Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
Red Maize(Harper Collins) is one of my favorite books from 2015, and the rightful winner of the Tata Literature Live!First Book Award-Fiction. The conflict in Kashmir is finding a voice in a number of contemporary fiction and non-fiction narratives. Each book helps to look at the Kashmir story from a different perspective and Danesh Rana also tries to draws a grim nuanced picture of one of India's colossal human tragedies. Danesh Rana, Inspector General of Police in Jammu has been witness to the conflict for a number of years, and in his book, Kausar Jan, the widowed mother of three sons becomes a metaphor for Kashmir, and an obdurate hope that this too shall pass and peace shall return to the beautiful valley.
In this interview Danesh Rana sets a few perceptions right.
tgbc: How did the idea of Red Maize come to you?
DR: Many readers have called Red Maize a quintessential Kashmir book. It is not true. The book is based in the Doda district which is part of the Jammu province. Militancy in the Jammu region flourished in hilly areas of erstwhile Doda district, Poonch, Rajouri and higher reaches of Udhampur and Kathua. Maize is the main crop in these hilly tracts and lives of common people revolve around it. In the Kashmir valley paddy is the main crop, not maize; morchella mushrooms, gypsum mines, watermills and the ropeway ride over river Chenab are unique to the Jammu region. Therefore Red Maize is probably the first book that talks about militancy in Jammu region which acquired a very brutal form.
tgbc: It is difficult to write a book about a contemporary conflict zone — were there any key concerns you had when you wrote the book?
DR: I have been extremely cautious while writing this story. Though it is a work of fiction I was wary of the fact that it might generate a debate. However I have tried to be honest and attempted to take no sides and many readers irrespective of their ideological leanings have appreciated the book. I must also make it clear that the book talks about aberrations and not the norms. The extra judicial killings and torture may not be seen as a routine that police and security forces indulge in. They have bravely fought the militancy under difficult circumstances and have made supreme sacrifices. On the other hand some of the activities attributed to militants are also isolated incidents.
tgbc: There is a slew of books on Kashmir now. What purpose do you think fiction can serve in resolving this conflict?
DR: I agree a slew of books have come on Kashmir. Not only books the social media and blogging has also given space to budding writers and their ideas. The sad part of some of this writing is that it gets coloured by the personal opinions of the writers based on what side of the conflict they are on. Many writers from Kashmir have shown Indian army in bad light but they refuse to acknowledge that some of the gravest human rights violations have been done by militants.
tgbc: How long did it take you to write the book?
DR: It took me more than two years to write the book. Being busy on the job brought about periods when I did not write for weeks together. However writing is a continuous process, and even when you are not writing you are improving on what you have written. It took another one and half years for the book to find a publisher, get edited and to finally hit the stores.
tgbc: The last paragraph in the book set me thinking — is Khalid Langda alive?
DR: The fate of Khalid is not important. The very fact that he joined the ranks of militants implies that he has signed his own death warrant and it’s just a matter of time before he gets killed or arrested. What is significant here is the circumstances under which he becomes a militant. His disappearance makes his mother’s loss total and that is the point I have tried to drive home. The sad part is that Khalid is not ideologically inclined towards jihad but he becomes a victim of circumstances. It also goes to show one wrong stop by the son of the house wrecks the whole family.
tgbc: You have a tough job and you are a writer. How do you find time for both? What is your typical day like?
DR: I am not a prolific writer. I am a cop first and a reluctant writer. My current assignment is very busy therefore I haven’t written a single word in one year. I haven’t even read anything substantial this year. Having said that one has to find time for something one is passionate about.
tgbc: Who are your book mentors? People whose books you admire?
DR: I am not a trained writer. My family and friends did help me during the course of writing this novel but I am largely a self taught, very average writer.I have been reading a lot in the last many years. The habit started with reading newspapers and magazines and taking a keen interest in current affairs and soon graduated to reading books. I read R K Naryan and some travelogues very early in my life. Later I admired the books of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie,Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, Rohinton Mistry etc. I have read a lot of contemporary Indian authors writing in English. So it won’t be wrong to say that books have been my mentors.
tgbc: Which is one book you wish you had written?
DR: That is a difficult question. There are so many good books I have read that I wish I had written each one of them. However wishful thinking aside I don’t think I have the caliber to write what some of my favourite writers have written. Books like Midnight’s Children or One Hundred Years Of Solitude are written once in a century and those are very special books. Since you have asked me this question I wish I could write romance as intense and as subtle as in An Equal Music. Vikram Seth’s masterpiece is not only evocative but with music as a back drop it truly is a complete book. On the other hand I wish more books like Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul —memoir of a city— are written.
tgbc: One Kashmiri dish you are fond of?
DR: Now that’s a mouth watering question. The famous Kashmiri cuisine — the Wazwan — is rich of so many delicacies. The problem is these delicacies invariably swim in oil and fat. Therefore to be on the safe side I will prefer to have Haak Saag ( Collard greens). However on a good day I would order and relish Tabak Maaz (fried lamb ribs).
tgbc: What are you working on next ?
DR: I am working on nothing new. Let me tell you a secret there is a badly written second novel resting in the hard drive of my laptop.