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"The Divide" by Brij Khar : Book Preview & Review

(Also posted at www.vicharkutir.blogspot.com)

"The Divide" by Brij Khar (A candid reflection on the schism that plagues Kashmir)
Published by:
Brij M. Khar, For ‘Vichar Publications’, 26-Pleasant Valley, Rajpur, Dehradun-248009, India
Copyrights © reserved with the author ‘Brij Khar’; Edition: 2007
Price: INR 250/-; US$ 10/-
Printed at: Saraswati Press, 2- Green Park, Dehradun-248001, India
Distributors: NATRAJ Publishers, 17-Rajpur Road, Dehradun-248001, India; email:natrajbooks@vsnl.com; natrajbooks@gmail.com
Ph: 91-135-2653382/ 2654584, Fax : 91-135-2749914/2749560

1. One far too common
2. A multitude congregates to listen
3. Suspicion brews and bullying begins
4. Reason sprouts and rationality looks up
5. Administration cracks the whip
6. Bubble of harmony bursts and violence erupts
7. Mayhem continues unabated
8. Fear grips the minorities and exodus begins
9. Whither reside? Refugee’s in own country
10. Reflections
11. Middle ground majority’s predicament
12. The last horizon: Reality or illusion

‘The Divide’ is a candid reflection on divisive tendencies and forces that continue to plague human
societies throughout the world along ethnic, religious, cultural, social and political lines. This story (if
it could be called one?) springs from the prevailing conflict in Kashmir and in many ways mirrors similar
though not identical situations across the board in many parts of our world. The characters described
(with fictitious names but representing real life millions) are simple, ordinary, religious and God fearing
people for whom life both by instinct and intuition is as beautiful as the valleys, plains and mountains
of their birth and meant to be lived in full, even in economic deprivation. A distinct sense of humour,
typical of a spiritually satiated lot, characterises them to the point of being superficial but real, in as
much as they are possessed by an unusual capacity to laugh at themselves and make others laugh,
notwithstanding the machinations of nature and whatever the providence decrees, good or bad.
In the aftermath of 2nd world war and the end of colonial rule (particularly British) in South Asia and
following independence of India (a secular democratic republic) and birth of Pakistan as a separate
nation (with a religious majority centric state policy), the people of Kashmir (a loose conglomerate of
varying regional, ethnic and religious groups from Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit, and surrounding
areas) now divided between the two warring nations, continue to be deeply affected by different and
sometimes conflicting social, political and religious perceptibility’s within and without, often working
at cross purpose. Impregnation of the resultant schism among people of this region and the various acts
of omission and commission, perpetuated in utter disregard of its composite culture, human values of
peaceful co-existence by inimical groups, hardliners, disgruntled people and vested interests (often
aided and abetted from outside) have only worsened the plight of people in the region as a whole. That
these conflicting strands of thought and action have led to an impasse of sorts is too well known
internationally, however, what is not so apparent is the pain and suffering of those involved
(particularly sons/daughters of the soil irrespective of which part of the region, ethnic group,
community and religion they belong to) and their fortitude in braving it all as residents or refugees.
This story (again if it could be called one?) is also an expression of author’s anguish within, as a
Kashmiri tormented by the pangs and pain of ongoing and seemingly unending impasse.

1. One far too common

The sun was on its setting course, shadows with a unique mix of variegated colours, so typical of dusk
were creeping in and enveloping whatever remained of the shades of brightness, in a struggle that
captured a melancholy mood and which by sheer sequence of the unfolding events seemed destined to
give in, rather than put up a fight to finish. Chirping birds held a sway over the entire setting and one
could hardly hear anything beyond what the flying creatures chattered in their anxiety to retire to
individual nests. From the balcony of his home, on third floor ‘Nanu’ surveyed the entire scene with
majestic abandon and familiarity characteristic of a man rooted to his soil, since the day he was
delivered from his mother’s womb over half a century ago. ‘Moij Koshir’-mother Kashmir- he barely
muttered to himself when a different sound caught his ear, which appeared like one coming from too
distant a place, but with a queer pitch and sounding like a feeble tinkle of an advancing crescendo -a
wave of voices and undistinguishable instruments all pitched to a rhythm and pattern.
Devoted are getting together for evening prayers –‘Nanu’ reassured himself, knowing too well that this
was about the usual time, at the end of the day, to remember the Almighty and offer prayers, but why
was it so different today? The sounds were no longer a tinkle, gathering momentum with every tick of
the clock until they became shriller and disconcerting, shaking the edifice of his judgment and
confidence and of all that he had surveyed only moments ago.
Suddenly he thought of his wife and the two daughters –where could they be at this hour? This house is
too big for just a foursome –things used to be so different only a year ago while ‘Papa’ (an upright soul,
ever willing to share and comfort others, builder of all that surrounded him and yet blinded by destiny
and driven to live in a corner of the structure he had nurtured over the decades) was around with all
the hustle and bustle of people known and unknown, too eager to share moments and talk to him.
‘Nanu’ recalled the trivial argument they had on the eve of his routine departure for plains (with every
major change of seasons much like the winter birds) and his parting words “I won’t come back to this
place” to which he had replied nonchalantly “This is your house and it is your will whether you choose
to come back or not”.
Why had he said so? well old man’s whims perhaps -no but he hadn’t come back the following summer
and with the winter already having set in, he surely won’t choose to abandon the warmth of plains for
cold and chilly environs of higher altitudes. The sounds were getting louder and one could make out
voices of aggression, punctuated by those of apprehension and distress –what is all this and where on
earth is everyone here at home.
The sounds got shriller and ‘Nanu’, in a flash, descended down the stairway with alacrity typical of a
twenty something, to look for his wife and two daughters. Suddenly everything seemed still and dark
and he felt surrounded by his wailing wife and daughters…. Oh he had slipped the stairway and
everyone was around, to help him get up and be on his feet. But what happened to lights, he
demanded with the authority reminiscent of a monarch under siege? The lights have gone out and there
is nothing unusual about that, replied his elder daughter.
‘Iza, Iza’………. shouted ‘Gulia’ at the peak of his voice from the adjoining lane that separated the
house of ‘Iza’ from that of ‘Nanu’. What on earth would ‘Gulia’ want at this hour mused ‘Iza’s’ cousin
‘Langeta’ -cursed by destiny to be club footed and single and consigned to a depilated shack in the
corner of their courtyard through intricate machinations of ‘Iza’ and his wife ‘Muri’-. We had been to
abattoir early morning and shared parts of the goat for making sale of the day -the meat for ‘Iza’ and
‘Gulia’ as usual and only organs & skin for himself, recalled ‘Langeta’ with usual confidence of an elder
deeply attached to his business and hearth- but what for has ‘Gulia’ turned up again, he pulled himself
up and peeped outside to answer ‘Gulia’s’ call.
What is it, asked ‘Langeta’ ?
Aye none of your business replied ‘Gulia’, it is enough if you manage to sell organs and skin for a living
and keep shut, and even if one were to tell you all that is happening around it would be of no
consequence, for you can’t even walk, let alone run and participate in the ‘Azadi’ -freedom-
What ‘Azadi’ are you talking about? I thought we got ‘Azadi’ from the ‘British/Dogra’ rule long ago and
were at peace with ourselves, with prevailing freedom and democracy.........
11. Middle ground majority’s predicament
Late afternoon on a cloudy day with rain threatening to pour any moment, ‘Zooni’ heard some
unfamiliar voices coming from across the lane………. looking at her husband ‘Abdul’ she said, can you
step out or peep from the window to know who all are there in the lane close to Nanu’s house ……
Why bother unless they bother you, replied ‘Abdul’.
Yes I am bothered because it is a neighbour’s house and particularly a neighbour like ‘Nanu’…..
What do you expect me to do…. go and pick up a fight…..?
No why can’t you stay cool and just find out whether my apprehensions are right or wrong…I think I
heard something that sounded like someone breaking locks and then sounds of creaking doors…
You are being paranoid; why would anyone break in during daylight when one is bound to be noticed…
Will you keep on arguing or do something to assuage my fears?
Sensing her unrelenting resolve ‘Abdul’ got up to climb the stairway leading to the first floor in order
to have more of a synoptic view………...peeping through the glass pane he clearly noticed a group of
unknown young men butting in and out of Nanu’s courtyard………… ‘Zooni’ was right……. some people
have definitely broken in…
Descending down the stairway to report back ‘Abdul’ confirmed her worst fears….
We must step out and at least plead with them, said ‘Zooni’
Plead with whom? Are you joking, they might be armed and do you really believe that any attempt on
our part to plead with them is going to work…
I don’t know that but we can’t act like bystanders and sit tight…..we need to do something and act….
we owe it to Nanu’s family; remember how he willingly sheltered ‘Nikka’ at his own risk …
OK! If that is what you wish I shall attempt to talk to them.
You won’t step out alone; I will accompany you….a ladies presence will perhaps have a sobering
Together, with fingers crossed and the name of ‘Allah’ on their lips they ventured out, to talk to the
unknown people.…… approaching closer to the main entrance of Nanu’s house, ‘Abdul’ picked up some
courage to very politely ask for their identity.
Why know our identity and what interest do you have in our activities.
I am ‘Abdul’ and this is my wife……our neighbour and the owner of this house had requested us to keep
an eye on their property….
Oh! You are a good and responsible neighbour of this ‘Hangul’ family and mean to protect their
property or is it that you wish to grab the entire booty, said one of them as ‘Abdul’ realized that he
was talking in chaste Urdu and with a non-local diction.
It is not booty but personal property of our neighbour, entrusted to us temporarily, for safe keeping
until their return, replied ‘Abdul’.
Well you still entertain a fond hope of their return…..listen these Hangul’s have banished themselves
through their own cowardice and fear…….the properties they leave behind is a booty and as Jehadi’s
engaged in the armed struggle we have the first right to it…
Convinced that his persuasions were of no consequence, ‘Abdul’ turned around to signal ‘Zooni’ to beat
a retreat, but she being determined to have none of it spoke directly to the self styled ‘Jehadi’……………
…Don’t you have any ‘Khufe Khuda’ and why are you hell bent on plundering our neighbours property
and trampling on our word of honour…
Yes I too have ‘Khufe Khuda’ but I don’t invoke it at the drop of a hat for anything and everything ….
In the name of ‘Allah’ I beseech you to let it go and help me to stand by my word.
Sorry ‘Mohtarma’-Madame-, we are here on a mission and nothing can stop us from carrying it out, now
or later………anyone trying to act smart or attempting to persuade us beyond a point to give it up would
be silenced forever.
Fearing for their own lives, both ‘Zooni’ and ‘Abdul’ beat a hasty retreat, leaving behind the self
proclaimed messiahs of a strange justice, to loot and plunder at will.

Driving to the residence of a family friend, faraway in the ‘Great lake Region’ of uncle Sam’s west,
Nanu’s daughter pleaded with him to be more reticent and condescending, in accommodating views of
their hosts, particularly a family elder and well known Indian writer called ‘Chand’.
Piqued by the rather unusual request, he affirmed he would act as desired.
Following the customary welcome and pleasantries, the small gathering settled at the dining table ……
…a sumptuous but listless lunch followed with muted conversations, generally centred around
inclement weather that had all the ingredients of an imminent snow fall………………lunch over, everyone
proceeded towards the more open living space where a warm cup of coffee awaited them….
Being an elder and a man of letters ‘Chand’ initiated a conversation with ‘Nanu’.
I am told you live in Kashmir and I imagine it must be relatively peaceful now.
I live in Jammu and not in Kashmir, replied ‘Nanu’ rather cryptically.
That is about the same thing; after all they are part of the same Jammu & Kashmir state.
No it is not so, majority of people in the provinces of Jammu & Kashmir are from different ethnic,
cultural and religious stocks………………..unable to hold himself any longer, he said, can I ask you which
part of India do you hail from?
I come from Delhi, was the stock reply.
Is that where you were born and brought up?
No my family comes from the Baluchistan province of Pakistan , I was born there and also went to
school, we migrated in the aftermath of India’s partition and the birth of Pakistan…………having said
that, he gave a long pause and then looked straight into Nanu’s eyes …….I guess I see your point,
perhaps our tales are similar.
No, said ‘Nanu’ categorically, ignoring the pleading looks of his daughter...…… you took refuge in India
but I am a refugee in my own country.
Hearing the tone and tenor of ongoing conversation, the host chose to butt in (more to change the
subject) and request ‘Nanu’ to stay overnight.
Thanks very much indeed! But I imagine that won’t be possible, replied ‘Nanu’, we ought to be leaving
now, our return flight to India is scheduled tomorrow morning and we are yet to pack up. Later peeping
through the window for a closer look at falling snow, in his daughters home, ‘Nanu’ wondered why this
alien place makes him so nostalgic of his own homeland……is it something do with the characteristic
recurrence of four seasonal cycles, the year round; abundance of woods, meadows and lakes or
perhaps just the manner in which these snow flakes dance their way down for hours at stretch ……‘Moij
Kashir’, he murmured and heaved a deep sigh before he heard the familiar and arresting voice of his
grandchild ‘SaiSheen’ calling out for him…
‘Nanu’ what are you looking at, it is snowing heavily and one can’t see anything beyond the snow flakes
and the thick layer of snow. Look you have a mail from India.
‘Nanu’ handling the letter with misty eyes murmured …….another poem I guess, wonder when this
younger sibling of mine will stop day dreaming……….as he opened the envelope a pleasant surprise
awaited him….....it had a picture of his Kashmir home with a few lines scribbled on it:
“Pity the zealots of ethnic cleansing
Who won’t let this son of soil?
Live and die in peace
In ones home and hearth”
Back home in Kashmir, shocked by Gulia’s killing in a bomb blast, a desolate and despondent trio of
‘Nazir, Iza &‘Muhadie’ acting as pall bearers of their comrades coffin march towards the burial
As ‘Gulia’ is laid to rest, ‘Nazir’ crouches in prayer to cry …..‘Yaa Allah, the Benevolent & Merciful’……
We sought Freedom but got Graveyards……Our Dreams have gone Sour…..We are Hapless ……. Be
Merciful…..Show us the Right way…
‘Muhadie’ & ‘Iza’ with uncontrollable tears running down their cheeks, work ceaselessly in tandem to
fill up and cover the grave, as if to indicate their inner frustration and anger at the innumerable loss of
lives, for a cause not so perceived ……
"The making of an impasse: The Chasm and the Bridge….R.L. Shant" wrote
Brij Khar, the author of “The Divide”, is not exactly a storywriter, at least in the literal and figurative
sense of the word ‘short story’ or ‘novel’. He has no qualms about being so and when he calls this
narrative a story, he puts a question in parenthesis: “if it could called one”. But the question seems to
emanate from his humility more than doubt. “The Divide” tells us a story alright. It has a beginning a
middle and an end in the true sense, as referred by classical critics of stories. It has the characters who
are distinguishable from one another even though they pursue the same goal and employ the same
method. There is a clear line of events rising to climax and falling in denouement, even though there
are several rises and falls. The story is guided by an urge to make a point, no matter how the proofs
and propositions behave. And the point makes itself clear and clearly felt. The story of the making of
ruthless terrorism ripping through a credulous minority in Kashmir has been told in direct and
unaffectionate language. It hardly matters to the author if literary and critical dictates have not been
followed. And it does not affect the readers’ interest in the narrative in anyway.
The ‘divide’ is naturally the final result of schism appearing in Kashmir schematically for some and
taking place unwarranted and untold for others. That was what happened around the last decade of
last century in Kashmir. As Mr. Khar says in his brief foreword called ‘Prologue’, he has narrated the
story not for record or as a reaction to falling prey to the schematic action of perpetrators of terrorism
but because he wanted to express his “anguish…..as a Kashmiri, tormented by the pangs and pain of
ongoing and seemingly unending impasse”. So his aim is to clear a way for un-hypocritical dialogue of
peace between the people divided by recent provocative actions of unscrupulous elements from across
the borders. He feels involved in the tragedy of those who suffered, irrespective of whether they were
Hindus or Muslims. He empathizes with sufferers but describes the tormentor dispassionately. That is
noteworthy indeed.
For Kashmiri reader, who has been witness to the events of nineties of the last century, this narrative
opens like a bad dream that he witnessed and that he is trying to forget now. All the events and the
main players of the years passed by, come alive in “The Divide” and are easily identifiable. The author
has woven real stories into a credible narrative while staying objectively apart. That lends the
description qualities of both subjectivity and objectivity. It is like a ‘Ramlila’, presenting widely known
events sequentially and yet retaining an appreciative audience’s interest. While a ‘Ramlila’ goes
hyperbolic, this narrative remains factual and that is its beauty.
As said above, Mr Khar does not intend to write a literary story nor does he wish to retell recent
history. He wants to underline the processes provocations and nitty-gritty of a campaign of hatred
spread by some inimical to peace loving society of Kashmir. The story is told by one who fell prey to
such a campaign in spite of his very affectionate relationship with neighbours & friends of other
community. He was left with no option but to desert his ancient home and hearth, his motherland and
heritage and seek refuge in an alien atmosphere away from Kashmir. This narrative is the result of an
upsurge to try a hand in story writing of a scientist who, after retiring as Executive Director of ONGC
writes on technology and health issues. The chain of events he describes has not been colored
artificially nor have real looking dialogues been put into characters’ mouths. The author does not pay
much attention even to punctuation marks. He does not use under or overstatement to give a touch of
realism to either the events or the characters. It is his strong emotional involvement in the happenings,
that the description in his grammatically correct and idiomatically precise language overrides any
differences that be in the tone tenor or expression of characters. They speak their author’s language
and all leave the same kind of impression on the reader. It is Mr Brij Khar’s emotion that bursts out in
the end in the form of simple descriptive poems on events and places and memories on which he
reminisces. Hence poems on ‘Mansbal lake’, ‘a trip from ‘Mar’ to Mughal garden Shalimar’, ‘Sages and
seers’, ‘On the fallout of India’s partition’, On human tendency to go by the book’, ‘On opening of
Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Highway’, etc etc interspersed with Kashmiri, Urdu & Punjabi quotations appear
in the last chapters of the book. And in the end the gurus of terrorists pray to Allah, lamenting that our
‘Dreams have gone sour’.

"Rahul Sharma" wrote

The Divide-Brij Khar
I have neither heard of nor read many books written on Kashmir, as far as works of fiction are
concerned. Today, Kashmir evokes a sense of tragedy that has befallen the paradise on earth.
Therefore it is a given that any fiction, with Kashmir as the backdrop on theatre, must narrate the tale
of a paradise violated. A contemporary narrative on Kashmir will naturally adhere to this rule.And it is
presumably the good fortune for any literary work on Kashmir today that a precious little is written as
fiction. An abundance of published fiction will certainly reduce the fertile landscape, which Kashmir
offers for literary fiction, to cliches. Cliches can grow as weeds in literature and thus undermine the
genuine sobs that a good and just work might produce because of its rightness.There are 2 works that I
have read recently. I will speak of the two. And there is a third as well. However we will find that apart
from apparent resemblance Shalimar The Clown and The Divide are quite apart in their genre and
messege as well. The Divide by Brij Khar shares a lot more, in terms of equivalence, with Khaled
Hosseini's "The Kite Runner".Here we go.The Divide and Shalimar the Clown walk through the garden
that is Kashmir, the militancy, and prior to the militancy the unique blend of Islamic and Native
religious traditions. Both works seek to provide a pciture of the once multi-religious society existing as
one. Rushdie's surrealism describes the awe and wonder of Kashmir of the past, the river Muskadoon
flows in the backdrop and its stream suffers just as Kashmir suffers its loss of innocence and in the
transforming identities of people. And Rushdie, conscious of this age of globalisation of lives and issues,
weaves a colourful story with characters from Europe, America & Philipines-all playing along expected
roles.The Divide narrates the story of a Kashmir and seeks to walk and breathe the soil of Kashmir very
closely. The perspective of the narrator is real, distinct from Rushdie's surreal style. As a result it offers
a view that is quite honest and frank, without ever embracing a political manner of thought. It is one
of an ordinary Kashmiri conscious of his region's culture and history, moving, and above all, articulate
of the little-understood Kashmiri pessimism. The Divide offers the reader a gifted insight that is rare,
an insight into the concept of Kashmiriyat, before it was gunned, blasted, vilified and repressed. Even
in the fashion of a novella, it is inclusive in providing a picture of many entities. It is an account,
impassioned and yet quite complex, akin to the paean of love to a destroyed homeland, as in the words
of Natasha Walters in her review of Rushdie's book.Hosseini's the Kite Runner is very close to The Divide
in the individual nature of the plot. Both narrate of animosities developed out of a new religiosity. The
Kashmiri rebel 'Bota' continues to be confused on what it means to fight a war on the basis of beliefs.
Yet he knows that if someone is inimical to the cause, he must kill him in cold blood and with the
hatred of a warm heart. Both authors, one Kashmiri, the other an Afghani, understand their subject
matter and the culture they write about in the richest detail possible. Both share in common the
lament of the loss of a Paradise that was one's home. The Divide is a Novella. An elaborate on some of
the background described in mere passing and possibly, even going back to the watershed year of 1947
is required. This is a very important subject. And since not much fiction has been written before on
Kashmir, it is all the more imperative that a greater and elaborate narration of the story of Kashmir, as
it actually happened, be told. The Divide, I am positive, will be the pre-cursor to a greater work, that
goes back and offers Kashmir what Hosseini's the Kite Runner has given to Afghanistan.

"Kuldeep Chandra" wrote:

I have gone through your profound and complete work,” The Divide". One of the missions for which you
came to this existence has been fulfilled by His Mercy through this immortal contribution. I am sure
that you might have felt some peace within you as the tormented spirit has found some genuine helpful
expression to make others understand the nature of the loss to humanity in Kashmir, in India nay in the
entire subcontinent."Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts", seems to be fit for
your book. The book has a sublime creativity, and without any kind of cliché “The Divide” compels us
to rekindle the power of pluralism. The narrative makes us realize the universality of the concept that
diversity is divinity, to be accepted and revered and that unity is another name of divinity which we
profess through various limited isms and dogmas. The pain and the suffering have to yield to happy
days. I am surprised to notice that even “Azadi” was tactics and used as an instrument to divide and
was not meant to attain any sort of liberty or liberation. If winter comes can spring be far behind! I
hope and trust that a grass root understanding of the “divide” that has successfully emerged from your
work shall pave the way for unity and how would I like that the stifled spark of the divine Moij Kosher
glows with brightest radiance taking away all the darkness that currently engulfs the Valley, nation and
the subcontinent. If Redcliffe understood the secret of Indian ethos of pluralism as the core strength of
“indianness” and invented the powerful instrument “divide”, a time seems to have come to undo the
innovation of Redcliffe. Your book has moved me deeply and touched my heart.It will be good to have
this book translated in Urdu as well as in Hindi and Dogri and given some wider circulation through
people to people contacts. The book is worthy of the Brooker award and excels, Inheritance of Loss by
Kiran Desai and other books of the same genre. Congratulations for yeoman’s service towards nurturing
humanity through your work that has seeds deep in the purity of your soul, reinforcing the universal
innocence of human spirit that has been shown by you to spontaneously lead to mutual care, mutual
concern, mutual respect that build true love. This remains universally true irrespective of various
worldly identities we confuse ourselves with even under the most inhuman circumstances.