Beneath its almost illicit beauty, human rights violations, military oppression and insurgency pulsate through the veins of Kashmir. They sully the dream, but are essential to acknowledge, and writer Feroz Rather does that exquisitely in his debut collection of short stories, The Night Of Broken Glass (HarperCollins; on stands now).
Shifting between various voices in 13 interconnected stories, the Kashmiri author delves into the psychological toll of the rebellion between the citizens and he military, as well as the particular ways in which religion, caste and gender yoke his homeland. Like the tale of Showkat, who is forced to clean graffiti from the wall of his shop with his tongue; of Rosy, a forward-thinking, western clothed ‘upper-caste’ girl, who was romantically involved with ‘lower-caste’ Jamshid; of Jamshid’s father, Gulam, a cobbler, who lives in the constant search of his son’s bullet-riddled body; and of the tyrannical Major S, who is forced to battle his nightmares.
“The stories come together to create a larger narrative,” says Rather, who goes on to explain that the non-linear structure of his book is a reflection of the precarious nature of reality in Kashmir: fissured and distorted by violence. Rather is currently a full-time graduate student at Florida State University, where most of his days are spent teaching English undergrads, or working on his PhD as a doctoral student of creative writing. And while these stories and characters populated his thoughts for a long while, it was only between 2015 and 2017 that he fleshed the words on to paper. “I like to write first thing in the morning, when I am still in a dream state,” he says. Having witnessed death and violence first-hand while growing up in Srinagar, for Rather, it was sometimes just a matter of transcribing his memories. The aforementioned tale of Showkat, for instance, was borrowed from a real-life situation he encountered. “The process often gave rise to a sort of repugnance in going back to where one felt vulnerable and alone, which one had to fight,” he says.
Rather’s lyricism and emotionality arouses an instantaneous connect with the land, its people, and their lives. And as the pages end, you find yourself willing fiction to turn into reality, and for his words to come true, “At the end of the tunnel, as I marched forth, I saw the light of freedom, aazadi."