Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 8:24 AM
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The Night of Broken Glass

 by Feroz Rather

Published : Saturday, 11 August, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 475
Reviewed by Jai Arjun Singh

 
  HarperCollins India;    222 pages; Rs 399

HarperCollins India; 222 pages; Rs 399

In one of the many interconnected stories in Feroz Rather's book about Kashmir, a tyrannical army major watches Hitchcock's Rope on TV. As the passage becomes increasingly surreal, his private reminiscences merge with scenes from the film. Like Rope, which was about a motive-less murder, The Night of Broken Glass focuses on tragic, untimely deaths and destructive hubris. But unlike the film, famously made up of long takes, this book is filled with the literary equivalents of slow dissolves.
One story plays alongside and informs another. Voices and perspectives change. Chronology is uncertain. Nightmare scenes are told with the lucidity of reportage, and actual incidents related as if they were nightmares. All this adds up to an unusual, restless narrative that looks at the violence in Kashmir mainly through the experiences of young people who smoke Revolution cigarettes, wear Liberty shoes and strive for 'azadi', usually to no avail.
A boy makes a rosary out of bullet shells collected by his father. A journalist writes a resignation letter to her boss, denouncing a profession of complacent, power-drunk men; later, the boss gets to speak to us too.
"I did not know where to direct my anger," says the narrator of one of the stories
A story where a man finds himself looking after a cancer-ridden shell of a body, belonging to an inspector who had tortured him 25 years earlier, feels like it might be about grace and catharsis, but the final mood is that of injustice that was never redressed.
"I did not know where to direct my anger," a frustrated narrator tells us, and this is true for so many of the victims in these stories. Grand-sounding ideas like forgiveness or benediction hold no meaning in a place where destroyed lives cannot be un-destroyed, and there is no closure even after death. (One passage is in a ghost's voice.)
The Night of Broken Glass is terrific as a concept, with its many narrative detours and collisions-no safety nets for the reader, no familiar structures we can cling to. In execution, though, this book blows hot and cold. Rather tries to do many different things, which is always admirable in a debut, but sometimes he tries too hard.
Many passages are unwieldy and some of the writing is over-earnest, straining for effect. One sample among many: "Wispy white roots drank their fill until they were soggy and satiated, the water soundlessly penetrated the hearts of the soil particles, suffusing the empty spaces in between [...] a multitude of trickles descending to touch my bare, twinkling toes."
That's a pity, because the author sometimes does much more with much less. A single, terse sentence such as "The shop filled with the gloom of humiliation" - after a story is told about a respected man being slapped by a soldier-can be more effective than paragraphs of ornate prose.

The reviewer is a writer






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