Author sets memories of Kashmir in make-believe LoC village

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Wasfia Jalali

New Delhi, Feb 8 (PTI) It was a tragic decadeunfolding in Kashmir, but for people outside the Valley thetragedy was all about numbers -- of infiltrators killed whiletrying to sneak across the LoC.

Beyond these numbers, however, were stories of youngboys who disappeared from their villages overnight, never toreturn again.

When Mirza Waheed set about writing his first novel"The Collaborator", set in his native Kashmir, these memoriesof his teenage life, of whispers of disappearing men and ofthe raging militancy of the 1990s was still rife in his mind.

And what was also alive in his mind was the way thesestories were covered by the press -- in his own words like a"crime thriller".

"Living in Srinagar, as I did, you never knew whatexactly happened with these boys who had chosen to cross intoPakistan to get arms training to fight the Indian Army. Whatyou only heard were the numbers, that said so manyinfiltrators killed along the LoC," Waheed says.

In the early 90s, the decade of militancy in Kashmir,a lot of young boys and men took to the gun and crossed theLoC to return with arms training to fight the Indian Army.

It was a huge cross-border traffic, and Waheed says itwas not anonymous people who disappeared all the time.

"It was your own people, sometimes your friends or evenyour relatives or sometimes even the boy on the street you seeon and off, who suddenly disappeared leaving behind whispersand stories," he told PTI in an interview.

Waheed''s debut novel, published by Penguin, is set inthat period in a fictional village near the Line of Control,and tells the story of its residents -- boys who have chosento cross the line, families who have fled fed up with theconstant cross border shelling, a family that has chosen tostay back all by itself, and a military unit designated withthe task of checking infiltration.

While the media discourse in India on the happeningsin Kashmir was very limited till a few years back, things havestarted changing for good in the recent years, believesWaheed, who now works for the BBC in London.

There is now a more sympathetic engagement towards theissue, fueled by the work of the Indian civil society, as wellas a visible change in the approach of the media.

"What has happened over the last 3 or 5 years is thatthere has been an opening up of space of debate by the civilsociety in India who are now more willing to talk about it,they are writing about it, there are Indian intellectuals,writers and journalists who are doing more than what was donein the 90s," he says. .

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