Kashmir has been a favourite destination for moviemakers, writers, and poets. Before the militancy set in and Kashmir became a graveyard of artistic aspirations and dreams, the pristine valley with its sentinels of age-old chinars and fragrant saffron-inspired celluloid fantasy and small screens blockbusters. Its landscaped charms also wooed poets and writers from far and wide.
After the place turned into a theatre of prey and predators, where guns and grenades. death and decay, grief and torture dominated every aspect of living, the valley provided different types of ingredients to fuel artistic aspirations. The stories that came out of Kashmir were now laced with grief, sadness, nostalgia, and longings. Tarannum Riyaz’s BIRDS OF THE SNOW is a similar yarn.
Originally published in Urdu as Barf Aashna Parindey, the book explores the transformative aspect of Kashmir, the rapid urbanization of the valley, and its impact on the people who have grown up hearing: ar Firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin astnot (If there is a heaven on earth, it's here, it's here.)
The book deals with the struggle of a sensitive college student Sheba to strike a compromise between her inner yearnings for freedom and the values and norms her family and society expected her to embrace. It’s the story of a girl’s poignant struggle to overcome the burden of conditioning and traditionality. The story explores our deepest emotions--love, fear, insecurity, and longing in a way that is both evocative and original.
Sheba wishes to be free, just like the birds that she likes observing, but understands the need to live within social conventions and accept life’s responsibilities.
When Sheba returns to the valley after years spent studying outside, she is struck by a pang of sadness. Tarannum has captured Sheba’s feeling in a poignant passage: The journey to the village has been her favourite journey but today, waves of sadness washed over her mind time and again. She occasionally looked at the reflection of Amki, Baaji, and Farkhanda in the rear-view mirror. Baaji’s husband was driving and no one to talk to anyone.”
Passages like this dominate the book, in which the author makes a genuine effort to bring alive the life and time of the Kashmir valley in her own inimitable style. After reading the book, it’ll be easy to understand that Tarannum wrote this story not just to fulfill some personal dreams, but to give voice to tens of thousands of Shebas who are struggling to discover the meaning of their lives in a fast-changing society.
In the word of the publisher the Niyogi Books, This deftly translated novel depicts the changing times in Kashmir, from a rural to more urban life, the impact of modern thinking, and through its portrayal of female characters explore their compassion and resolves, as well as their search for self-fulfillment.”
The editing part of the book is fine as far as grammar is concerned. But errors on the craft side disrupt the smooth flow of the story. The writing is full of unwanted adverbs, ( She walked quickly…. Abbu smiled pleasantly), avoidable exclamations marks, and stilted dialogues. Paragraphs after paragraphs are littered with “hads” and “ing”, the two nemeses of literary writings.
These flaws apart, which are the bane of most English books published in India, BIRDS OF THE SNOW is a poignant story that delves into the human relationship and social and moral values of a strife-torn landscape.
The Reviewer is the Executive Editor of The Pioneer