by Huma Bhola
Lit fests are pretty good places to get some pretty good book recommendations. After all, the place is usually sprawling with kindred souls who would happily point you in the general direction of books, be it the authors who have panels or someone in front of you in the line to get their books signed from said authors. Jaipur Literature Fest is what one would call the living embodiment of such instances.
In a panel at JLF, ‘Writing for Children, Writing as Children’, Nandana Dev Sen, Jerry Pinto and Paro Anand spoke about the complicated uncomplicatedness and joy of writing for children. They each read a little passage from their books and the one that immediately became my oh-my-gosh-I-have-to-read-this-book book was No Guns at My Son’s Funeral by Paro Anand.
No Guns at My Son’s funeral is a story of Kashmir. It is a story of a young boy. It is the story of manipulation. It is a story of grief. It is the story of clandestine deceit. It is a story of violence and it is a story of love. The book talks about a young Kashimiri boy, who loves his friends and loves cricket and harbours a dark secret. A secret which has something to do with a very thrilling and a very dangerous man, a man for whom the boy is willing to do anything and the man who is eager to test that.
It is tagged as a young adult book, but it is more, so much more. It is a story that shakes you and chills you. It makes you think, it makes you question. It blurs the lines between the good and the terrible dichotomy. The book reads as a thriller you can’t put down. Paro Anand has delicately woven a web connecting the characters through blood, honour, trust, faith and brutality.
I read much of this book in the way one might read a drama – slowly, cautiously, afraid to know what’s next but simultaneously filled with an insatiable need to know what happens. Needless to say, I was unable to do anything but replay the events of the book, in my head for a long time, after finishing the book.
The sheer beauty of this book lies in its simplicity. There are no fancy big words or undecipherable metaphors. (I love undecipherable metaphors, actually). The characters aren’t very relatable, because honestly, we, as in the readers are the privileged white people of the country and the story is about a war zone. A place where death hangs by a feeble little thread, a place rife with uncertainty where everyone clings on to each other like a lifeline but in the next moment can be vary and disbelieving of each other. However, the story makes you a part of it. The story drags you in and keeps you there to show you what it’s like.
The setting of the book is dark and cold, you can almost feel the nip in the Kashmiri air while you read. You can feel the unrest and the secrets. The infusions of Hindi in the book make the telling of the story all the more real. Paro Anand tells it like it is, with compelling sincerity, without the romanticising but with depth to her words.
The book makes you desperate owing to its unpredictability, but a quiet sort of helplessness washes over you as you progress. There is a rawness to it which plays a huge part in the writing and plot. The absence of indication of time and place and who exactly was telling the story, for me made it all the more sublime.
This book becomes the book that you read and like immediately and may not probably read it for a long, long time or maybe even ever, but it is the kind of book that would make you feel like you were reading it for the very first time each time you read it.
Written by Huma Bhola
Huma Bhola is a book-loving, coffee-drinking, tall little human. She loves the absurdity that is the universe and thinks that literature, art and musicare humankind’s gift to humankind and should be preserved for all eternity.