Sometimes, the shrillness and the ‘in-your-faceness’ of news reporters dull one’s senses to the actual events, and the horrors documented and broadcast to our living rooms lose their edge and ability to shock us, simply because that is what we have come to expect from prime-time television news. But a work of fiction which although purports to be of the imagination/a fabrication can, in the unfolding of the narrative, shock us into realising that the story (an invention of the author) is startlingly close to the truth, maybe even more honest and real than ‘the truth’.
Reading Paro Anand’s books set in Kashmir brought home to me the uncomfortable truth that the children in Kashmir are living lives that violate the fundamental rights of a child – the right to education, to good health, to nutrition, the right to play, the right to have loving parents or caretakers, the right to peace … Her book, No Guns at My Son’s Funeral (2005) is set against the problem of militancy in Kashmir in the 1990s and features a teenager, Aftab who is lured by charisma of the older Akram, a leader of a group of teenaged freedom fighters. Aftab is exhilarated to become a part of this forbidden group, and enters a web of intrigue, spies, manipulation and betrayal.
Another book by Paro Anand, Weed (2008), is set in the first decade of the 21st century and raises questions about the inheritance of violence that the children of Kashmir are weighed down with. Specifically, it is about 13-year-old Umer, his little brother Umed, their mother Amina and their father who is seen by the authorities as an atankvadi or a militant while he calls himself a jehadi or a freedom fighter.
On the one hand, Umer is the adolescent son who feels abandoned by his father and torn between the father and the mother. Should he stay with his mother and be a support to her like a good son? Or should he, as a son who loves his father, follow his father’s footsteps, “even if those footsteps are blighted”?
Amina exercises tight control over Umer, especially after her younger son, Umed, leaves to join the mujahideen. Her fears and insecurities for his and her safety cause her to tighten her hold so much that Umer feels stifled in this claustrophobic atmosphere where he is watched all the time. Taken out of school, cut off from all human interaction, not allowed to meet anyone other than his mother and the owner of the shop where he works, Umer feels as if he has “become invisible, ceased to exist” – much like the ordinary citizens of Kashmir have ceased to exist for the rest of us in India.