Author: Malik Sajad
Illustrator: Malik Sajad
Published: 2015 by 4th Estate Books
No. of Pages: 352
Genre: Socio-political, Conflict, Primary narrative
Subthemes: Life in a conflict-zone, the juxtaposition of complexities inherent in the political and social landscape
Timeline: The story is primarily set in the early 1990‘s at the peak of militancy or armed insurgency in the Valley of Kashmir, primarily the summer capital, Srinagar that lasted around 2 decades.
This book is a first-hand account of Kashmir, particularly the city of Srinagar in the 1990‘s through the eyes of Munnu and his journey to become Sajad, the political cartoonist over a timeline of almost two decades.
This plot revolves around the author’s own childhood experiences against the backdrop of the conflict, Kashmir has been experiencing since late 1980’s. The narrative of the memories of his childhood and growing years, poignantly opens up the story of Kashmir- a contested and a conflicted land of mixed communities, of harmonious and multi-religious identities, co-existing in a syncretic social spectrum in the picturesque valley. The social relations and community structure have ruptured under the pressure of difficult socio-political experiences. This storyline reveals a portrait of a childhood and growing years of the author’s personal and family experiences.
His childhood presents an experiential pattern of agony, terror, fear, and love where he precisely weaves the tears of his countrymen into a string of graphical representations. These sketches with every minute detail, are for the reader, a soul-stirring first-hand representation of the author’s strategically situated homeland, Kashmir.
The way the author and his family’s everyday routine revolve around the politically active land, gives a shuddering insight to the reader of how the psyche of a 7-year-old gets molded by the wails of the mothers who’ve lost their sons, and the bullet shots, fired as if competing for every tick of the clock.
One of the most powerful incidents shows how as a 9-year-old Munnu, during one his creative bouts, found expression in carving Ak-47 rifles out of chalks and erasers. His immense talent of artistry could easily be seen on his different canvases painted with the different traumatic events registered in his subconscious mind.
A realistic portrayal of the specter of the routine pattern of raids and armed encounters conducted by the army to hunt down armed insurgents brings home, the bone-chilling horror of such operations in the conflict zones of the world. Regular crackdowns or the raiding of houses by the Indian Forces for any real or false trace of militants was a nightmare where the author’s firsthand account sends a chill down the spine. The mere feeling of the men and young boys from every family taken for regular interrogation related to militant whereabouts where the next beat of your heart is decided by the honk blown by the informer sitting in the driver seat of the army jeep points to the length to which an occupying power goes.
Munnu’s agonizing encounters in his growing years in the torment of a subordinated ambiance, his first sexual assault by the Army men, and his ordeal of reaching the hospital amidst curfew with his ailing mother are telling accounts of daily life in a conflict cum warzone. At the early stages of his budding career as a cartoonist, he was strictly advised to not make any graphic that was telling enough to affect the graph of his future. He had had enough of his childhood and teenage tormented to make him one create one of the strongest narratives on Kashmir. The author has candidly and deftly used the power of his pen and canvas to paint the barbed, bloodied and beautiful picture of Kashmir to the eyes and hearts willing to spare a thought and concern for Kashmir.
The author, uses Hangul, an endangered species of the Red Deer family, aborigine to Kashmir, as a powerful symbol, to depict the plight Kashmiris. This is a staunch yet a subtle symbol exemplifying the signification of the Kashmiri populace: be it their existence, mindset, cultural symbols, ethos, or their homeland, that is constantly threatened and endangered.
The large eyes of the characters are a representation of the dilemmas, trauma, and conflicts that an ordinary resident of the Valley faces in his daily life, within himself and while interacting with his surroundings and reality.