The Night of Broken Glass
Paperback: 232 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins India; 1 edition (20 June 2018)
The Night of Broken Glass is a debut fiction by Feroz Rather, published on 5 July, 2018 by HarperCollins India. Commenting on the book, Basharat Peer —a famous Kashmiri writer cum journalist says that, “It is a work of terrifying and hypnotic beauty.” Another writer, Siddharta Deb, reviews the book as, “A haunting and mesmerizing debut that announces the arrival of a major new talent.”
Although volumes have been written on/about the now seven-decade long Kashmir issue and its horrors, but what makes this book unique is that besides being a vivid portrayal of the Kashmir conflict, it is an adroit projection of the less talked about web of caste system which our society is deeply rooted in.
To overtly voice the women question; the gender gap, the role of Kashmiri women against the oppression is what adds to its beauty. The way it deals with what are considered as the taboo swamps in a traditional society like ours dazzles the reader at par.
The book is divided into thirteen chapters. It vividly portrays the different incidents of the state-organized violence committed on daily basis in the 1990s Kashmir.
There are many different stories connected together against the backdrop of Kashmir insurgency. It dexterously highlights the role of J&K police besides other occupational forces in the custodial killings, maiming, incarcerating, charring, raping and looting their own people. It gives us a dismal account of the Srinagar city, its geography and the society at large.
Written on two hundred and nineteen pages, this book starts with the narration of a mysterious man who has been living in hiding for twenty-five years since his half-dead body tied to a rock was tossed into the lake by inspector Masoodi in collaboration with his friend Major S. Inspector Masoodi, who suffers from lung cancer, coughs up blood and mucus. His callous son brings him away from his family to facilitate his death in a remote cottage.
Besides the major conflict over Indian occupation, there are many disputes going on in our society. There is this silent war going on for centuries against the oppression of the upper castes over the lower castes.
This book successfully manifests our failure as a society. We have a deeply rooted patriarchal society where women are victimized as objects of violence.
The book is a transgression against the set conventions whose tremors are felt in the characters of Rosy, Ghulam, Sultan, Jamshed etc. It is about the annihilation of the filthy caste-system. It is as much about the kicking and smiting of patriarchy as it is about the stoning out of the brutal occupation.
Rosy, a gutsy girl, stands against the curse of caste system which has befallen the Kashmiri society. Born in an upper class family of Syeds, she falls in love with a lower class boy—Jamshed sheikh. Sheikhs belong to the lowest rung of the caste ladder in Kashmir. He is the son of a cobbler, Ghulam.
Jamshed is brought up in the Syed Manzil after Syed Anzar Shah, the imam and peer, foresees in him a rare talent and decides to make him his disciple. However, he and Rosy fall in love with each other.
But their relationship is looked down upon as blasphemous, therefore a grave sin. Rosy expresses her rage at an unnatural caste system when she says: “I want to detonate the skulls by planting the rose-bombs and geranium-grenades in the putrid, filthy brains of Baba, Papa, Qadri, Masoodi, Suharwardi, KubraviNaqshbandi, Bukhari, Haqani, Mubarki, Geelani. I want to burn down the whole edifice of the damn society who believes that your soul is black dirt because you are a Sheikh while mine is made of white and gold feathers because I am a Syed.”
Unfortunately, beautiful and rebellious Rosy dies a tragic death when Major S in search of Jamshed comes to the Syed Manzil. He rapes her in front of her mother Hasin, whom he knocks down unconscious. Later her blue, pale and waterlogged body is fished out of Jhelum in a fisherman’s net.
After reading the harrowing account of Nuzhat, sister of JKLF commander—Showket and Rosy’s friend, there is a big question mark on the face of our society: Has Kashmir failed women?
One day Nuzhat, a beautiful girl, while travelling to her college on a crowded bus, undergoes a worst humiliation when Nadim touches her waist and her breasts. She didn’t voice against the humiliation because she thought that all men around her were the same.
Later shouting in the face of a soldier who mumbles something lewd at Rosy and her, Nuzhat burst out, “When it comes to women you scumbags are the same everywhere.”
The feeling of betrayal in her eyes seems to say that the whole Kashmir has failed her. If this book is against the horrors of occupation it is equally against the humiliation that women face in a patriarchal society like Kashmir.
After Anzar shah preaches against and declares the skinning of dead animal hides as a grave sin, the sheikhs lose their job. One winter when the Sheikh household runs out of food for weeks, Sultan Sheikh, Jamshed’s grandfather persuades his son Ghulam and they furtively hunt the flesh of a dead cow home.
We witness the inner rage of Sultan when holding tears in his eyes he repeatedly blows the dead animal and spills its entrails over the trees. The embittered Sheikh has been out-casted by foreigners and natives alike. The feeling of betrayal in his eyes and his deep rooted anger against the Syeds suggests them as somehow responsible for their misery.
Jamshed’s emaciated and hunger-stricken mother Halim dies after consuming the dead flesh to feed her hunger after weeks, because she considers it a grave sin after she has heard Anzar Shah preach against it.
After his wife dies, Ghulam migrates from kanelwan close to his son’s residence in Bijbyor, where he lives in complete desolation. As Jamshed grows in fame his visits to his father become rare.
There is this love-hate relationship between the father and the son. Ghulam was happy when Jamshed was taken to the Syed Manzil by RafiqGalwan.
In fact he had bought a lamb at Halim’s request after slaving hard for a month, to gift it to Syed Anzar Shah, his son’s patron, but the lamb slips away from his hands and is crushed by a speedy truck, spilling its guts on a tarmac.
Now, he hates his son for manifesting the sophisticated features of Syeds which show in him the image of his oppressor. Ghulam witnesses the most horrible humiliation when Major S while interrogating him about Jamshed’s whereabouts, who has been elected as the president of JKSF, puts the boot polish in his mouth and smears it on his face too. He faces the oppression from both sides.
To him both the outsider and the insider stand as oppressors. He feels completely alienated by his own son when he hears about his desire to marry Rosy. At the end he never finds his son’s bullet-riddled body.
This book is replete with the horrific killings and incidents that occur on daily basis in Kashmir. The innumerable massacres carried out with impunity are dealt with in detail. It shows us with a visceral imagery how women are raped and killed.
The trauma of the parents of disappeared sons is delineated in the character of Murseh, mother of Shahid and Kamran, the former has been killed and the later incarcerated. She runs naked and bare-footed from shrine to shrine in her grief. We have such innumerable tales of grief. The book talks at length about prisons filled with budding youth like Tariq, Mohsin, Kamran, Inam etc. It gives us the gruesome account of killings like Maryam’s cousin Ishfaq.
When at night his car mechanism fails and suddenly stops in front of a military bunker, a bullet rips his forehead and he falls dead faceward.
Apart from the religious, social and cultural identities, violence and trauma, there is love, longing, lust, separation, betrayal and much more. There are many symbols used in this book that our eyes meet at a very first glance.
Among other things we find a dying police man, a solitary cottage set in some wilderness, a brand of cigarettes called Revolution, café Barbarica which suggests the underworld of collaborators and accomplices, skills placed beneath the photos of martyrs etc.
Author is a Doctoral Fellow, Department of English, AMU, Aligarh