All it needed was a few seconds of gunfire
Review of ‘Red Maize’ written by Danesh Rana
Terrorism isn’t all about mindless killings and search operations, it isn’t just about mujahids, aatankvadis and dehshatgards either. It isn’t about soldiers and martyrs, and nor is it about cryptic codenames like RP, Romeo Papa, Commander, The Old Man, and Cherry Breaker. It isn’t about not calling terrorists ‘mujahids, they are terrorists, aatankvadis, paid agents who have got hold of a gun.’ Nor is it about all the corruption that surrounds the entire issue. Terrorism is a massive mix of happenings where dreams are born and stifled, where hopes remain lost either in misguided brain-washing or orders that trample over hearts and emotions. Terrorism is something very human that has simply transformed into an inhuman mask where only innocents suffer. ‘Red Maize’ by Danesh Rana is a tale that goes way beyond the terrorism cliché and enters the genetic code of a notion that has always remained an unsolvable intrigue by most. This is because it hides under all the gunfire and gore a lot of stories that would otherwise have had a run similar to what the stories in non-conflict areas have.
Danesh Rana is an IPS officer of Jammu and Kashmir cadre and has obviously seen and experienced the core of this conflict and has had the time and energy to put it all into a story. This why he writes with confidence that ‘the hills had become another kind of laboratory where the mujahids, soldiers and the Task Force were all carrying out deadly experiments with human lives…’ He knows the area, the people involved, and has had a first-hand understanding of the inner-most secrets of whatever happens… and this is what makes the book a brilliant read. Only Danesh could possibly have written about the conflict zone without missing out the romanticism that is present and is so ‘like a song with neither lyrics nor music, the gentle flurries of white confetti gracefully descend from the skies and embrace the earth. Soft specks settle on the fronds of trees and their boughs and canopies…’ Not everyone would even know that ‘soldiers have an operational advantage when there is snow all around, just as the terrorists find it easier to operate when the maize crop is in full bloom. The game does change in winters.’ It is these games and the stories that weave in and out these games that make the book stay on in a reader’s memory.
The story is about Shakeel, the second son of the widon Kausar Jan’s three sons, who joins the ‘gun-toting militants of the Tanzeem’ swarming ‘the hills of Morha Madana by the River Chenab’ where ‘terrorists take over in the name of azadi, commanding, in equal measure, respect and fear from the villagers.’ One one side is the Tanzeem’s dreaded area commander and on the other side is Major Rathore who has decided that ‘Shakeel’s decimation is his ticket back to a peace station’ and, not surprisingly, caught in this cross-fire is Kausar Jan who can simply sit and wait and watch until ‘the maize crops in her backyard are stained with the blood of her sons’. Paired with Shakeel is a village girl Nilofer who has ‘started ruling over Shakeel’s heart and thoughts. She was in his grenades and his gun magazine, she was smiling from the front of his pouch, and she was quietly perched on the barrel of his Kalashnikov. She was a calligraphic impression on Shakeel’s miniature Quran…’ As a reader I followed every story without a care for the advancing night merging with the rising sun to give me another dawn.
Between all the little stories from her life are the stories that make gunmetal shine and give grenades their deadly stance. For instance the story that surrounds Rehmatullah Peer, another area commander who is believed to have been blessed by the powers of invincibility because ‘Allah would always come to his rescue when he was in danger. Some said that he became invisible when surrounded by enemy. Others swore that the bullets fired at him changed direction at the last moment…’
And then there is the story of Gul Moohammad who even ‘refuses to recognize his own daughter. He takes Major Rathore’s arm and leads him aside. ‘Why spoil such a grand success by that little blot of a civilian killing?’ The part of all these stories that stand out as winners is that the author is never telling us or preaching us or lecturing us about anything. He is showing us and letting the reader make intelligent conclusions. Nothing can be more revealing than when he writes about the killing of a terrorist and then records the feelings of the villagers as being ‘a few sympathetic thoughts towards his martyrdom for the cause of Islam. But most of them wish that they can find him and bag the hefty reward money.’
The book, let me clarify, isn’t a treatise on terrorism nor is it destined to be a Bible in the hands of our counter-insurgency men. The book neither suggests solutions, nor does it attempt to influence government policies. And yet, this is one book that transforms the conflict into a document of truth that transcends all the incomplete and hastily produced news reports that the press has dished out. The book makes the conflict flow seamlessly along a reader’s heartbeat until the mind knows and understands everything that seemed incomprehensible earlier. Well, at least I nodded my head and agreed when Danesh wrote that ‘even when the operations become low-key, the run-and-chase games of death and survival between the mujahids and the soldiers never cease.’ Terrorism surely isn’t a game that is going to sublimate in one swift and deft stroke of some great policy… nor will it disappear despite Trump signing the dropping of MOAB over another terror-infested zone elsewhere in the world. Is this because ‘in this conflict, if they could not do you in with a gun, they did you in with a pen’? Is this because we yet do not know completely why the word Hashishins was allowed to evolve into assassins? Is this because there will always be some ‘corrupt District Magistrate and some crooked Superintendent of Police’ willing to ‘be photographed placing wreaths on some terrorist’s casket’? Causes flow like mountain rivers flow – speedily, treacherously, and always ready to spring surprises. And we can only wait until every fresh impetuous wave decides to replace its rage (misplaced or otherwise) with a reasonable flow and willingness to be harnessed for a futuristic prosperity.
There are no answers. But books like ‘Red Maize’ help people understand the truth through stories… and this is what may finally make a difference.
Title: Red Maize
Author: Danesh Rana
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price: Rs 350/- (in 2017)
20 April 2017