Few years back, at a book release function, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat remarked , “I have not read the book but the author.” I have been reading the author Mushtaque Barq , the author , columnist, short story writer, poet , translator  and what not. He has now joined the group of novelists and come up with a novel titled “ Shades and Shadows “.  This novel is special as it has been written in the Bildungsroman  genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood, in which character change is important. The term comes from the German words Bildung (“education”) and Roman (“novel”). Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is a famous example of bildungsroman. The character of Scout narrates the novel, but at a chronological distance. She is an older woman looking back at the events which led to her loss of innocence and journey toward adulthood.

The excellent story has been woven around the water body namely Gillsar , author’s mentor , teacher and guide Dr. Najeeb and a couple of more characters. The striking fountain of knowledge gushes out not necessarily from books and educational institutions but as author records on page 11,” words and verses reveal more than raw experience.” The bond between friends is so intense that their connect with nature and studying the ripples of Gillsar teaches the boy more than his books in school. The author confesses as ,” You may invariably have wonderful moments carefully sealed in your private diaries typically coupled with unique experience and divine wisdom .Mine, honestly speaking was typically confined to the Gillsar —The craze of my privileged childhood….”

The author delves deep in spirituality and his connect has been from the adolescent age as he expresses his interest in the spiritual guides like Syed Balakh Sahib and Ahmad Sahab Machami. The paragraph at page 16 is interesting in that sense. “……….I was still in high school. I was selective from the word go. Surrounded by birches and enriched by two famous shrines of Syed Balakh Sahib on the west end and on the east end Ahmad Sahib Machami served by four to five pulsating streams.” Necessary to mention here that people in Kashmir show reverence to shrines of religious guides  and saints. At another place on page 21 the author drowns in the emotions created by local singers within the shrine premises .  “The melodious voice of the main singer took a slice of my inner heart ,and I sat opposite him .I was drowned into the sacred music and unique style of singing. “

The conflux of spirituality and the nature is expressed in beautiful and fanciful form. He writes, “ The birches and birds would add rhyme and rhythm to the magical song of silence ……………for my friends especially to Dr.Najeeb, the rhyme of Gillsar was in line with a mysterious hiss that would peep into ‘within’ to create established harmony …….”  The mentor is a professional doctor and the author or the protagonist a student with the Gillsar being the possible mediator .The Gillsar though separates the two physically but connects them spiritually .

Qadir Malla the boatman  lived in the water body. His daughter Hemal is a new entrant in the story .Dr.Najeeb called her ‘daughter of misfortune’ but loved to gaze at her, touch her chubby cheeks and pull her oiled plaits. One more entrant is the protagonist’s friend Basharat who struggles with words to communicate with Hemal. The love triangle , as one may like to call it, is as mysterious as interesting. And one day when Basharat asks about Hemal he is beaten to pulp thereby indicating that something grows deeper in the doctor’s heart.

The mentor , the teacher and the friend Dr.Najeeb is above all their consideration which reminds  Munna Bhai MBBS as his cohorts   are ready to accept anything whatever he orders. Bhai nay bola to (Munna said so acceptable) is the famous dialogue and so the qualified doctor Najeeb. The protagonist informs us ,” Dr.Najeeb provoked us to steal a boat which we did without second thought ,for we were his toys ready to go on with the demand of the master. His pull would rule and rule us accordingly.” This explains the relation between the Guru and Shish (teacher and his pupil) particularly in the mystic environment and what Sufism stands for. The pupil simply offer their worth or nothingness in whatever form at the feet of their Guru(teacher). In this peculiar relationship what the protagonist understands baffles the ordinary man but raises the real pupil to higher pedestal .He illustrates the whole episode as ,” Every lock has a key ,what we all need is to recognize it, understand it and then to experiment till we get a proper one to liberate its limbs from the clutches of slavery .A slave is not the one who unwillingly serves but a mind that repeatedly fails to create its own key.”

Over a period tragedies strike ; adorable Heemal falls to deadly disease, the mentor Dr.Najeeb moves to another world and Basahrat ,the lover boy, is devoured by violence. The water bodies , gifts of nature, are devastated by the greed of men around. Tears of torment flow unabated and in such situations solitude is bliss ; loneliness alone leaves us to seek approval of ecstasy. The words of gravedigger reek despondency ,” I earn a lot but donate nothing for a gravedigger can’t afford to donate because his donation is not marked on the paper as currency note , but after he finishes people leave him alone till he finds another needy one to fill the monstrous mouth of the soil.”(page 162).

Despite care has been taken to minimize mistakes but some printing limitations need attention.

The book is spread over 162 pages , good quality paper, hardbound and is available on online stores like Amazon.

I will love to add words of eminent  scholar Satbir Chadha . “The language is lyrical and touches you spiritually……….The novel is gripping read, and as you turn the last page ,you want to read it all over again.”

(The writer is Kashmir based columnist and author of the novel “The Half Widow”. He can be mailed @ wanishafi999@gmail.com)


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