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The Plague Upon Us: A Marvellous Tour De Force

Rave reviews apart, veterinarian Shabir Ahmad Mir’s debut novel is poetry without rhyme.


The Plague Upon Us is not about the rampaging coronavirus crippling the world and making billions captives in their homes, including 8 million lockdown-stricken Kashmiris. It’s a plague that has consumed the life in Kashmir since 1947. This is a story of survival and the moral boundaries one is willing to breach to survive in a conflict zone.

It’s the plague of suffering. It starts with red days and black nights and goes on dancing in the perpetual bound of red and black. Because “we’re powerless, helpless, and miserable”.

It’s this red and black plague that the powerful brought upon us.

This new prose is pure poetry. The language is fresh and reads like a long eulogy sung to everything people have sacrificed for the dawn of salvation.

The story is essentially told in four tales narrated by Oubaid presumably to a therapist. There’s a voice in his head that always torments him. But this voice is also his only surviving friend.

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The first tale is Oubaid’s own.

He was a normal kid before his shepherd father is brought back dead from the mountains. He’s frozen with evident torture marks and has to be thawed before burial. A local journalist believes he was killed in a fake encounter.

But soon the journalist, too, is captured, tortured, and shot dead. His son, Muzzaffar eventually becomes Oubaid’s friend. Later in college, Ashfaq, his teacher becomes his inspiration but he gets killed in protests.

Eventually, Muzzaffar joins a tanzeem and soon becomes a commander.

Muzzaffar visits Oubaid’s home frequently. Because of those visits and being a friend of a commander, Oubaid is summoned by Major Gurpal.

Tortured and raped, he spills everything he knows about Muzzaffar and agrees to collaborate. From that point on Oubaid’s life starts going downhill and the novel gets a bit messy.

After Muzzaffar refuses Oubaid’s plea to join the tanzeem after his release, he’s forced to join the renegade Brotherhood by Major Gurpal.

The details and descriptions of Ikhwan are exemplary. Not much has been documented about this notorious gang that haunted Kashmir during its tumultuous years.

Shabir Ahmad Mir

It could be said that The Plague Upon Us is a short novella stretched to compensate the size. The same tale is told from four different perspectives. After narrating the same tale three times, with some additions, the doctor isn’t satisfied and wants to hear more, as he suspects it can’t be the whole story.

But after he tells it the fourth time, with the same main components and few additional details, the doctor feels satisfied but the reader isn’t.

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The pieces of a jigsaw puzzle don’t quite fall into place. There’re so many things left unsaid, but so is life in Kashmir.

After reading this novel, one will be questioning—whether, whatever happening in Kashmir, is because of people, or establishment. There’re no heroes in any of the tales. Or they’re all dead.

There’re only informers, collaborators, rapists, psychopath killers, mourners, misers, suicidal heads, corrupt leaders, compromised journalists, and people ashamed of their caste and ancestral history. The absence of brave-hearts is a telling comment in the novel.

One even feels sympathetic towards Major Gurpal—who ruthlessly tortures and rapes the inmates in the notorious torture center TALK-1. Has that— Stockholm syndrome—been always the case in Kashmir? Maybe.

But the question remains, is this the narrative we want to create in the world literature?

The representation of the Kashmiri psyche could’ve been well developed. There’s no definite definition of the long and pending pitch everyone could agree upon. That, too, is true.

But being liberal and open to choose whatever one wants is the predominate choice of liberty the narrator wants to declare.  

As far as the language and execution of the story are concerned, Shabir Ahmad Mir’s The Plague Upon Us is a marvellous tour de force.

But the narrative the novel is trying to build seems not doing enough justice to countless innocent lives lost in “the world’s most dangerous place”.


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