Book Reviews

Lion of Wasturvan, A Kashmiri Novel by Chaman Lal Hakhoo

Vasturvanuk Saeh (Lion of Wasturvan, A Kashmiri Novel) by Chamanlal Hakhoo,
NCR: Shridhar Publications, 2013, Pp. 780. Rs.   550. 

Reviewed by:
Omkar N Koul

Chaman Lal Hakhoo’s second novel Wasturvan Saeh (Lion of Wasturvan) is a welcome addition to hardly a dozen odd novels written in Kashmiri so far. This novel is unique in both theme and style presenting a homogeneous blend of fiction and history.  It is a study of human experience uncovering fascinating labyrinths of history of modern Kashmir.    

This author, less known to the present generation of Kashmiris, has produced a work of fiction, out of love with his nativity and who finds himself chiding God for having made him the way he is.  He is certainly tired of hypocrisy; feels like a caged bird who struggles to come out and talk in an effort to lead his readers to emancipation and liberation. 

This novel is the author’s passionate journey through meadows and towns of the valley of Kashmir from 1931 to 1948, when the emotions and beliefs of Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits were so mixed and hidden in dense mist created by a history of political chaos and suppression of people by force for four hundred years. 

The novel has two distinct story-lines running side by side and often crossing each other’s path and creating sparking and noise.  The two protagonists Ahmad Lone (the mason) and Dina Nath  (the patwari) are fictional characters and there are others who are not.  Most notable among the historical characters is none other than Sheikh Mohammad Abdulla.  And like it or not, Sheikh finally emerges as the hero of the story.  In fact the story revolves around him. Though Sheikh appears in person in the story only at a few select places but, by default, he is present at all places and at all times.  He is part of psyche of the people of the valley.  At places author has painted him larger than life.  He is in the Vanavun songs sung in Muslim marriages.  He is part of the folk-lore in the villages.  He is hailed, loved, hated, respected and rejected by the very people he sought to lead from darkness to light. 

The story is told in the background of political struggle in the state of Jammu & Kashmir from 1931 to 1948.  This is the story of changing times in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, a story of love-hate relationship of Pandits and Muslims of the valley. 

Dina Nath, a representative member of the hated, isolated, leaderless minority of Kashmiri Pandit’s who half-heartedly co-operate with Sheikh’s movement and miserably fail to gain trustworthiness.   They have their own problems: they are scattered all over the valley, are proud of their rich cultural and spiritual heritage but are torn between their loyalty to a Hindu king and their urge to change and be liberated by joining the Naya Kashmir movement.  They are burdened with history of persecution that gave them wisdom and selfishness, timidity and apathetic attitude towards fellow Pandits. 

Ahmad Lone is a symbol of peace loving and secular Muslim masses who believe in composite culture of the valley.  He is a passionate lover of Sheikh Abdullah, a fanatic worker of the party but loyal only to the person of the Sheikh.  He has disgust for those who hate Pandits, indulge in loot and arson and killing, and who equate Pandits with their imaginary oppressor.  He is selfless, fiery, revolutionary, honest, who struggles to raise the political-social status of the poor and the suppressed Kashmiris of the valley.  

One is amused to read incidents of Pandits and Muslims playing cat and mouse games.  That was at a time in history that witnessed the rise of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.   He used his twin tools of Islamic thought and strains of socialism.  He strived to lift the sinking morale of Kashmiris.  He wanted to lit up a light in each other’s heart.  He succeeded and failed in equal measure. Unfortunately, people later were destined to witness the fall of Sheikh when genuine public affairs became self-obsessions of people who held power. 

Lion of Wasturvan is an amazing tale of Ahmad Lone and Dina Nath in the background of the happenings in Kashmir starting from impacting incident of July 1931 to the time when in 1948 Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah took over as the prime minister of the J&K state. 

Ahmad Lone is a simple gentle illiterate God-fearing mason of village Ishber.   He out of frustration and poverty, unwillingly and on impulse gets involved in the agitation politics of the valley and eventually emerges as a trusted party worker and an able organizer.  His only misfortune is that he is devoted to the person and ideals of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah alone.   He is loved by the Muslim youth as the Sheikh’s man.  He is equally recognized by a section of Kashmiri Pandits as the man with a baton in his hand to beat hatred and mistrust. For his selfless service and hard work becomes a cabinet minister in the first phase of Sheikh’s government. After 1953, his fate plays games.   He often disappears and then suddenly re-emerges.  He is imprisoned and released and he finally finds himself a disillusioned man.   His idols had fallen;   his faith shaken. Eventually, while he takes up social work and practices Ghandian-style experiments in his village he is brutally killed in his bed-room by terrorists in 1989. 
Pandit Dina Nath Kaul of Vichar Nag suburb, a Patwari posted at Ishber, uses his influence to get Ahmad released from police lockup, is jailed.  After his release, he escapes, takes refuge at his rich and influential in-laws at Seer in Anantnag district where he is attracted to a vivacious young childless housewife in his in-laws-household, but withdraws quickly and goes to live with his brother-in-law at Mattan, indulges in local politics, makes speeches against the government and the Galancy Commission, evades arrest, and lives incognito among the Sadhoos at Mattan area, comes in contact with a Kashmiri Brahmin Tantric, leaves the valley, reaches Rishikesh, joins an Ashram, learns Tantrik and classical music, joins a band of roving Sadhoos. With the efforts of his brother-in-law, Pyarelal, returns to the valley after two years, joins his family, is traumatized by some unfortunate communal frenzy, in disgust, shifts from Vichar Nag to Habba Kadal.   Here he is inspired by the work of Ahmad Lone.   He organizes socio-political groups of Pandits. Soon he is recognized as a religious and political leader. He prepares a political response, fights elections, loses, organizes relief for displaced Pandits from rural areas, leads young men for night vigil at the time of tribal raids in Kashmir.   He, finally, decides to leave the valley, but he is stopped at Lal Chowk by Ahmed lone and NC men.   He goes to Ishber to live in Aahmad Lone’s new house.  He establishes an Aashram at Iishber where he preaches Vedant and Kashmir Sufi thought.   He writes several books on the Yoga practice.   People revered him as a saint.   His birthday was celebrated throughout the valley.   He spent his last days at Ishhber engaged in spiritual pursuit and social work, till he was forced to flee the valley while his Ashram was burnt by militants. 

I will leave it to the reader to discover the world around the two protagonists.   They will, no doubt, be delighted to know Rahim Shah, the saintly man, guide and well-wisher to Lone and Kaul who dies a defeated man.  There is Abdul Samad Teli, the second in command, who takes the story further but withdraws half-way through and takes refuge in escape.   The wonderful four women - Ahmad Lone’s wife Fazli, the slippery sand dune that manages to stand  till she lasts, Ashmi, Teli’s wife, a tornado of smiles, hope, and beauty, Kaushalya, Dina Nath’s wife who surrenders, suffers and finally gives up and of course, the seductive Durga, who could launch a thousand ship. 

The brief affair between  Ahmad Lone’s son  Ahad Lone and Zamrood, a relation of Ashmi have the elements of a giddy uncertainty. 

It is a candid and interesting story of politically exploited Kashmiri people, their biased opinion, and unpredictable characters. It is a story of their mutual love, hate, camaraderie, affection reflected in the joint political struggle they were caught in. 

As pointed out earlier, the novel is a blend of fiction and history.   There are many political happenings that make the tale.  Notable is the incident of the 13th July 1931 and the rise of the Sheikh.  Then there are other important events that include massacre at Kanikoot, Jinnah’s and Gandhi’s visit to the valley, Sher-Bakra conflict, Roti-Agitation, the tribal-raid, the refugee influx and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and many other incidents that finally lead to the appointment of the Sheikh as the interim Prime Minister of the state.   There is a brief but interesting event of unfurling of the Pakistan flag at the Head post office in Srinagar on the 14th August 1947.   There are other interesting incidents.

I am happy to say that more than the gripping tale it is the magic of Hakhoo’s style of narration which is captivating. It is indeed a unique and mature style the author has mastered. For those who love Kashmiri language, literature, culture and history, it is a must read book.


More by :  Prof. Omkar Koul

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