Arif Ayaz Parrey’s short story “The Torture Manual of Major Ali” carries a sinister aspect beneath its bureaucratic tone. Whether he is real or not remains a mystery, but his minions appear to be fully gripped by his methods. Parrey writes with a cinematic crane panning across the many secret and not-so-secret torture sessions that continue beyond the sixty-odd year struggle for Kashmir. Using this wide-angle shot plunges the reader through multiple framings – of the state and military, of the rites of espionage, of the mendacity of political exile, of the purgatory of strife-ridden boundaries – before arriving at a language stripped of passions that nevertheless sound oddly familiar, especially in the wake of remembrances following Nelson Mandela’s death:
The thought of men in uniform working together as a corpus to theorize and institutionalize torture is the classic nightmare of restive populations. It is also a great rallying point for the men in uniform themselves; one around which they can build solidarity and overcome guilt and fear. The deniability factor is necessary so as to maintain the paradigm of organized madness, which is what counter-insurgency efforts must be in places where the guerilla aim is to swim like fish in water.
Ensuing passages extracted from this manual – which also may or may not really exist – serve to further glaze and subjugate the reader’s eyes, a numbing experience that leaves one searching aimlessly for the personal and familiar. Yet in the process of reading and examining the manual lies the uncomfortable truth of our complicity in state-sanctioned terror, redirecting the narrative from the mythical Major Ali to that of our contemporary times. Read more of Parrey’s story in the December 2013 edition of Caravan.
Photo by Mimosa Shah
There is something about winter on the subcontinent that feels a pittance to those of us living far beyond in the relative “tundra” of North America and Europe come December. In Upendranath Ashk’s Lucknow of the 1960s, it’s an urgent chill, a need evoked by multiple layers, face masks, gloves, and mufflers galore, a cold that could – if provoked – become the death of you. Scholar, artist, and writer Daisy Rockwell conjures all of these feelings in her translation of celebrated Hindi writer Ashk’s short story “Topiyan Aur Doctor” (Hats and Doctors”). Here is Mr. Goyal, a local representative for a newspaper in Lucknow, deep in his sartorial underpinnings and perhaps a middle-aged malaise:
And now that he had passed his fortieth year, he was beginning to wrap a scarf around his neck as well, just below his hat. If he felt a cold breeze on his ears when he was driving his motorcycle, his nose started dripping. He had to stop the motorcycle, wrap the scarf that was around his neck over his head and ears, tie it under his chin, put his hat back on and continue on his way.
Mr. Goyal attempts to lead a hatless life with less-than-satisfactory results, a circumstance that leads him to various homeopaths and their shabby waiting rooms. Using a tone that hovers between sarcastic and bemused, Ashk immerses the reader into a world steeped in hierarchy, customs, and costumes. Hats and Doctors, a translated collection of Upendranath Ashk short stories, appeared in March 2013. This eponymous story was first published in the January 2013 edition of Caravan, which you can continue reading here.
Photo by Mimosa Shah
Strife between India and Pakistan over Kashmir stretches back to the era of Partition, and it’s a history filled with contention and the dissonance of politicians, cultural critics, religious scholars, and Western “experts.” Hence, it’s incredibly pleasing to hear from not only professional analysts but also “common people” on what it’s like to live in a conflict zone. The Kashmir Walla is a monthly digital journal on the arts, politics, and society of Asia and the Middle East, focusing upon expressions of dissent within the broader context of conflict while seeking to bring a more nuanced understanding of ordinary lives amidst these regions. The November 2013 issue contains a haunting photoessay of grand homes abandoned by Kashmiri Pandits during periods of escalating violence. Stark black and white images captured by photographer Muhabit al Haq are accompanied by text from writer Siddhartha Gigoo. Image and text catapult the reader into a milieu of houses still waiting, bereft of loving owners and the sounds of everyday life:
Nothing escaped me. The conversations stuck to my walls like tattoos. Grandmother roasted chestnuts in firepots. The fragrance is still trapped in my bosom. Well, to be honest, some of it has faded away over the years. The long and desolate winters stole it. I saw myself through the eyes of my family. I saw my reflection in their dreams. I was beautiful.
You can view Haq’s gorgeous images and read more of Gigoo’s evocative musings here.