MADHURI VIJAY’S THE FAR FIELD

THE ACU­ITY WITH WHICH MADHURI VIJAY DE­SCRIBES LIFE IN JAMMU AND KASH­MIR SEEMS PAR­TIC­U­LARLY POIGNANT TO­DAY

India Today - - CONTENTS - —Su­vir Kaul

On the face of it, the plot of Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field should not work: Shalini, an alien­ated 24-year-old from Ben­galuru, un­cer­tain what to do with her life (and fi­nan­cially able to do not much at all), de­cides to go off to Kisht­war in search of Bashir Ahmed, a trav­el­ling shawls and clothes sales­man who used to visit her home when she was a child. She has not seen him for over a decade and has lit­tle clue about where to find him. Un­likely? Very.

How­ever, Vijay’s het­ero­dox in­sights into the func­tion­ing of English-speak­ing, up­per mid­dle-class fam­i­lies sug­gest cred­i­ble rea­sons for Shalini’s disjointed de­sires and ac­tions. While her en­tre­pre­neur father is busy build­ing his busi­ness, her stay-at-home mother re

mains at odds with the sti­fling con­ven­tions that de­fine her mi­lieu and Shalini notes how Bashir Ahmed’s vis­its used to pro­vide her mother with a li­bid­i­nal charge miss­ing in her daily life. At some point— pre­sum­ably the early 1990s, as mil­i­tants fought the In­dian se­cu­rity ser­vices in Kash­mir—Bashir Ahmed’s sto­ries be­gin to in­clude men­tions of “dif­fi­cul­ties” at home and his need to be away from the con­flict zone. Th­ese are the hazy mem­o­ries that trig­ger Shalini’s de­ci­sion to go off to a place that she knows noth­ing about. If this feels like a quest for nar­cis­sis­tic self-dis­cov­ery premised on un­cer­tain pos­si­bil­ity, it is just that.

How­ever, The Far Field is at its best once Shalini gets to Kisht­war and then to Bashir Ahmed’s vil­lage high in the moun­tains. What en­sues is a po­lit­i­cal com­ing of age for Shalini as she stum­bles across the seams of vi­o­lence that dis­fig­ure Kisht­wari so­ci­ety. Shalini’s in­abil­ity to quite ex­plain her mo­ti­va­tions makes her an ob­ject of sus­pi­cion, but the kind­ness of a lo­cal Kisht­wari fam­ily keeps her go­ing. She finds in their midst an odd kind of be­long­ing, but also be­gins to learn about the enor­mous hu­man losses that have trans­formed life in the border ar­eas. Their son has been taken away by sol­diers and he is one of many such “dis­ap­peared” young men. Other fam­i­lies take her in and even their wary wel­come is balm for her own dis­lo­ca­tions. No one here has es­caped the vi­o­lence. All re­main mis­trust­ful of army pa­trols even as they fear armed out­siders. The mil­i­tancy has waned, but the sol­diers re­main and are even more de­struc­tive. Shalini, the priv­i­leged out­sider, thinks she might stay and help, but her hopes run up against the se­cu­rity pro­to­cols in place and she is forced to re­turn home. Worse, her resid­ual faith in the fair-mind­ed­ness of an army bri­gadier brings catas­tro­phe to the fam­ily which shel­tered her in Kisht­war.

Vijay’s sharp-eyed ob­ser­va­tions of Kisht­wari life post the de­cline of the mil­i­tancy will punc­ture the delu­sions of any well-mean­ing In­dian lib­eral who be­lieves that the se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus can do no wrong. This is no small achieve­ment for a first-time nov­el­ist. Vijay is an as­tute chron­i­cler of the ev­ery­day emo­tions that roil seem­ingly calm lives, whether in Ben­galuru or in Kash­mir. She is also a sharp ob­server of the myr­iad ways in which the In­dian as­pi­ra­tional classes gloss over the state vi­o­lence in Kash­mir. That com­bi­na­tion is par­tic­u­larly un­set­tling to­day, as Kash­miri lives are once again held hostage to the un­car­ing de­signs of the In­dian State. ■

VIJAY IS AN AS­TUTE CHRON­I­CLER OF THE DAILY EMO­TIONS THAT ROIL SEEM­INGLY CALM LIVES

MANVI RAO

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.