Sana Altaf reviews Towfeeq Wani’s novel The Graveyard: a saga of a million bloodstained flowers. Set in Kashmir during the 2008-2010 uprising Wani’s emotional narrative is “likely to resonate with many Kashmiris.”
Agha Shahid Ali would have been proud. Were the famous Kashmiri poet alive today (he died in 2001), he would have surely commented on the publication of Towfeeq Wani’s 264-page novel The Graveyard: a saga of a million bloodstained flowers. Indeed, 17-year-old Wani’s description of the trials of a ‘half-widow’, a phrase that poetically refers to a woman whose life hangs in limbo because her husband is either the subject of an enforced disappearance or whose death is unconfirmed, could very well have come from an Agha Shahid Ali ghazal. Wani was a 13 year old living in Baramulla district in 2009 when a second mass uprising gripped the valley. He would spend most of his time alone in his room, watching at a tortured distance young men who looked like him pour into the streets. They hurled stones at the Indian security forces and were battered in return. Nearly 100 people were left dead in 2010. The Indian security forces responded savagely, still acting under the authority of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act that was introduced 20 years earlier to end the first, 1989 uprising. Wani’s room filled with the anti-India slogans. His head became an echo chamber. He began writing the novel while he was studying literature at Aligarh Muslim University. It tells the story of Sahil, a teenage boy, who lives with his half-widow mother, grandfather and a younger sister in the conflict zone. Wani shows his protagonist struggling to give meaning to his existence during the uprisings that ran from 2008 to 2010. Wani thus got the shouting out of his head and on to the page: wailing widows, waiting half-widows, disappeared sons… “In a conflict zone, [the] youth register their protest through different methods… street protest, seminars, debates, songs or literature,” he says. “My medium is writing.” As someone once famously theorised, novels write nations. Wani’s emotional narrative is likely to thus resonate with many Kashmiris. He has, in particular, tried to show how relationships are shaped and altered during such turbulent times. But more importantly, Wani’s exposition of the difference between a ‘martyr’ and a ‘benefactor’ will articulate important phenomena emerging from this long-running conflict. Those who died during the fighting are ‘martyrs’ and those who live and fight for the cause of freedom are ‘benefactors’. “Why some people take to guns and stones while others choose writing, is because of the difference in their thinking,” he says. If you’re angry and full of rage you’ll pick up a stone and if you’re sober and patient, then you’ll pick up a pen.