Haunted Embers and Flames
In Feroz Rather’s short story “The Last Candle,” the reader is plunged knee-deep into effusive prose from a narrator-protagonist who may or may not be dying. A meditation on the past and present of Kashmir, “The Last Candle” is also a powerful testament to the stories we tell to sustain our selves in the midst of unmitigated acts of violence. Framed by the darkened bedroom of an unnamed present, we step back into a pristine valley of schooldays, scalding hot stoves, and morning rituals bound to be broken up by everyday terrorism. Soldiers ransack a shop in broad daylight, beating a suspect and leaving spectators in a weary panic. Any saving grace from these regular horrors must be found in the pages of past glories, and in epics yet to be fulfilled:
We stood looking into each other’s eyes, suspended in an ether of delicious unease. Then she lowered her gaze. The tips of the leaves crackled and began to catch fire near our feet. She ran back to the house and emerged with a book: Habbah’s Love Songs for Yusuf. I spread open both my hands. She placed it on them. On homemade paper, the songs were written in a flowing calligraphic flourish with a reed pen. The book, as I learnt decades later, was compiled by her great-grandfather a year before he was killed in the last half of the nineteenth century while leaving a mutiny against begaer, against the disgrace and misery of forced labour, against the soldiers of the despotic Dogra king.
You can read the rest of Rather’s story here.