The story of Kausar Jan, a widow living in the village of Morha Madana in Doda district of Kashmir valley, is also the story of a beautiful land and simple people encroached upon by the serpentine spread of “Jihad”. The first mujahid from this village is Shakeel - the second of Kausar Jan’s three sons.
After Shakeel drops out of school, he whiles away his time with other boys. His mother chides him for always lazing around unlike his elder brother Khalid, who like many older boys of the village, does some small time work and brought home some respectable money. Piqued by his mother’s rebuke, Shakeel starts to take the goats for grazing. His search for greener pastures takes him to the sprawling meadows around Parvati Kund – the forests of which is infested with terrorists. Initially, he spends his days in the sunny meadows watching the mujahids merrily play cricket and shoot. A boy will not just keep watching people play his favourite game.
Inevitably, he joins them. Going beyond cricket, he gradually moves on to the Kalashnikov. When he wields the weapon for the first time and shoots at a target with trembling fingers, he is praised by the commander, “Shakeel mujahid, you have just killed your first kaafir... Welcome to the Army of Allah.” Pride. That boy experiences pride from having done something praise-worthy. And that was some inspiration. Thus began Shakeel’s transformation from a naive school drop-out to the powerful area commander of the Tanzeem.
The life of a kaapi (cadet) is fraught with exploitation and abuse, with which they eventually go numb to their own fears. The rape of a cadet by a mujahid happens in full view of the audience, other mujahids genuinely indifferent, and the cadets feigning oblivion out of sheer horror. Ex-filtrating into Pakistan for training is a journey that makes Shakeel wish he could run back home to his mother, but the boy has now come too far to return alive. It is after three years that Shakeel visits his mother when the Army misses him narrowly. Shakeel’s visit marks the beginning of Khalid’s end.
Khalid’s name is registered with the Army for being the brother of a most-wanted terrorist. He is left a changed man after the very first time he was summoned for enquiry. On the second day of Khalid’s detention, Kausar Jan, with tantalised hopes of bringing back her son, visits Major Rathore, the Company Commander (who is desperate to escape to a peace posting), with the village head man. Gul Mohammad is another deceitful, greedy semi-terror product of the conflict. He plays the dangerous game of being a trusted informer of both the Army and the terrorists to make money and eventually pays with his and his daughter’s lives. Khalid, after all the fruitless torture to extract any relevant information, is hired by the Army to bring information about Shakeel. After hating Shakeel and the Tanzeem for bringing misfortune to his family and the village, thanks to the Army, Khalid decides to pick up arms, gets sold, and never returns. The villagers are helpless to the woe befallen on them. Hospitality is their only option when the terrorists descend on them is. If they are lucky, their young daughters might not be summoned for service; but they will not be lucky every time. It is all made to happen in the name of an Allah whose order must prevail. In hush tones, they say amongst themselves, “It is a Fasaad and not a jihad.” They know this because Allah is not an exclusive property of gun-toting terrorists. But the mujahids are not the only cause of plight for the people.
An adolescent schoolboy gets brutally hit in the face for calling a terrorist a mujahid (meant to be a word for someone who is devoted to the cause jihad, the holy war), and the entire village just stands watching, not being able to say a word. The incidence of the note of rebellion painted outside the walls of a school, “Indian dogs go back” depicts the general attitude of the Army towards people there. They order the senior boys to erase that painted note – with their tongue. Their teachers are commanded to take over because those useless boys are good for nothing. When a teacher protests, saying they have Human Rights that cannot be violated, he is beaten up to deter others from imagining this non-existent thing called “rights”.
Shakeel is betrayed by his second-in-command, and that results in his frantically-sought death. He gets betrayed because, despite being a dreaded terrorist, he unwitting gives in to his pleasant human emotions like genuinely falling in love and marrying the woman first, and being a good husband. Those things are distractions from the goal of Azadi – a woman is not to serve any purpose beyond a man’s pleasure.
Kausar Jan loses her youngest son, Firdous, to an “encounter” fabricated and executed jointly by the legal uniformed forces. This is because the progress of the Army and the performance of a Company Commander are measured by of the number of kills they give. The cemetery with numerous unnamed graves is their scorecard. The military strips people of their dignity, and the militants deprive them of the “azadi” to say no. It is hard to point out which is more atrocious. But in the end, it is always the innocent people who suffer.
As mentioned, “Kausar Jan is a metaphor of Kashmir”, and this is a “tale of resilience of silent sufferers of the conflict and the valour of those who stood up to the onslaught of guns and terror.” Kashmir is a crisis that glares at India today. Danesh Rana, with remarkable literary finesse, and sensitivity, illustrates the conflict of humanity and identity.
Quite like The Kite Runner, Red Maize is an enthralling novel which brings forth a tragic reality through a story so poignant.