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Life in the Clock Tower Valley: Scribe’s Novel Fails to Impress

Life in the Clock Tower Valley: Scribe’s Novel Fails to Impress

The book does not tell us anything a common Kashmiri doesn’t know and it doesn’t tell it in a captivating way that might grab a reader from start to finish.


Set in the seething summer of 2008 when streets exploded with rage over the controversial Amarnath land deal in Kashmir, scribe Shakoor Rather’s debut novel captures the classic campus characters’ “sighing like a furnace” stage. It shows commoners caught in their own conflicts and complexities in the larger offensive. Packaged with peculiarities and polemics, the novel notes Chinars, outmoded matadors and barrel enforcement on the deafening streets.

Young lovers face strife and contrasting family political loyalties in this treatise. The novel is neither a normal dwelling for other unassuming personalities dented by discord. To sum up the theme, the publisher—Speaking Tiger—has put out a telling review: Delicate and sensitive, Life in the Clock Tower Valley is an unusual debut novel that travels between Kashmir’s pristine past, its grievous present and always uncertain future, giving us an insider’s view to everyday life and emotions in the conflict-ridden valley.

But, here’s a spoiler…

It’s a story in which the description of the death of a pregnant cow in a curfew is described on almost five pages but the season of slaughter has found no mention. Some telling backgrounds—no matter how overpowering—fail to qualify as the literal setting. Some wordsmiths call it “culling the controversial context”.

Most of the first half of the book is happening in a matador.

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Samar is in love with Rabiya, about which we know almost nothing except she’s always with a book. He’s stalking her for months in the bus en route to university. In the 175 pages (with big fonts), we have almost a dozen characters, all of which are in chaos. 

When a novel is 600 pages long and five pages are describing a single flower, that is talent but when a book is less than 200 pages and 20 of them are about what happens in a bus, it’s hyperbole—a sign of imaginative indolence.

Samar, a law student, picks fights with the driver to impress a girl he’s in love with. When Rabiya, with time, falls in love with Samar, they go kissing around whenever they can — in isolated parks, at historical sites, and in Samar’s father’s car. 

But as they belong with different political family backgrounds we kind of guess what will happen. No, not that. Samar goes to study in Delhi and Rabiya marries a boy who works in Jeddah.

The book does not tell us anything a common Kashmiri doesn’t know and it doesn’t tell it in a captivating way that might grab a reader from start to finish. Although it’s a story set in a place where curfews, protests, killings, unemployment, and corruption are the usual headlines, none of these things is described as much as the description of the bread-maker, fights that happen in the buses, and spelling errors on the hoardings of shops. 

Speaking of spellings, what’s the noun chai? If writing a novel means preserving the description of roads, parks, and other important sites, then INTACH is doing a nice job. 

There must be a story that can encompass all the history of decadence with a narrative that can outline the decades and centuries of data of how we came to be where we are. 

I’m confused if there’s a protagonist in the story because no antagonist is trying to ruin anyone’s life.

Sheikh Mubarak is in an unhappy marriage. He has a daughter, Sana, who was born miraculously with the help of a Peerbaba. Then one day, Rosaline, a tourist visits his metal shop and he falls in love with her. Rosaline goes back to New York and that is that.

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On the day of Sana’s first picnic with school, among the army and barricades at Pari Mahal, she finds Samar and Rabiya consoling each other. Instead of being traumatized, she agrees to keep their secret for a bar of chocolate. 

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For Salma Apa, we have two pages of description but there are not even two paragraphs for Rabiya, Samar’s love.

Samar’s father goes to Masjid one day and finds youth backbiting about the Imam. So, “These misguided youth have ample time and nothing to do with it. So they take refuge in religion”, is his verdict for them. 

The seasons change in the novel at an unbelievable pace. There is a snowstorm and right after that in the next chapter, there is the scorching heat.

After reading multiple headlines a day about the self-published books from the valley, I was excited to read this book. It was like the first novel that appeared from a traditional publishing house after Shabir Ahmad Mir’s The Plague Upon Us. But sad, my expectations were too high.

However, some parts and paragraphs, some descriptions, and some details in the novel are perfect. The writing at times is sloppy and at places enticing. Overall, if you’ve some free time, read it. It might give you some glimpses of how life unfolds in the valley. Do not expect anything. It’s a short book and can be read in one sitting with patience.

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