Future Tenses by Nitisha Kaul
“Bang! Bang! Bang! Gunshots rang out on the TV screen opposite; a famous daredevil south-Indian hero was making mincemeat of the villains. The sound did not bother her, barely penetrating the iron cloak of wretchedness that she wore.” This particular statement captured my imagination the most. The simplicity of the text was in stark contrast with the complexity of the environment around the protagonist, Zeenat. And I think it is these sentences that brilliantly capture the essence of Nitisha Kaul’s work.
My raison d’etre for choosing this book was to delve deep into the dispute and to get a perspective of the life of people currently living in Indian Occupied Kashmir. A human perspective provides the faceless conflict a human face; one that we can picture and relate to.
Nitisha Kaul brilliantly weaves the story of young Kashmiris living in contemporary times, as they struggle to live under the draconian fist of the state, with every movement of theirs being “treated with a suspicion that could escalate at the slightest hint and translate into the firing of pellets, if not bullets”. She expands the narrative of the Kashmir conflict through a human lens; focusing on the manner in which the ever pervasive nature of the conflict has spilt over to every crevice of the lives of the people.
Nitisha Kaul’s work centres around the lives of Fayaz, Zeenat, Shireen and Imran. It is through the eyes of these characters that she explores the haunting spectre of Kashmir, seen from an individual’s perspective. The book has been cleaved into three parts. The first explores Fayaz and Zeenat’s disintigrated marriage in which he “refused her the slightest of attention without letting her know the cause of his resentment”. His career choice of being a bureaucrat in a paralyzed system is compared to being disillusioned and he describes his marriage with Zeenat to be like Srinagar; “both harsh, unforgiving, resilient and indifferent to him.”
In the subsequent two parts of the book, Kaul explores the life of Fayaz’s nephew, Imran who is embroiled in a constant battle of having to choose his future from existing, if not, predetermined options. For Imran, whose life is about having his dreams disrupted many times, the quest is to unshackle himself from the chains of destiny. Shireen, meanwhile, is required to unlock and know her past so as to trudge on to the future. The emotional toll of the conflict leaves an indelible scar on each of the characters; affecting them in everyday lives. Through the convergence of their life stories, Kaul deftly manages to nail home the point of individual freedom being sacrificed for the traditions one’s family upholds; where political lineage remains sacrosanct, a social sacrilege if one were to deviate from.
Kaul’s chosen style of writing is unusual. Rather than upending a particular chronological order, she describes the past and the present in an almost effortless manner; where many a times, the characters are found reminiscing about their past so as to make sense of the present. So through the 300 odd pages that the Kaul guides you through, she successfully manages to amalgamate history, politics, facts and fiction.
At particular moments, however, I felt a bit disconnected from the reader’s imagination and my own not keeping pace with the same. After careful perusal of the content, I could feel that the fervent usage of metaphors and analogies did serve no meat to the content at times; often ending up snowballing into unattractively overstretched articulations.
However, that said, there was one metaphor that I feel will be stuck on to me for time immemorial. She eloquently compares Kashmir to be that of a “woman’s body in the eyes of a man who seeks her and when they can’t have her, they force themselves.” A gendered perspective to the conflict certainly intrigued me and pushed me to read more research centric literature that Nitishi Kaul has contributed. In one of her seminal works on Kashmir, she argues that there has been a gender specific “exoticisation” of Kashmir as a territory, thereby making the Kashmiri cartography more feminine in nature. It is this very understanding of Kashmir as being feminised that has historically served as a driver to the masculine and patriarchal forcibility of the Indian state. This, she concludes, “makes the possession and control of Kashmir an integral part of the Indian nationalist imagination.”
The Kashmir conflict has always baffled me. As per Stoics’ doctrine of Oikeiosis, human affection radiates outward from one self, that is to say it diminishes as distance grows from oneself. However, as I have found myself discussing the Kashmir issue with my peers, the insular and hyphenated claims have always seemed so emotional and over the top. Despite one not knowing the truths and hardships of the people suffering, Kashmir always serves close to our heart. Rather than relying on the everyday news being read, churned by the state machinery.
As I flicked through the last pages and submissively kept down my book, I realised it was 4am in the morning and it would only be a couple of hours before my mother would get up for her morning walks. But before sleep took me to the enchanted lands of honey and rainbows, I felt myself diving into an introspection regarding my perception about Kashmir. The faceless conflict, I feel, has finally been humanised in my world; a sense of colour being splashed onto a white canvas. The emotional toll of the conflict left an indelible scar on each of the characters; affecting them in their everyday lives. This reminds me of the individuals mired in the daily conflict; having their own aspirations and desires to fulfil. Kaul has successfully managed to paint contemporary Kashmir; with the underbelly of its raw beauty being submerged in the turmoil of its people.
Sahil Philip is a second year student studying Global Affairs at O.P Jindal Global University.