Underneath the violence, the festering heart of Kashmiri society
Fiction has the power to transform our perceptions of peoples and places. Feroz Rather’s The Night of Broken Glass is such a book; it hits you right in the gut. The author peeks into the dark, festering heart of Kashmiri society while dramatizing the spectacle of military violence. Recurring characters interconnect the 13 chapters/ short stories of the novel. Through these characters, the author reveals the larger issues of religion, caste, and gender that shape Kashmir.
The first story, ‘The Old Man in the Cottage’, is a disturbing tale of unfulfilled revenge, narrated by a man who seethes with an anger he has buried inside for 25 years. He broods and savours the idea of killing a policeman who tortured him along with Major S, a sadistic military man.
Major S’s presence hovers like a dark cloud over the lives of all the characters. After inflicting unthinkable violence on them he has to deal with his restive subconscious. ‘The Nightmares of Major S’ captures his internal chaos acutely and is probably the most powerful story.
The author pierces the blanket of violence that envelops the lives of these characters and draws the reader’s attention to the internal contradictions of Kashmiri society. The mosque, for example, is a site of caste hierarchy, where Gulam, a lower-caste cobbler, is under great social pressure.
When two friends, Mohsin and Tariq, are incarcerated together, I was struck by the force of Tariq’s words: “Faith, my friend, is the consolation of the weak and foolish…”
Rather’s lyricism evokes the scarred landscape beautifully. His sense of place is so strong, it reminded me of Banville and Nabokov.
Rather is a poet at heart who has decided to engage with history, a sentiment reflected in the epigraph from the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska: “History did not greet us with triumphal fanfares/ It flung dirty sand into our eyes.”
Adil Bhat is an assistant editor with New York-based magazine Café Dissensus, and writes for several publications in India and Pakistan. This review was first published in The Hindu.