Kashmir: The Agony Of Conflict

Review By Bilal Shaheen (Liberation News Service, August 7, 2014)

26 July, 2014

Book: The Half Mother

Author: Shahnaz Bashir

Publisher: Hachette India


The life of people is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short, explained Thomas Hobbes while describing the political uncertainty of 16th century England. Hobbes gave a gloomy picture of a society in the absence of political authority- civil war, chaos, unrest, anarchy. The Kashmir of 1990’s resembles Hobbes’s English society in one familiar aspect- conflict, war, fear and loss. The outbreak of popular war against the brutal Indian state proved inconsequential and catastrophic. The radicalization of politics altered the centuries old social fabric and bring in place a corrugated political order of disturbance, uncertainty and anarchy. Thousands perished, tortured and disappeared in the darkness of insurgency. It was a period when detention almost means disappearance.


In the recent past we have witnessed many bold attempts made by the young and energetic Kashmiri writers to retell the horrific story of post-1990 Kashmir. These writers deplored fiction to narrate the agony of Kashmiri’s turbulent past. The growing voices who are willing to articulate the horrors of state repression through the cathartic medium of fiction are Basharat Pir’s Curfewed Night, Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator and many other. Shahnaz Bashir’s The Half Mother is the latest attempt to tell the heartwrenching story of those women who lost their fathers, brothers and sons to custodial interrogation by the Indian army, only to be found never again.


Set against the backdrop of militancy of 1990, The Half Mother is a heartbreaking story of one womans restless, in the end a futile, struggle for life, love and loss. The Half Mother is a story of Haleema’s ( the protagonist) search for her son (Imran) who whisked away by the Indian army and never returns. The story begins in serenity of Natipora in the Joo family with Ab Jaan’s( Haleema’s father) tireless experiment with different jobs to secure a better living. Apart from a firm homemaker, Ab Jaan was deeply aligned, albeit badly affected, with the politics of his strife-ridden state.


Ab Jaan’s unbridled faith and later disenchantment of Shiekh Abdullah reveal the growing political mobilisation among common Kashmiri’s. Insurgency just began to overthrew an alien political order which in turn proved catastrophic and disturbed the calm of the valley. The failed election of 1987 left Kashmir simmering in turf war between the political rivals. Haleema’s never-ending lonely existence came in the guise of Ab Jaan’s killing by Major Kushwaha. Ab Jaan’s death means a colossal loss for Haleema- a responsible guardian, a lone bread-winner and a sympathetic¬† father. As Haleema mourning the death of his father, came a tragic event which shattered her consciousness between life and death, love and loss, fear and courage. The following night army picked up Imran, thus began Haleema’s disparaging struggle of veiling, lonely biting and hope and despair. The novel turns sour and melancholic when we see the Haleema hurtling from police station to army camp, from the radio station to Papa 2 (torture chamber), an unlikely flanker in a landscape of loss. Her beauty faded in mourning, her conscience shattered by screaming and her existence is invaded by loneliness. Her face was a poignant reminder of the passing of time.


The poignancy of parting and separation.

Shahnaz Bashir’s language is simple, sarcastic and imagery, at its best when it evokes the inseparable alignment of political and personal. The delicately drawn characters, loathsome and unpleasant reality and discursive narrative is what makes the novel an artistic work of fiction. Written in lyrical prose, The Half Mother is a devastating debut novel of a Kashmiri which portrayed Kashmir’s tryst with lack of freedom. Bashir is too subtle a writer to draw an explicit connection between the isolation of a bruised mother and the rest of Kashmir as it enters the third decade of war that will haunt it with catastrophic human cost. Shahnaz Bashir’s novel, its vivid style, melancholy and one mother’s stifle resistance to power left a reader to easily relate his life to the harrowing story so beautifully woven in the novel.


One of the most remarkable feature of this novel is its sublime presentation of a motherly affection being tormented by the arrogance of conflict so adversely gripping Kashmir society. The novel, a slim volume on personal tragedies wrought by Kashmir’s unrelenting struggle to win back freedom, is a terrific satire which speaks of common Kashmir’s daily encounter with vengeance and despair. The Half Mother is another bold attempt by an enthusiastic voice to tell the gory tale of Kashmir’s brutal war. All in all, The Half Mother is a devastating, deeply moving and a much needed book.


The author is a research scholar of Kashmir Politics at The InstituteOf Kashmir Studies, University of Kashmir, Srinagar. He can be contacted at email: and followed on twitter


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