The most poignant line in news last week was the Gurkha regiment war cry, “Jai Maha Kali Aayo Gorkhali”, raised by 11-year-old Alka Rai as, while weeping, she gave the last salute to her father.
Colonel Munindra Nath Rai was killed while fighting terrorists last Tuesday in Kashmir.
The disturbing truth - well truth has a habit of disturbing most often - hits the heart and head alike in the words of Children’s Rights & Emergency Relief Organisation (UNICEF) executive director Anthony Lake, who says: “Children have been killed while studying in the classroom and while sleeping in their beds. They have been orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, recruited, raped and even sold as slaves.”
The year that has just gone by was described as the most distressing for children because as many as 15 million young ones were part of conflict zones the world over, including Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Ukraine.
Closer home Kashmir, the unhappy state of children and youth, who are orphaned and killed or drawn into militant groups, is something that has been happening for a long time and continues so.
Media reports have called it the ever-growing orphan industry. Paro Anand, a brilliant writer and activist for the young, has made Kashmir the centre of two of her novels, No Guns At my Son’s Funeral and Weed. Poignant writing indeed, but its merit lies in the fact that these stories by Paro spell hope.
The first novel tells us the schizophrenic existence of young Aftab, who is a boy next door, involved with his friends, family and the game of cricket but as the evening descends, he is part of a more dangerous game.
Drawn into a terrorist group by the handsome Akram, he is caught in a web that he is unable to disengage from. The second novel Weed tells the story of Umer whose father joins the jihadis.
The family lives on the brink of desperate poverty until Umer has to decide which path to take be a protagonist of non-violence and die hungry or follow his father’s footsteps in the hope of a better morrow. In both novels, Paro discusses complex issues that make for the Kashmir quandary but what is essential is that she, with the warmth of her heart and pen, breaks the stereotypes and holds forth that the children of Kashmir want peace, the youths want to grow up and work - they want to love and marry.
Alas, they become enmeshed in the web of the conflict zone that they never spun. Paro says, “I met children who had lost their father to terrorist strikes, children who had been impacted by violence. Amazingly, they did not want to avenge death. They wanted a way out. They felt as if in a trap with two walls - the security forces on the one side and the terrorists on the other.”
Praising her novel Weed, publisher Ravi Singh says, “The novel is about a youth but it is not a book to be dismissed as something written only for young adults. It is a very sensitive novel on Kashmir that can be read across age groups.”
Delhi-based Paro Anand, who has written some 20 books, for the young, says thus about battlefields strewn with the dead in a poem: “I looked around the battlefield and was amazed to see/the bloody pieces lying there were all pieces of me.” firstname.lastname@example.org
(The writer is a prominent art and culture critic.)