"Some thirty odd pages into Satisar-The valley of Demons by Ayaz Rasool Nazki and the reader is flabbergasted," writes Shabir Ahmad Mir.
Some thirty odd pages into Satisar-The valley of Demons by Ayaz Rasool Nazki and the reader is flabbergasted. For what else can a reader do when he, in a quick succession, comes across such a wide assortment of characters arrayed in such bewildered situations- A Kashyapa is on the verge of exile from Kashmir, A Gani Kashmiri is paraded through a crack-down, A Lal Ded is roaming naked through the saffron fields of Pampore, A Yousuf Shah is rushing to GN bakers to arrange bakery for a Birbal…
And suddenly the reader must need ask himself, “What exactly am I reading?” the answer is not simple. Satisar uses almost all of the techniques from the post-modernist fiction kitty-anachronism, pastiche, parody, black humour, fragmentation, irony, fabulation; and add to this the confounding resources that Nazki summons up from his formidable scholarship in mythology, folklore, history, meta-physics; reading Satisar becomes a challenging task. At this stage a reader is prone to commit to the fallacy of considering Satisar as an Alif Laila of sorts: a conglomeration of quirky, fantastic tales. One may even argue that the Nazki the author is the Scherzade here and the tale-within-a-tale framework of One Thousand Nights and One has been replaced by the tale-besides-tale of the Satisar. But grant some patience and perseverance to the Satisar and you would soon realize how Nazki is weaving a tapestry with several threads crisscrossing in a seemingly disarray and lack of order and not just accreting fables and tales. And mind you it is a tapestry of chaos that he is weaving, after all that is what the Kashmir at present has been reduced to- the bewilderment, the confusion.Soon enough, the reader’s patience is rewarded as he picks up the major story-threads: The Kashyapa-Jalabdhava-Nilnag thread, The Budshah-Yusuf shah Thread, The Lal ded-lally Dorabi thread, The Gani Kashmiri-Fani thread, The Birbal-Yousufshah-Mahaballi thread etc. And by the end the reader sees how all these threads criss-cross each other and complete the jig saw puzzle.
This interesting edifice- this scaffold over which the whole book is built- is one of the better elements of the Satisar; the other element is the ‘Characters’ (To be explicit, Characters and not characterization) Nazki adopts rather than invents characters. He adopts them from a wide variety of sources: from Myth/Folklore (Kashyapa, Birbal); from history (Budshah, Yusuf Shah (Chek), Kalhan Pandit); from literature (Ajab Malik, Noshlab). Then there are characters who are real life persons of contemporary times as well as recent past who have been fictionalized under caricatured names like Laila Dorabi, Raw Kaw, Todermal, Maqbool Dar, Maharaja Keran Rajput etc.
What is interesting to note here is that the adoption/fictionalization of Characters by Nazki is not plastic but rather organic. He not only uses the actual historicity of his adopted/fictionalized characters but he goes further and builds up on his characters by superimposing personalities of more than one historic and/or contemporary figure into a single character and by means of parallels and contrasts creates a composite hybrid. Kashyapa, for instance, is not only the mythical Kashyapa Rishi but he is also Kashyapa the exiled pandit as well as a loosely fictionalized substitute of Sheikh Abdullah and by extension every politician who chose mainstream politics. Similarly, Yousuf shah is Yousuf shah Chek as well as Syed Mohamad Yousuf Shah (aka Syed Salahuddin) and at the same time he is also the stereotypical Kashmiri up in arms against the establishment. Lally Tigress/Lally Dorabi is the archetype suffering mother and is Lal Ded of yore as well as the contemporary women chief of the renowned Dukhtaran. One may also mention here the appreciative resetting and retelling of Gulrez. The Ajab Malik-Noshlab love story, their German travail and the sprinkling of sci-fi towards its end: everything has been done with a fine taste. Ayaz Rasool Nazki by some deft touches and brilliant inspiration has created such a plethora of characters who find their parallels in the Kashmir of present as well as Kashmir of past; in the Kashmir of myth as well as in the Kashmir of turmoil, thus investing in his narrative a broader framework and depth.
Despite such promising and brilliant scaffold and characters Satisar still falters. Firstly, it falters due to the excessive fragmentation of the narration. No sooner has a reader invested himself emotionally and mentally with a Kashyap and kashyap’s story than he is uprooted and transferred to the world of Gani Kashmiri and his ordeal. Again just as the reader warms upto Gani Kashmiri he is again dragged away and thrust into the travails of Budshah. Coupled with the rapid pace of plot and narration the reader is dislocated and relocated so frequently the book struggles to maintain the attention and focus of the reader.
Another weak point is the plot overall fails to keep up with the promise which Satisar seems to hold. The story lines are not weaved in to create a composite whole; they just stick out. One may argue that this sticking out or this chaos is intentional as it does what it is supposed to do- potray the actual ground reality of Kashmir i.e the confusion and the chaos but there remain problems within the story lines as well which cannot be justified. Most of story lines end on a false note without giving the reader a proper denouement. The author resorts to indiscriminate use of deux ex machinas. Then there are scenes full of clichés and read like stereotypic bollywood set pieces like Lally holding a gun to Colonel Sharma at the airport.
Nevertheless, Nazki shines in individual story lines. The Kashyapa-Jaladbhava-Nilnag storyline is a brilliant exposition of history and its subaltern reading. Kashyapa the liberator is Kashyapa the invader for the aborigine Jaladbhava: his usurpation of the throne and the subsequent corruption opens up history to a new debate and at the same time parallels the political trajectory of Kashmir’s greatest leader of last century. And again by creating a contrast between Kashyapa the invader and Kashyapa the exiled, Nazki very subtly presents a critique of aborigine-foreigner debate of ‘Kenan Kashmir.’ The story line of Yousuf shah-Budshah is a deft portrayal of the armed resistance-the naivete of it and the politics thereof. Gani Kashmiri’s storyline is a superb delineation of the absurdity and the horror that every Kashmiri’s lot has been reduced to in last couple of decades. The only false note in this story arc is the metaphysics that creeps into it towards its end. The metaphysical yearnings look forced and out of place here. Gani Kashmiri inhabits a Kafkaesque world where suffering and horrors pile up on him. His sole offence is his existence in such an absurd world. No metaphysics, no morality, no ethics will ever provide him any relief. He ought to have been left as such- a near perfect Kafkan anti-hero. Metaphysics should have been left to the story arc of Raja Ram Dev and Nand Gupt. It belongs there.
Shabir Ahmad Mir lives in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir.