The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

1. First lines. 2. Published 2019 Grove Atlantic 3. Ladakh in Kashmir [Public Domain] via pxhere 4. Indian Army Elite 9 Para Commandos in action during a operation against terrorists somewhere in Kashmir By atv Panky2sharma – Own work, [Public Domain] via wikimedia.
Devastating effects of the main character’s actions are like a “A ripple widening from a single stone/ Winding around the waters of the world.” (from the poem The Far Field by Theodore Roethke)

Thirty-year old Shalini travels to Kashmir from Bangalore after her mother dies, to find a man called Bashir Ahmed who had befriended her mother when Shalini was a child. The only thing she knows is that his family come from a small village called Kishtwar in the province of Jammu and Kashmir. During her search for Bashir, she finds herself in the midst of tension between Indian Army soldiers and separatist militants.

“This country, already ancient when I was born in 1982, has changed every instant I’ve been alive. Titanic events have ripped it apart year after year, each time rearranging it along slightly different seams and I have been touched by none of it: prime ministers assassinated, peasant-guerillas waging war in emerald jungles, fields cracking under the iron heel of drought, nuclear bombs cratering the wide desert floor, lethal gases blasting from pipes and into ten thousand lungs, mobs crashing against mobs and always coming away bloody.”

”This place with its steep, rugged drops; its narrow glittering pathways; its tiny mud houses that clung like limpets to the face of the mountain – I had imagined none of it.”

“Someone once described my mother as ‘a strong woman.’ From the speaker’s tone, it was not meant as a compliment.”

  • The Guardian: “Vijay writes with an assurance surprising in a first-time novelist, and is a delight to read. ”
  • Jury Comments, JCB Prize for Literature: “It is a wonderful experience for a reader to be inside the head and heart of this flawed, fallible but always plausible narrator-as-protagonist, protagonist as perpetrator, observer and (sometimes) victim. Without referring to overt politics, this personal story captures all the moral complexities – and the attendant hubris – of outsider intervention in Kashmir.”

Author website: Madhuri Vijay

Notable Awards: 2019 winner JCB Prize for Literature; 2019 finalist DSC Prize for South Asian Literature; 2020 Longlisted Pen/Hemingway Award; 2020 Longlisted Carnegie Medal for Fiction.

Historical note: Jammu and Kashmir is a state of India, formed when Kashmir was partitioned after the withdrawal of Britain from South Asia in 1947. From that time, unrest in Kashmir has continued within the context of the Pakistan-India conflict. Militant organisations have formed to resist the control of India, and bombings, shootings, riots, and human rights abuse including mass killings, forced disappearances, torture and rape have become common. A UN Commission for Human Rights Report has been rejected by India. For more information: Human Rights Watch; United Nations Commission for Human Rights; Kashmir Life.

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