KARACHI: I don’t think many people understood the scale and viciousness of the response of the Indian state to Kashmiri uprising. I had witnessed and suffered the first uprising firsthand. But to see young people getting blinded was deeply upsetting. This was said by novelist and essayist Mirza Waheed during a conversation with Mohammed Hanif in a session called ‘Of Love in a Place of War’ on the second day of the 8th Karachi Literature Festival.
Waheed said: “I will always write about Kashmir, and it is a fine thing to do, because it is a part of who I am, part of my upbringing and because my mother lives there. Of course I want to write about other things as well. I want to write novels that are set elsewhere, in Karachi or London, or the Middle East. I want to write a TV series one day because that makes you a lot of money.”
On the question of people getting blinded by the Indian army and that there was no parallel in history of such an act, Waheed said: “I wish I didn’t have to write about this. I’m being completely honest. The idea possessed me when I saw … there are young people who are being systematically blinded by the Indian state. The weapon is called the birdshot. It was invented to hunt birds. The purpose was to catch prey in flight. To have the same kind of thing sprayed on your own people upset me.” At this point Waheed took a pause and sipped some water. Perhaps sadness had enveloped him.
“This is what you do. You write. When did this last happen? I find few small parallels in Egypt, Spain and Israel. There is no (major) parallel in history. To witness those things in 2016 on a patch you call home was deeply upsetting.”
Replying to the query about a free press and a big middle class in India not getting or resisting the tragedy, Waheed said: “I don’t think a lot of people understood the scale and the viciousness of the response of the Indian state. It is one of those things, ‘it is Kashmir, those things happen’ kind of attitude. Such things permeate in society. There were large sections of the Indian media which were asking the state to be harsher. I’m talking about large sections of TV. Not every part of Indian media is like that. But on prime time there was a daily hunt going on which was literally asking the state to be ruthless. One of the newspapers ran an online poll asking should India’s armed forces use bullets, ballots, none; and the response was overwhelmingly in favour of bullets. There was not enough criticism of the state in India. There was some hope in some quarters — JNU, Kolkata, and in South India there were protests. I grew up during the first uprising. I suffered it firsthand. This, 2016 was similar, but more vicious; there was vengefulness to it, as if the soldiers were told ‘spare no one’. They were saying they were exercising restraint, and this is where they had killed about 90 people and blinded hundreds, including a five-year-old girl, whose face became iconic.”
On the issue of whether Pakistan was part of the problem or solution Waheed said: “Both.”
Earlier, Waheed informed the audience on the genesis of his two novels The Collaborator and The Book of Gold Leaves. He also told the attendees that his wife was from Karachi whom he met at the Beach Luxury Hotel for the first time.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2017