With insurgent and resistant narratives thronging the repertoire of contemporary South Asian fiction, what stands undisputed are the truth-claims of Eric Hobsbawm’s theory regarding the paradox of South Asian nationalisms: new and old. Provocatively flaunting the gauntlet, the historian stakes his claim by stating that (almost) all insurgencies in South Asia are founded on grounds of establishing new nations which makes national boundaries the quested lost arc of the empire. In Mirza Waheed’s novel The Collaborator, the flower-laden meadows of the valley slope down, albeit gently, into the liminal territory of Azad Kashmir—a nation in-the-making, but the path(s) leading there are well-trodden. Clearly, despite the illegitimating claims of Amitav Ghosh’s Shadow Lines, borders continue to be a force to reckon with. So, while religious and linguistic similarities create stronger bonds than national loyalties, the recent economic debacle of Greece, as economists have noted, owes, not in small measure to border infiltrations from Turkey.
Perhaps there is greater monetary logic at work when nations guard borders with the bullet as with emotive rhetoric. As jihad spreads its wings, the wherewithal provided by Pakistan—as the narrator clearly states, army battalions line up against the border and the young Captain posted there, duty-bound, needs more booze to dull his sensibilities if not his vocabulary. Bodies pile up, a putrid smell permeates the saffron valley and a collaborator is needed to clean up the mess.
“The Collaborator is set in one such border-village of Kashmir, inhabited by a close-knit community of ‘settled’ Gujjars: nomadic communities that know no borders and in doing so complicate contem-porary discourses regarding ethnic labelling.”
The Collaborator is set in one such border-village of Kashmir, inhabited by a close-knit community of ‘settled’ Gujjars: nomadic communities that know no borders and in doing so complicate contemporary discourses regarding ethnic labelling. By not quite being true-blood Kashmiris, one would imagine that the Movement—as the Jihadist Tazneens chose to call themselves—would have bypassed them for the more succulent crop of freshly victimized city-youth, but then, what better guide than the nomads who staked a claim on the mountains before the nations arrived! With words such as Sarahad Paar seeping into the vocabulary of the everyday, whispered clandestinely whenever sons mysteriously disappear, the ramifications of violence cannot be more than apparent than in the Haal of mothers confined to a state of perpetual mourning, the pictures of the Shaheed adorning the homestead and the sudden appearance of trained, masked militants in brand-new ‘Action’ shoes marching the one-street town, swiftly and proudly.
As the narrator’s group of jigri dost are drawn into the enveloping vortex, he begins to live more in the crevices of memory, language affording no joy of communication as it serves more as a device to beguile the oppressor with words, such as the ‘yesssir’s’ or the ‘sirji’s’ thrown the way of the army Captain. Resistant, guerilla codes develop and this shattered community shares more through gestures, performances and graffiti than spoken words. For instance, the Imam’s manner of intonation speaks volumes to those whose ears are attuned to the felt experience of oppression, and for whom resistance has become a way of life. In this emotive, Sufi land where the poetry of Lal Ded once communicated the ability to transcend the bodily, language now serves no purpose. Yet, strands of a common national imaginary can be traced in the songs of Mohammad Rafi, once a source of pleasure now signifiers from the narrator’s friend Hussain, as greetings to the ones he has left behind, perhaps forever. The narrator dreads the day he may have to frisk Hussain’s inert body for ammunition and for his new ID and the self-loathing this brings on is no longer that of Frantz Fanon’s postcolonial subject but as the epigraph from Aga Shahid Ali’s poem: ‘I see Kashmir from New Delhi at midnight’.
Yet, there is much to be discovered as our narrator realizes, and much to be recounted even as the lute song of the shepherd Azad turns into a lament. How does militancy begin? How is it disseminated? And what sustains it if not the local culture? What this novel bears witness to besides competing nationalisms and the melancholia of a society steeped in mourning the martyrdom of its youth is the fledging of a new genre of writing, which need not follow the dominant strain of postcolonial writing as a writing back to an antipodal, metropolitan centre.