top of page
  • Aradhya Singh


“The dusk here does not arrive on the shoulders of golden sunsets any more, but on the heels of long, encroaching shadows of untraceable trees in the distance, gloomy parallel patterns that cascade over the undulating landscape of unevenly dispersed corpses and other things.”

- Mirza Waheed, The Collaborator

The Collaborator by Mirza Waheed is a historical fiction novel set in the backdrop of the insurgency that ensued the partition of the former princely state of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, pitched in the 1990s. It follows the Kashmiri resistance for "Azadi" and the increasing brutality of the Indian Army on these Kashmiri "militants" or "freedom fighters" through the eyes of the unnamed protagonist.

The book is divided into three parts. The first moves between the past and present about the protagonist and his family who are the only ones left in the "forgotten last village before the border" while the others have fled seeing the violence that was cultivating in the area. It depicts the early stages of Kashmiri resistance for "Azadi" and how his friends crossed the Line of Control into Pakistan for training. The second part exhibits the events following his friends' departure and the increasing ferocity of the Indian Army on the Kashmiri "militants" or "freedom fighters". The third and the last section returns to the present depicting the protagonist's relationship with the Indian Captain who seems to be responsible for most of his nightmares.

The novel starts with the nineteen-year old anonymous narrator employed by one Captain Kadian in the Indian Army, who has been deployed in Kashmir so he can visit the valley near the village and collect the Identity Cards and the weapons of the dead Kashmiri's who are spread across the valley floor. These Kashmiri ‘militants’ or ‘freedom fighters’ crossed the Line of Control into Pakistan for training to resist for ‘Azadi’ and were gunned down by the Indian Army. The Identity Card's collected could be used by the Indian Army to showcase its power in the media. The scene then dissolves into deaths and disappearances and gruesome torture by the Indian Army. The collaborator depicts the Indian Army as an overwhelming power that only lays destruction in its path. Captain Kadian seems to have embodied this behaviour. They are shown as gruesome and brutal who do not even think twice before killing the Kashmiri ‘militants’. There is also mention of massacres and mass rapes by the Indian Army. When a group of boys, trained in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir enter into India, the Indian Army kills most of them, leaving them in the valley, treating them nothing more than dead meat. The Indian Army's lack of sympathy and empathy towards the Kashmiri ‘militants’ is quite evident in the sense that they never enter the valley to account for the dead, sending only local boys to do so. Though Captain Kadian when asked by the protagonist why he couldn't go and see he replies saying that they don't want uniforms being seen as it is no man's land and that no one would bother about locals roaming around, it pushes us to question the degree to which the Army really cared about the boys who were once living under their protection when in India. The Border Security Force is shown as even more brutal than the Indian Army. So much so that they give out lessons to the Indian Army regarding mountain warfare. There is an instance of a man being snatched from the village. When he returns, there are various theories. Some say “he was tortured day and night by Kashmiri Pandit police officers, bent on revenge after their tragic exodus from the valley...... Another theory was that “he was made to pee on an electric heater while they threw ice-cold water over him; they pierced a red-hot knitting needle through his......”[1]. the protagonist finally, wanting to see for himself, visits the man. The man shows evidence of his torture which makes the protagonist dislike and fear the Indian Army even more so. The Collaborator creates a sense of disbelief and anger within the reader- seeing the brutality and the ferociousness of the defence force that is supposed to protect us.

Moving forward, when the reader starts getting to know the protagonist better, finds out his family and his background, there is a sense of sympathy towards him and all who are affected by the increased insurgency at the Line of Control. The protagonist’s father, as we get to know later had fought against the invaders who had raided their village just after independence. All his friends cross the LoC in order to train, and the protagonist is the only one left behind. The protagonist does not seem to support “Azadi”. However, at one point he did try to cross the border, following in the footsteps of his friends. As he moves towards the meeting point with the guide who would help him cross, he thinks about how he does not really know what lays across the border. The only vision he has of Pakistan is that of a place where boys go to train, who later return to fight for Kashmir’s “Azadi”. He feels Pakistan accepts Kashmir with open hands, where everyone is a Muslim and thus everyone can live in harmony. He, however, settles with the thought that he does not really know the place. The protagonist is unable to cross the border after being rejected by the guide. This might be because of his family history, his father fought against the tribal invaders after independence.

The protagonist is not particularly fond of the Indian Army, which is present in great numbers in his village due to it being so close to the border. He is fearful of the Indian Army, the black commandoes and other men who carry guns. However, the prospect of procuring weapons from the dead bodies in the valley and keeping one for himself, excites him, “A sudden wave of anticipation takes over my senses as soon as I see myself with a gun in my hands, going home with it and tucking it under my pillow at night.”[2] For a nineteen-year-old growing up in other parts of the country, the prospect of a gun in their hand might not be something that excites them. For the protagonist, he dreams about keeping it under his pillow at night. This behaviour of the protagonist makes the reader think of the consequences of the violence taking place in Kashmir and how they affect the young impressionable minds, the future youth of the country.

As stated earlier, Captain Kadian uses the protagonist for identifying the dead bodies that lay strewn in the valley near the border. This is the same valley where the protagonist and his four friends played cricket. The lack of action in the book is substituted by the protagonist’s internal struggle, trying to create an identity for himself. The protagonist’s struggle with his own identity can be seen when he says, “By the way, what category will I be thrown into? Badge runner of the Indian Army, official scavenger of a murderous army officer, cleaner-sweeper of the brutal Rastriya Rakshak Rifles? (Rakshasa Rifles is more like it.), the armed caretaker of the unknown dead, the chowkidar of my own dead ilk, the sole witness to a machine of carnage or a shameless forager of friends’ remains, a petty ID-card thief, or the grim reaper? I don’t know, I don’t know.”[3] The terms used by the protagonist for the Indian Army, such as “murderous” and calling the Rastriya Rakshak Rifles, the Rakshasa Rifles only emphasises the hatred the protagonist harbours for the Indian Army. The protagonist goes through a series of life-changing events. Yet the one that stays with him throughout is the fact that his friends left him behind all alone. The protagonist feels extremely lonely. He even thinks about crossing the border in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir just to divorce with that feeling of loneliness. There is a constant fear in the protagonist’s mind that one day he would go to the valley on his usual run only to find his friends lying dead on the floor, wild daisies growing at their feet. The reader is thus drawn towards the protagonist’s life, feeling sympathetic.

The reader therefore, is unable to make up their mind as to what path the protagonist might take further in life. On the one hand, the protagonist despises the violence that is taking place, not fond of either side though appreciate the Kashmiri insurgents who are always shown inferior and at the same time wanting to sleep with a gun under his pillow. When Captain Kadian finally hands him a gun, the protagonist is tempted to use it on him. The protagonist remains unnamed probably because this is a story that is shared by many Kashmiris living on the Indian side of the LOC. They have been subject to violence, curfews and an unsafe environment. They have had their friends leave for training only to turn up dead, killed by the Indian Army.

The book constantly pulls the reader in two directions. As an Indian, there is a constant oscillation between appreciating the literature, articulated beautifully, leaving the reader wanting more of the story and the fear of hurting the nationalistic sentiments of the masses. There is an inherent bias that can be felt while reading the book. The biases of the author in the sense that he punishes the entire Indian Army for the actions of a few, showcasing them as an evil entity laying only destruction in their wake. The book poses a dilemma for the people of India. In Shashi Tharoor’s words, “I found myself with much to admire and value in Mirza Waheed’s first novel, The Collaborator; but as an Indian Politician I found it impossible not to feel profound discomfort with the political sympathies the work seeks to evoke.”[4]

A gripping and captivating tale of a Kashmiri boy and his family left behind in the ruins of insurgency, The Collaborator provides a voice to the Kashmiris who have long been forgotten amidst the rhetoric of India and Pakistan. The book helps the reader relive history through the eyes of a young boy who is no more than a victim and allows the reader to remember events of our history long forgotten.

[1] Mirza Waheed, The Collaborator (Penguin Books 2011) 186 [2] Mirza Waheed, The Collaborator (Penguin Books 2011) 72 [3] Mirza Waheed, The Collaborator (Penguin Books 2011) 73 [4] Zamir Ahmed, The Collaborator

Cover Image: Source

150 views0 comments
bottom of page