Free Press Journal

Kashmirnama by Karan Anshuman: Review


Title: Kashmirnama: What is the Price of Paradise?

Author: Karan Anshuman

Publisher: Jaico

Pages: 384

Price: Rs. 450

It could have been so much more. That’s the first thought that crosses your mind after you have finished reading Karan Anshuman’s debut novel Kashmirnama. Even the title of the book isn’t original and has been used for a TV serial and another book. Of course, that is not to say that the spy novel doesn’t have its good points, the characters are finely etched and the state of affairs is interesting.

Karan seems to be a fan of the spy fiction genre and that shows in his writing, for if the first thought after reading the novel was ‘it could have been so much more’, then the second thought is, ‘it is influenced by books such as Jeffery Archer’s A Matter of Honour and Frederick Forsyth’s The Afghan to name just two.

Karan is attempting a very difficult task — that of writing a spy fiction novel with the backdrop of the Indo-Pak relationship and the Kashmir conundrum. Karan manages to traverse the difficult terrain with relative ease while inhabiting it with myriad characters. Be it, the upright NSG commander or poor goatherd, the characters of the two main protagonists are fully developed with strong backstories. But that’s not the case with every character.

The plot: India and Pakistan are to sign a historic peace accord on Kashmir, where conflict has been ongoing since1947 when Kashmir ruler Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession. But there lies the rub, for evils powers are at players who don’t want peace between the neighbours. Political machinations are weaved into the plot to dramatic effect and the ‘hero’ NSG Squad Commander Vikram Rathore is shown to be used as a pawn in the game by being sent on a dangerous undercover mission to Pakistan. It’s not long before things begin to unravel and he is caught in a whirlpool of allegations and conspiracy theories.

In this chaos, his path crosses with star journalist Aditi Shenoy, who is chasing the story of her life. This happens when she stumbles upon a discovery that could change the history of the subcontinent. This find puts in danger the life of anyone who comes in contact with it. Then there is Kashmiri goatherd Javid Razaq, who crosses Rathore’s path towards the end, but his love for his son and the subsequent sacrifice will eventually impact the NSG commander’s life. How their lives intertwine and the consequences make up the story.

The book is fast paced and will keep the reader interested, but it’s not unputdownable. The complex issue of Kashmir is not handled flippantly and gets its due respect. The pain of the goatherd and his living situation that leads him to take a hard decision is well played out as is the commando’s mission.

There are a few touching moments in the book that will touch an emotional chord with readers, like the goatherd talking to his neighbour about leaving his sick child Khurram alone and not influencing him to become a terrorist. It takes courage to take a real-life situation, that too from the present, and then write your own alternative narrative to it. Karan needs to be applauded for that. In one of his interviews, Karan has been quoted as saying that the book started out as a screenplay and that shows. It is a made-for-film novel. He had said, “Kashmirnama started out as a film screenplay that I was co-writing with my colleague Saumil Gandhi. I wanted to make a film that was relevant, made a political statement…” Well, he succeeded in that aspect of his effort. It is a political statement, unfortunately, it is a little too filmy for it to be a great literary read.

The book actually reminds me of the Hindi crime thrillers people would buy from the station wheeler-dealers and read during the long train rides earlier.  As such, if you are looking for an interesting read during a Mumbai-Pune bus ride this book isn’t a bad way to past time.