No Guns at My Son’s Funeral, written by Paro Anand, is a story set in the Kashmir valley when militancy was at its peak. Her second book set in the valley, Weed, has already been reviewed here.
The story is set in Baramulla, a town in northern Kashmir which has a significant population of Sikhs and used to have many Kashmiri Pandits too. The story revolves around Aftab, a teenager growing up in the valley, just when extremism has reared its head in the region.
Aftab lives with his father (a school teacher), mother, elder sister – Shazia, and younger brother. They are a normal middle class Kashmiri family.
Aftab is a member of a secret group comprising Akram (a firangi, probably Afghan and the leader of the group), Feroze (another firangi), Javed (Kashmiri) and Imran (another Kashmiri). They consider themselves to be freedom fighters, though others call them as atankvadis (terrorists). They meet secretly, undergo physical training and plan strategies for disruptive activities.
Aftab’s Ammi and Abbu, worried that he might be associated with such a group, don’t approve of his secret disappearances. The firangis lure the young boys to become atankvadis, and the young girls to become their brides.
Major Ramneeq, the commanding officer of the Indian army stationed in the town, is tipped off about the group and Aftab’s possible link with it. From then on he keeps Aftab under surveillance. What follows is a series of incidents – a bomb set off in the cantonment area, the army homing in on the terrorists, capture of Feroze, the fleeing of Akram with the army on his heels, finally culminating in a suicide bomb blast in a public market place set off by Aftab.
The book ends with Aftab’s mother and Angad’s (Aftab’s Sikh friend) mother mourning their sons’ deaths. “No guns at my son’s funeral” laments Aftab’s mother, when the local youth turn up with guns to pay homage.
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- Anand gives a fictional, if somewhat simplified, account of the different events that happened in the valley during that period. She gives her perspective on the different dimensions of the events of that period – the creation of a terrorist, the foreign hand and its influence on the youth in the valley, the functioning of secret terrorist groups, the gradual alienation of the different communities from each other, the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the valley, the functioning of the army in addressing the terrorist problem, the impact that terrorism had on the lives of the common people across all communities.
- Anand skillfully weaves together a story, based on events that we see reported in the news. She brings to life in flesh and blood, nameless and faceless persons of news reports, by building a compelling story around the events. It keeps the reader engrossed throughout the book.
- The characterization of the main people has been done such that we connect with the feelings of the persons in the given circumstances.
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- The places and locations where the events play out and the vantage point from where the dramatis personae watch the events happening do not synchronize well. I wasn’t able to get a grip on the space where the different events happen – they all seem to happen at the same place, much like what happens in a stage-play.
The tale of a terrorist – simplified.