Agony has a universal language. We as humans are implicated in each other’s sufferings. ‘The Half Mother”, Shahnaz Bashir’s debut novel is one of the few novels written by a Kashmiri himself that has successfully taken up the cause of depicting the anguish and sheer pain experienced by most of the mothers of the splendid valley in its true form. One of the purposes of the trend in Kashmiri writers of writing the book in English is obviously to reach extended audience. Additionally, they can portray before the same bigger audience the kind of traumas, affliction and sufferings that majority of Kashmiris have been facing till now at the hands of grossly immoral and barbaric Indian forces.
The novel circulates around the protagonist, Haleema, and her struggle to locate her only son Imran who was taken away by the relentless Indian Army. It may be mentioned here that the novel is a depiction of reality in Kashmir which is under illegal occupation of Indian forces since past several decades. So this is a story describing the plight of a Kashmiri family at the hands of cruel Indian forces i.e., a story of oppressed and the oppressors. There should be no question of neutrality on the part of any reader or reviewer. Our sympathies should be with the oppressed and not the oppressors.
The novel exquisitely narrates the story of Haleema who lost her mother at an early age. The setting of the novel is Natipora on the outskirts of Srinagar during 1990s when the war between Kashmiri freedom fighters and the Indian occupant forces started. This is the time when Haleema is living with her father Ghulam Rassol Joo (Ab Jan) and her only son Imran born out of her marriage that lasted only three months.
The Indian barbarians killed Ab Jan after which it was really hard for Haleema to make both ends meet while looking after Imran. The death of Ab Jan was not just the start of misery for Haleema. It was, in fact, the threshold of a painful journey into darkness with the forced disappearance of her only son, Imran, at the hands of Indians.
The disappearance of Imran was a significant blow to Haleema’s hopes for a better future. Imran was the only ray of hope for her. With his disappearance, she had been turned from ‘Mother’ into a ‘Half Mother’ – a mother with her son lost and with no knowledge as to if he was dead or alive. The uncertainty about the life of Imran was the real pain for her.
Every day she would move out in search of her lost son and visit jails and torture centers run by the Indians but to no avail. Cherishing her dear son’s memories, she would sing: “O crescent moon, why do you hide from me? Sulking as you are, why have you kept from me?” The writer has beautifully portrayed Haleema’s unending efforts to locate her son. In doing so, the writer has not only described the agony and sufferings of Haleema, but also has aptly exposed the brutalities, cruelty and indifference of Indian forces.
It was only hope of finding her son that kept Haleema alive. But her unsuccessful search at the end of every day was dealing a significant blow to her hopes and health. She continued to hope against hope of finding her son. She, in fact, live every day and died every day. With the passage of time, her physical and mental health kept on degrading.
She would constantly keep on looking towards the window with the hope that her son would just be come and knock at the door. But all her wishes and hopes kept on melting away. The writer has delicately described Haleema’s inner pains perhaps due to the fact that the writer himself belongs to Kashmir and must have observed many similar cases of sufferings at the hands of occupied forces.
This novel is a significant and successful effort to portray the extent of agonies of its protagonist, Haleema, to create wider awareness about Kashmiri struggle against illegitimate occupation. However, as I see, it does miss a passion of sacrifice for the Kashmiri struggle as a whole on the part of Haleema though both her father and son in reality died for the same cause.
If she had thought that her son was just one of many being martyred every day, she would not have gone through such trauma and would not have ended up her life as portrayed in novel. In fact, as we observe every day, most Kashmiris are out there for any sacrifice for their freedom. Such passion of sacrifice is totally absent in the character of the protagonist. A story parallel to this could have been written with message of sacrifice and hope for the freedom of Kashmir. But, perhaps, it is easier said than done. And Haleema was a ‘half mother’!
To sum up, the novel is an excellent effort to create wider awareness among the world community about the brutalities and relentlessness of Indian forces. The narrative and the story of the novel is such that one gets absorbed into it and is glued to it till the end. The language of the author is delicate. The author uses his own experience as a Kashmiri in creating the protagonist of this novel and has described the deep pain and suffering of the protagonist as if it is happening to him, and cruelties and inhumanity of the men in uniform.
However, the end of the novel does not seem to me as convincing. There could have been a better ending serving both to create awareness among the world community and to strengthen the struggle of Kashmiris for their freedom by giving a message to the Kashmiri audience that no matter what pain and suffering an individual Kashmiri might go through, he or she values his collective identity as Kashmiri more than anything else.