Kashmir in the 1990s: anonymous burials, real and fake encounters, ID card terror, the fatal exodus of young men to Pakistan. The war has reached the border village of Nowgam and its headman’s son is forced to become an unwilling collaborator when his father chooses to stay behind instead of escaping to relative safety. For it is this teenage boy’s lot to count the casualties of conflict, under the direction of a drunken Indian army captain—a job that forces him to confront the corpses of his friends both in his dreams and, potentially, in a terrible reality. Heart-wrenching and searingly honest, Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator is the first novel to tell the tale of a brutalised Kashmir. The Caravan gives you an exclusive preview.
I SAW MY FIRST DEAD BODY, before the population of dead bodies I deal with now, in that breezeless dry summer of last year. The fact that it was someone I knew made it more momentous, more shocking somehow. After the brief encounter with the curfew mothers, Baba suddenly seemed older. His beard appeared tired and elderly, rather than well trimmed and prosperous. He dressed more untidily, his large bearing somewhat unkempt, and his temper was turning jittery too. As usual, he took out most of his anger on his hookah; the pouches I brought from Noor Khan got heavier and heavier. For the first time ever, he seemed uncertain, not in control of things. He was used to order—things around him moved more or less according to his wishes, not just inside his own house but outside, in the village as well. People came to him for advice, loans, judgements, and he relished every bit of it. Ever since I could remember, I’d seen Baba like that—corner seat in the living room, two round cushions squashed behind him, small trunk by the window sill, and a pregnant-looking copper hookah in front of him, always, like another character in the room. But now, things seemed to be slipping from his hands, it was beyond his grasp.
He was losing his village, his people—even I could see that. Although I’m not too sure if even I could sense it fully then, that this was the beginning of the end. The incident with Gul Khan’s older brother, Farooq, was the first. What followed thereafter didn’t let up until it brought the end: the cessation of life as we knew it, as Baba knew it, as his elders had imagined and created in the small village in its tiny beginnings in 1947, a year of partitions and pogroms and general ruination. The discreet border hamlet nestled in the hills was about to end its brief life as a community.