooper in the Special Forces of the Indian Army who has seen the situation in the Valley first-hand during his time (1995-1997) there, retells it creatively in a novel. A product of the prestigious Indian Military Academy, Sapru was commissioned in 1988 and volunteered for the elite Special Forces.
He is now settled in Gurgaon and works for a multinational company. Besides writing, he has a keen interest in distance running, trekking and sketching. “The Valley of Shadows” is an apt title for a book about a land where a lot of what has transpired remains inscrutable. Published by Wisdom Tree's fiction imprint, Chlorophyll, it is a gritty tale of characters caught in the throes of insurgency.
He talks candidly about the fear of mortality soldiers face as they enter war zone, “I do believe it is not courage if you're not scared. If you're scared, face your fears and overcome them, that's courage.” Another nicely nuanced insight is about the appeal of romance for a soldier in a combat situation. Explains Sapru, “It is not so much the idea of having a woman but the sense of normalcy that it gives a jawan. War can make you lose touch with reality.”
Set in Lolab Valley in the north-east of Kashmir the novel also celebrates the beauty of an area that has found mention in the poetry of Iqbal — once a bountiful food bowl of the State and later punctuated by violence that ripped apart ‘the stillness of this paradise.'
There is a vacuum in the field of war fiction in India and Abhay's book fills it with what is at its heart — a love story. There is a delicacy of emotion that usually comes when a writer has felt his words. He treads the fine line between an abiding sense of patriotism for India and an empathy for characters who are on the other side of the fence.