A Lone Long Walk Issue of Kashmir Highlighted in Novel Way
Reviewed Prof Dr Maqsood Jafri
A Lone Long Walk is a collection of the tales told by a creative and fertile mind Tahir Mehmood. He is Chief Editor monthly Hilal magazine. I feel honoured and humbled to have received his rare literary gift for me.These are short stories comprising of a candid message for the promotion of truth, beauty, love, life and patriotism. As a solider his passion for motherland exhibits gallantry, and as a writer his intense feelings for love, justice and peace are exuberantly meritorious. The twenty-eight tales are actually the saga of life. The book is so interesting, awe-inspiring and insightful that I intuitively felt to extensively comment on it.
I would very briefly like to comment on these tales depicting the moral of each tale. In the first taleThe Choice, the author introduces a soldier who is brave, patriotic and full of fortitude depicting zeal and zest with vehemence for his motherland. The wandering man is a great adorer of his country and is ever ready to sacrifice for his sacred land. In Candy, he describes love of a lady for a soldier who presents her a candy. It is just a short meetingthat develops an understanding and love for each other. Unfortunately, she becomes the victim of tuberculosis, and dies. The writer quotes a melancholic poem of Lord Byron that is full of agony and anguish. The end of their meeting is deplorable and heartbreaking. It has a moral of “Unconditional Love”, whether it’s the love of a lady or love of motherland. In a tale Love Across High Mountains, the author describes the feeling of a tourist who visits Hunza Valley. Sitting all alone on the peak of a mountain like a hypersensitive poet and a meditative philosopher, he observes: “These mountains give a message to the human to stand tall against all ills of times, suffer in silence, endure with fortitude, fight back with resolve, believe in glory and celebrate the triumph with grace and dignity”. Actually, these lines portray the whole philosophy as a committed soldier throughout the book.
Beside gallantry, the second topic of all tales is unconditional love that is the union of souls. On the border between China and Pakistan,atKhunjerab Post, there is a Chinese group of tourists. The tourists meet a Chinese lady there and they become just friends and express love and reverence through their eyes to each other as according to the writer love does not need words, it is a spiritual experience. The lady is a professor of sociology. The writer depicts the scenario in these words, on the question of the lady about love. He responds, “Love is more of giving than asking. Love only survives in trust and truth. Love is unconditional surrender to the goodness of the human hearts and souls”. In this tale, the whole ideology of the writer about love is fervidly and fervently assorts and animates the conviction of the writer for the sublimity of love, passion and the spirit of solemnity for the motherland.
In another tale The Remains, also ends with tragic phenomenon. It is a momentarily expression of love between two travelers. They per chance meet and then part away. They sail a boat for short time and expressed love to each other. She asks him whenever he would see the Great Bear in the constellation, he should remember her. She says our gazes will always meet at Great Bear and our souls will feel union and contentment. This tale is based like some of other tales on Platonic concept of love. The tale Riddle, speaks volumes of social reforms. In it, the writer propounds a national vision. He writes, “In fact people are the real power. People in support of solider is fundamental to success. Soldiers and people both are bound by love for motherland”. In this tale, the writer also asserts on the need of love, justice, and peace like an exponent and proponent of human values. He exhorts: “Your strength lies in justice, distribute fairly, listen carefully and allow freedom to think and construct. But remember freedom must follow a method otherwise anarchy would not be far off.” Besides, a prose writer, the author has poetic propensities and proclivity. There are four poems Sleep, In Sorrows, Traveler and The Dust included in the book. They are fascinating and exquisite poems and are heart wrenching, pensive and plaintive in mood and spirit. John Keats in the separation of his beloved Fanny Brown lamented and wrote odes full of agony and pain. He failed to woo his beloved and anguish pervaded his wounded soul. It seems pertinent to decipher that the author of this treatise shares the pains of love with John Keats.
The tale Christmas in Waziristan is a marvelous message of interfaith harmony. David is a Christian and Gul Bub is a Muslim, both are like chums. David celebrates Christmas while Gul Bub joins him in his religious festivity. David feels elevated when officers also cut a cake of Christmas with him. This tale rejects religious extremism and promotes moderation, tolerance and harmonious relations between the people of different faiths. It is a great message for the whole world. In a taleLion, he narrates the story of Shardi and Nardi, two mountain peaks and the river Neelum. It’s an allegorical fable that narrates the hostility of an alien captor who captivated the young painter girl, molested her and ravished her chastity. Her lover is a poet, whose hyper sensitive heart is broken on this horrendous plight. One day, she is found dead and drowned in the Neelum River. This tale marks the unprecedented Indian atrocities being perpetrated on docile and defenceless Kashmiris. This tale is like a similitude based on Greek Mythological tradition but it also infers the hard realities of life. This tale stands for the accentuation of platonic concept of love: the vigorous love between two souls and rejects the Byronic concept of love that is the union of two bodies. The author seems to imbibe and incorporate two major missions in this tale. The unconditional love for motherland and beloved.
A Long Long Walk is the title of the book as well. It is the tale of a solider deployed far from his house in the East Wing of his country. He uses to occasionally have a cup of coffee in a village café. The solider meets an educated breath breaking damsel and they become friends and get bounded in the chain of love. It is the tale of an East Pakistani girl and a West Pakistani solider. Here love is also sacrificed on the altar of love for motherland. Friends become enemies. AldousHaxley, in his book titled Oliver Tree, writes how the word enemy becomes the cause of hatred and animosity. Peace and War of Tolstoy also reflects the same tragedy of human contradictions and controversies.
Another tale From Piccadilly to Gatwick narrates a meeting between a lady doctor surnamed Life with the soldier. Both discussed the metaphysical and social subjects like two intellectual stalwarts and savants. Peace, humanity, time, space and love are the topics of their interaction. She was also a tourist and shortly had to fly back to her homeland, leaving behind an aura of sadness and separation. In a tale titled At Crossroads, the writer describes the mindset of a common busy man who is devoid of knowledge and wisdom. The writer is of the opinion that the circular motion is a hindrance in the way of revolution as it is a routine lifestyle. The writer like a dynamic and progressive mind exhorts: “Be a man of deeds than of rhetoric alone”. Another tale titled The Stretch of Rise and Fall is a brief address of an old sage, he tells the people about the rise and decline of nations. He advises the people to love their motherland, the land of dreams and aspirations of their forefathers and shun the petty differences and stay united to achieve the cherished goals. In Mortals Immortals is an apologue with a pathetic situation. The family of a martyr suffers and silently bears the pains of separation but stands firm like a rock facing the flow of tempestuous ripples and rills. “Across” is also a very touchy tale. Across the ceasefire line between India and Pakistan, the divided families bear the brunt of agonies and Indian brutalities. It is the story of freedom fighters and their unprecedented sacrifices. The writer displays how two ladies in Teetwale sector becomes the prey of the shelling of the Indian Forces. The whole story is heart rending.
The Man Who Lived Hundredth Cut is a tale that portrays the meeting of a young girl with an old scholar but their union is the union of the souls as is the theme of the most of the tales of the book. The girl asks him: “So when we will find justice and peace”. The man says: “Nature adores power”. The quest of the writer is to see a world in which justice and peace prevails but he is dissipated and dismayed to see the harsh reality of life and that is might is right. Pride in Anguish is a tale of a martyr who valiantly laid down his life for homeland.
The writer observers: “The soldiers would always go on to the battle zones. Life will go on: so, would the pride and anguish”. A tale He Chose to Die is the story of death of a revolutionary. He is a freedom fighter who pledges to free his nation from the alien oppressors and eventually is martyred. He rebelled against the alien occupiers. His wife admired his rebellious struggle and strife but desired to have calm homely life with him. The revolutionary stood for higher human ideals such as freedom, justice and equality. He preferred national cause over love and routine homely life. He was surrounded by the enemy army and was given the choice either to surrender or chose death. He preferred death but did not surrender. The moral of the tale is that cause is more important than life.
The tale “She Lives in the Garden” is a tale of soldier who was betrothed with girl who was his university fellow. Mostly they use to meet and interact. She is a great stalwart of peace and abhors war. The soldier tells her that peace is welcomed, but when war becomes incumbent then to defend the motherland becomes a sacred duty. Their discussions are very rational and inspirational. She believes in dialogue to resolve all issues and abstain from bloodshed and war. The soldier responds to her concerns that when one’s enemy is greedy, ambitious, arrogant, and aggressor can your quest for dialogue and peace save you. He tells his fiancée about the border skirmish in which a bomb splinter had hit the head of one soldier of his battalion who died there and then. He also sobbingly tells her how a young officer was also martyred by the heavy shelling of the enemy forces on that day. The soldier was asked to move to a city, which was captured by the terrorist and were inflicting intense brutalities on the peaceful citizens. The soldier used to present red roses to his fiancée as a gift. Now defending his people, he was martyred. He was buried with military protocol, wrapped in national flag and red roses were Strawn on his grave. She wept bitterly to see the red roses on his grave which he uses to present her as gift of love. This tale unveils the pugnacious plans of our enemies. On one hand our brave soldiers are fighting on border and on the other they are fighting the agents of enemy within the country. There are some extremists and terrorists who are a plaything in the hands of our adversaries.
A Cloud Above the Land is a symbolic, allegoric and a philosophic tale. There is a dialogue between Land and Cloud. Spring, Autumn, and Time are allegorically presented. It reminds me of the poem by Edmond Spencer Fairy Queen that is also an allegorical poem. Land represents numbness, solidarity, and stability while Cloud represents restlessness, and mobility. Time represents change and movement like a nomad. The love bond between Land and Cloud is a fascinating idea. The rain pour is the tears of Cloud that enlivens the Land and makes it fertile. In spring, the Land looks beautiful, nourishing and productive. In autumn, it is arid, barren, nonproductive and dry. The Cloud feels sorry on the plight of the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden. It floats and watches over the activities of the people while Landawaits for a Messiah to release its inhabitants from the transgressors and oppressors. In this allegory, the writer infers the intricate and mysterious plan of Nature. Time changes and alters the course of history. The weathers change and the circumstances of individuals and nations also change. The writer in a pondering mood propounds: “Each moment has a living spirit”. It is an optimistic message for Love and Life. Past is dead, future yet to be born and present is the existing moment. This tale teaches us that the present moment is the actually existing moment. The writer further observes: “The continuity of life and longing for love are inseparable in Nature”.
A Town Beyond Sorrows is also an allegorical and mystifying tale. The Finger Puppet and Sock Puppet are two symbols of different shades of life. It is the tale of a puppeteer. It is a vicarious sarcasm on the persons who act like puppets on the stage of life. They are flatters and blabbers. They are adept in the art of wheedling and coaxing. They are conscious less mummies, dummies, and ninnies. These dandies and dullards know the art of charming and dulcifying their masters. The writer unveils the mystery that out of many puppets on stage, one puppet innately realizes that she could think and exercise free will. She feels a rising power or self-awareness and consciousness. On this wish, she was tenaciously and tightly controlled by the strings so that her quest for freedom could be contained. Eventually, we see that the puppeteer and the puppet are in consonance of the compassion of love and from the state of nothingness both felt transformed to a state of oneness. Consciousness of self makes the life eternal. The consciousness of infinity and self-realization make every moment immortal. This tale is very philosophical and exhibits the well-known dictum of Socrates, “Know thy self”.
Where Cherries Grow is a tale of a newly wedded young solider of Gilgit-Baltistan. He and his wife enjoyed the natural and simple mountainous life but their short-lived companionship ended soon. The young soldier got martyred on border skirmish by the Indian Army. She lived with her father-in-law and bore a child but lost her life also in the birth travail. The saddened old man takes his grandson to the Pakistan Flag hoisted on their on the roof top and salutes the flag. The Next Day is the story of a family of owls who broods over the importance of peace and harmony in jungle and condemn the animals who prey the weaker species to feed them. But for their own survival fly to fetch insects to satiate their hunger. Preaching peace like sages and saints does not correlate and corroborate the needs of survival. The philosophy of owls does not work in the pragmatic realities. The writer intends to profess that power and action are required to exist; not the empty words. Red Roses in Courtyard is a love story, a revolutionary who believes in evolutionary process of change as a reformer interacts with his sweetheart. Mostly they present red roses to each other on their birthdays as sign of love. They express their love through the language of roses. The reformer is a fiery orator and an essayist as well and emphasis on the ideals of peace, justice, freedom, and prosperity. She loves him and his revolutionary ideals.
The reformer is a great patriot and he says: “Martyrdom is nothing less than a victory”. They occasionally meet in a café. The man talks about the revolution of the downtrodden and supports the cause of have-nots. He also rejects totalitarianism and envisages to establish a welfare state through Continuous Evolution. She honours and values his ideas but being a woman naturally desires to get married with him. Once she asks him toknot the perfection of love in a “Perfect Union” but she means the bond of wedding. The reformer tells her that “change shall come in our lives but it can be smoothened and harnessed through the magical power of love. It is love for his beloved, his people and his motherland”. In this story, we find the writer as a romanticist and a reformer.
The last story is titled as Nomads, in this tale a traveler narrates his experiences to his beloved who was an author and a lady of erudition. They interact while sitting on a bench in an orchard. The traveler tells her about the vast deep oceans, high mountain peaks, and the multitude of humanity that taught him the lessons of life. He criticizes the proud, selfish, egotistic and fake and spurious lifestyle of cities. The lesson that he learnt as a voyager is; the oceans’ boasted freedom. The vessels could go around in any direction, never bound by limits. But the vessels have to reach seashore. The freedom is not unlimited. It is only sky that claims unchartered freedom. This tale manifests the core of the conversations between them and reflects philosophical awareness to many riddles of life.
The traveler portrays his sagacious inferences in the form of didactic dictums, such as: “Love and freedom are not always absolute or perfect”,“Does freedom absolve one from responsibility?”, “Absolute freedom is like absolute power both corrupting”. It is noteworthy that William Shakespeare also stated that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The traveler meets her after some time. He had gone to climb a peak, in a snow storm he had to hide in a niche. Though he survived but due to frostbite, his foot was amputated. He walked with the support of crutches. Both conversed for a long time. She was deeply grieved on this tragedy but expressed her firm resolve to stand by him. This tale shows that when there’s no gap of communication and people think alike with deep soul chanting connectivity, they have happy life. The writer concludes this tale with optimistic promise and pledge in these golden and glorious words: “They shared firm resolve to master the art of living together”.
All these tales preach the message that love is the love of souls and is unconditional, and the love of homeland is the real love. Change is the natural course of history whether it occurs by revolution or evolution. Justice, peace, equality, humanity, and love are the pillars of the edifice of a rational, civilized and humanistic mansion. We need to subdue and subjugate our false prides and prejudices and tame our unharnessed steed of egotism to develop Positive Self.
(The writer is a veteran academic and PhD in English Literature)