2 November 2017

Review #645: Red Maize by Danesh Rana

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Terrorism has nothing to do with religion, Islam or otherwise. Terrorism is born of fundamentalism not of religion.”

----Abhijit Naskar

Danesh Rana, an Indian Police Service officer of Jammu and Kashmir cadre, has penned a vividly compelling tale about Jammu and not Kashmir, the metaphor of this heavenly paradise and its ever growing militants, which we rarely hear of from the hills of Jammu, in his debut book called, Red Maize. This book narrates the tale of three Muslim brothers and their headstrong and brave mother set across the idyllic mountainous landscape of Jammu, where the middle brother joins his hands with the militants to free his land from the Indian Armed Forces, caught between the crossfires of the jihads and the Indian Armed Forces are the innocent people of the land.


The old, who had seen peaceful times, rightly predicted, 'So much blood will seep through our land that someday we will have red kernels of maize instead of yellow. The day is not far when the hills will start to grow red maize, season after season.' As gun-toting militants of the Tanzeem swarm the hills of Morha Madana by the river Chenab, the joys of the harvesting season leach out of that once-idyllic village. Terrorists take over in the name of azadi, commanding, in equal measure, respect and fear from the villagers. Drawn by their call to jihad, Shakeel, second of the widow Kausar Jan's three sons, becomes Morha Madana's first mujaheddin - and, soon enough, the Tanzeem's dreaded area commander. Back in the Indian Army camp in the village, Major Rathore decides that Shakeel's decimation is his ticket back to a peace station and an impending marriage that awaits him in Jaipur. And Kausar Jan, like Kashmir itself, is caught in the crossfire between the militants and the army, even as the maize crops in her backyard are stained with the blood of her sons. Red Maize is a searing chronicle of the relentless siege of Kashmir, of the human cost of war, and of a way of life, forever lost.

Where the maize crops grow by the side of the river Chenab and surrounded by the hills of Morha Madana in the Tanzeem district of Jammu, a lonely widowed mother raises up her three sons with courage and compassion. Sadly the onset of jihad and azaadi (freedom struggle) movement have claimed her middle son, who becomes the frightening area commander of the district. Kausar Jan, the mother, has no choice but to accept the fate of her middle son, as she became the mother of a jihad, which is considered to be most sacred in the name of their religion. Then came along, Major Rathore from Indian Army, whose only aim is to catch the most wanted terrorist of the area and that is, Kausar Jan's middle son. Although the elder son isn't interested in the call to jihad or in azaadi, rather than providing comfort to his elderly mother and taking care of his younger brother, who is still at school, yet Major Rathore uses Kausar Jan's youngest son as a bait for his own sole purpose to catch the terrorist and finally to safely return back to his normal life in Jaipur. But who knew, one-by-one, Kausar Jan would sacrifice her sons in the name of religion and anti-terror movements. Just like Kausar Jan, many Kashmiri women, be it mother or daughter or wife, all turn into half mother/half widow, by losing their better halves or sons or fathers to this war of azaadi, without a clue on whether they are either alive or dead.

The author, Danesh Rana, is no-doubt a master story-teller and a skillful writer, who divinely crafted this tale along with the beauty of Kashmir. His carefully chosen exquisite words have turned this novel into a delectable read. The narrative is highly engaging and articulate as well as evocative enough to make the readers feel the plight of each and every important characters from the book. The emotions play a major role in this book, as the author has let it flow like the uninhibited and free-flowing Chenab River throughout the course of his tale. The prose is elegant and lyrical enough for the readers to lose themselves in the soul touching melody of Kashmir.

The characters are all so flawlessly contrived, and it is quite evident that the author has quite a strong psychological grip on these exquisitely crafted characters of his, which are bound to leave an impression on the readers' minds. Firstly, Kausar Jan, the primary character is depicted as a courageous mother with no options but to love fiercely even though sometimes that love becomes quite tough to endure and an extremely hopeful mother, whose journey from being a mother to a jihad to a mother to a policeman to a mother to a lose son to a mother with no sons will strongly appeal to one and all. And the more one read about her, the more he/she will fall for her. We will get a taste of each character's demeanor and inner-self, with the help of their personal stories and fights.

Jammu & Kashmir's breathtaking landscapes, history, religion, and its extremism, patriotism, fight for freedom and tales of jihad movement rising will keep the readers on their edges and all throughout this ordeal of a lonesome mother, the readers will lose themselves into the beauty of the heavenly paradise on Earth, both eagerly and hauntingly.

Terrorism is not a social issue, it is a war that is being fought everyday in the borders of our country, India, and those brave souls who either fight or experience this raging war right before their own eyes, can recount those horrifying event quite aptly. Similarly, the author too, have honestly penned this story, unlike so many local Kashmiri or non Kashmiri-authors trying to force feed the readers with their opinions through the stories they pen about Kashmir and its war against terrorism. I would strongly recommend this book to those who want to experience the real story behind Kashmir to read this book by Danesh Rana. Even though, the book didn't create much uproar or isn't that hyped by media or bloggers, I would still treasure this book as one of the best books based on Jammu & Kashmir.

Verdict: A heart-breaking and a thoroughly honest tale about Jammu & Kashmir.

Author Info:
Danesh Rana is an Indian Police Service officer of Jammu and Kashmir cadre. Having seen the conflict closely, the author tries to depict the painful nuances of a colossal human tragedy of our times.

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