The Collaborator by Mirza Waheed

The Collaborator makes you listen. Isn’t that a book’s purpose? To make you stand up and listen to what the book has to say. A lot of writers have written about the Kashmir conflict and what it has come down to since India’s Partition period. A lot of it might also go unnoticed since there are so many voices out there, however this is not a book that can be or should be ignored.

I strongly believe and think that one cannot know or claim to understand another’s pain or any kind of emotion for that matter, if one has not been through it or experienced it. It is but just another false understanding mask that we sometimes wear, because there is nothing else we can do. The situation demands that from us, which quite conveniently leads to opinions which should not have been there in the first place. That is what the case with the Kashmir situation is right now. We all have an opinion and maybe we should stop at some point and let the people who are going through what they are speak for themselves.

The Collaborator is but obviously set in Kashmir in the early 1990’s. The war has now reached the isolated village of Nowgam close to the Pakistan Border. Indian soldiers, appear from nowhere to hunt for militants on the run (This is the eye-opener in the entire book. About how we claim to fight for what is ours and yet we do not respect its people and their sentiments. Everyone is branded a militant and shoot-on-sight is but a common affair).

Four teenage boys who used to spend their time playing cricket by the stream, singing Bollywood Songs and joke amongst themselves have now disappeared, one after the other to cross into Pakistan and join the movement against the Indian army. Only one of their friends, the son of the headman of the village, is left behind. The families in the village think it is time to leave, to flee so to say in search of greater safety; however the headman will not leave the village. His son is now working for Captain Kadian, the head of the Indian army, and is forced to collaborate with him to go down in the valley and count corpses, with the fear of recognizing one of his friends amongst them.

At an age at which he should be preparing for adulthood, he is trapped in scenes from a horror film, rooting through corpses for documentation. Every day, he fears he will find his friends among the bodies. Yet his oppression has a human face: Captain Kadian. Like the narrator’s vanished friend Hussain, Kadian favors the singer Mohammed Rafi; he is lonely away from home and overindulges in whisky, hectoring the boy when drunk.

War is real and so are the repercussions. It is as raw as the fresh wound and no one is safe from it once it hits you, up, close and personal. The atmosphere in the book is menacing, all the while, interlacing an elegiac description. His writing is excellent for sure. The Collaborator is heavy, weighty and does not provide lighter moments. At the core of the story is the narrator’s agonizingly protracted dilemma over whether to cross the border to join his friends in the training camps or to stay put with his parents. My heart went out to the book, and let me also make it clear that the book is not sentimental. This book as it rightly touts makes you understand why boys grow up so soon and leave their families and join a war that is often meaningless.

Kashmir is heartbreaking as of today. There is brutal uprooting of life and what used to remain. The book is painted in Manichean black and white tones, the past and the present juxtaposed with great talent. There is no solution for anything in the book. The book is left open to the audience to reflect and ponder upon the misfortune of Kashmiris. Read the book and be moved. Read the book and think.

Collaborator, The; Waheed, Mirza; Penguin India; Rs. 499


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