The bounty of a beautiful spring never left the Valley unblessed. When April came, it brought along the colourful riot of flowers in tow. People came from far and wide to marvel at the rows of tulips in the Srinagar gardens named after them, hardly any of them aware that the choreography of blossoms had been constructed over a rumoured graveyard of the past. Roses sprang up, boldly declaring their charms beside the most humble pavements. Cherry trees submitted their pale pink petitions to the chancy breezes. There were daisies for the taking, sprays of narcissi nodded their heads shyly, while the bees consorted with the carnations, jasmines and peonies. In the countryside too, yellow mustard fields mimicked the yellow of the sun, almonds and apples bloomed beside gushing streams on the fabulous magic green carpet of the earth that made space for everything, even the wildest and nameless little weed and its flower.
Bichor’s graveyard haunt boasted some of these, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the red poppies with their papery petals. When he limped towards their makeshift cricket pitch, the distant sight of poppies made him think of sprinkled drops of blood. He was beginning to get used to a life without his most cherished friends when something happened that shook him, and many others around, to their fragile core.
One April afternoon, the news from Kashmir became a louder ripple in the world at large. From the newspapers to the television channels, in the Valley and in India and in the rest of the world, were splashed the images of a Kashmiri man tied to the front of a jeep that led an Indian Army convoy. People pieced together the details over the coming days. There were by-elections in progress in a constituency where a paltry single-digit percentage of people who were eligible to vote had come out to cast their ballots. This was not unusual in itself since the arithmetic of Indian democracy could be a cruel joke in Kashmir. But something else transpired that day, which made it through the noise of world affairs and demonstrated to the world that there was an infinitely elastic range of things that could now be compatible with a place still being referred to as democratically governed. The Kashmiri people had known this all along, but now many Indians and others around the world were forced to take notice too.
When he saw the images and the video of the use of his fellow Kashmiri as a human shield, Imran wanted to go out and pelt every stone he could lay his hands on. Fayaz and Rehan were chillingly reminded of their childhood nightmares. Gul told his terrified family that this was nothing new. Like many other young boys, he himself had been used as a civilian human shield during the search operations years ago. Many men remembered how, back in the early years of the uprising, they were forced by the army to go into buildings that were to be checked for the presence of militants. Zeenat prayed, reaching the resolve that she would atone for her inability to fight the oppression by saving a life. Ifra composed letters to newspapers. Rehan wrote poetry in a drunken haze after his conversation with Saima about how miserable it was to be born a helpless Kashmiri. Saima went online to battle the xenophobic Indian trolls who could see nothing wrong with what had happened. Shireen realized that this was not an abstract tragedy for her either. This was the display of vile inhumanity that should offend a human being regardless of their identity. Men could be dolls too. She wondered how the soldiers could follow orders that made them do such things. Then, she realized that humanity lived in a world where the holocaust was not even a hundred years old.
Bichor lay on the floor at home, wishing Rafiq was around to blow up the tyrants. He stared at the backs of the dummies hanging in the window in front of him. Tied with plastic threads, the three silhouettes were suspended from the curtain rail above. Bichor’s mother was at the neighbour’s house and his father was sleeping nearby. He had heard that the clashes between the police and the protestors were spreading across the Valley. The images from the television reports played in slow motion inside his head.
A young civilian Kashmiri man goes out to vote, risking the disapproval of many around him who would die before confirming Indian rule in Kashmir through the visit to a polling booth. He casts his ballot and comes out. The soldiers of the Indian Army pick him up and truss him to a jeep. He is affixed to a spare tyre at the front. He wears a grey pheran over blue jeans, and his shoes are brown. Two lines of ropes are tied around his body to secure a white sheet of paper that warns other Kashmiri people not to protest. A triangular red flag flutters at the side of the vehicle. An Indian soldier stands imposingly behind the tied man, the upper half of his body visible through the sunroof. In a supposed spectacle of unabashed might, the soldier towers over a man who cannot move. Behind that jeep is a convoy of armoured and weaponized trucks. The Kashmiri man sits with his legs parted; he’s tied to the jeep at the very front and has the look of a stone on his face. The entire horrific procession passes the shuttered shops on muddy roads lined with long corrugated tin sheets on either side.
We wanted to defend our lives and pass safely through the troubled area, said the army major in charge. The man was fomenting trouble and directing stone-pelters, they added.
Bichor could not sleep that night. He was clear that it was better for Kashmiri men to die with honour than to be tied to the fronts of jeeps. Whatever difference did education make? Didn’t those Indian Army people go to schools and colleges? And had it taught them humanity?
‘Human shield,’ what a word in what a world!
How could human beings be treated like objects? He could not get this question out of his mind. How could it be possible not to see the difference between people and things? Even the most illiterate person could tell you what a thing was and how it was different from a person. Even a child could tell you that. What was it about a uniform that made people become unable to see something as obvious as that? When the powerful saw the powerless, maybe they saw them simply as human outlines – as dummies – to be used and discarded.
At the thought of dummies, his eyes automatically reverted to the figures hanging in the window. Dummies are shaped like humans to make other humans imagine themselves in their place when they look at the dummies. Dummies invite a gaze; they don’t return it. Dummies are … dummies are…
Like a shot, Bichor sat up. It was as if he had been struck by a thunderbolt. He knew exactly what he needed to do, and became impatient for the next morning to dawn so that he could start doing it. Now, he could not sleep for a very different reason; not because he was submerged in grief, but because he was possessed by an urge to exact his revenge.
The next morning, Bichor set about his task methodically. He got a paper and pencil, and made a list of all the things he would need. He asked Imran to come over at the first possible instance. When Imran came to their basement on the following evening, Bichor told him that he needed his friend’s help with two things. He had devised a plan to create a spectacle of revenge, but he was short of money and wanted to know when the next big function with politicians in attendance was going to be held in the city.
About the Book
The son of a former militant, Fayaz is an aimless bureaucrat whose marriage to his wife Zeenat has broken down.
His nephew Imran is a young student, a misfit in Srinagar, hoping to join a new kind of spectacular resistance.
Shireen, the granddaughter of a spy, discovers how her painful and divisive family story is deeply intertwined with the history of Kashmir.
The paths of these characters intersect and diverge in Nitasha Kaul’s tour de force novel Future Tense, which traces the competing trajectories of modernity and tradition, freedom and suffocation, and the possibility of bridging the stories of different kinds of Kashmiris.
About the Author
Future Tense - Harper Collins India
Official page for the novel from the publisher, Harper Collins India.
Nitasha Kaul Official Website
Author’s official website.
Future Tense on Amazon.in
Book on Amazon.in
Future Tense on Flipkart
Book on Flipkart
BBC World News: Interview on politics of access to the internet in Kashmir (25/1/20)
Nitasha Kaul’s novel follows the course of young lives caught up in Kashmir’s history and politics
An excerpt from ‘Future Tense: A Novel’ on Scroll.in
Dr. Nitasha Kaul Speaks In ‘Future Tense’ On Kashmir’s Resistance And Women’s Role In It
Interview with Tasneem Sariya
One Afternoon in Kashmir - Newsclick
Intersecting the paths of Fayaz, the son of a former militant, his nephew Imran, and Shireen, the granddaughter of a spy, Nitasha Kaul, in her novel Future Tense, traces the competing trajectories of modernity and tradition, freedom and suffocation, and the possibility of bridging the stories of different kinds of Kashmiris.
Written Testimony for Hearing on ‘Human Rights in South Asia: Views from the State Department and the Region, Panel II
Kaul, N. (2019) “Written Testimony for Hearing on ‘Human Rights in South Asia: Views from the State Department and the Region, Panel II’”, 116th Congress, US House of Representatives, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Washington D.C., 22 October.
'Future Tense' By Nitasha Kaul Perfectly Explains Human Cost Of Kashmir's Conflict
In the wake of the rising Kashmiri conflicts, Harper Collins India’s ‘Future Tense’ talks about a family’s problems being intertwined with the political issues of Kashmir.
Psycho-Narration in Nitasha Kaul's Future Tense
Patil, S. & Saha, S.(2020). Psycho-Narration in Nitasha Kaul’s Future Tense. Journal of Narrative and Language Studies, 8(14), 80-89.
The Stones of Kashmir: Two Poems — Nitasha Kaul
Kaul, N. (2020) “The Stones of Kashmir” and “Kashmir: A Country of Many Names and Numbers”, ADI Magazine, 30 July, Issue 4 (Summer Issue on Kashmir: Silence is not an option).
Professor Nitasha Kaul On India's Revocation of Articles 370 and 35A — Additional Media and Bibliography Included
Nitasha Kaul, Associate Professor in International Relations and Politics at University of Westminster, speaks in the global media about India’s revocation of Articles 370 and 35A. For the sake of knowledge-sharing, we have included additional media and a visual bibliography of some of her extensive writings on Kashmir that further contextualize the current situation. All content items are embedded directly from their original sources.
Book Launch of Future Tense: In Conversation with Author Nitasha Kaul
Book launch at University of Westminster. Nitasha Kaul in conversation with Victoria Schofield.
Narratives from Kashmir - The New Indian Express
According to the author, the characters in Future Tense have inherited the many tragedies and contradictions that belong to Kashmir.
Professor Nitasha Kaul (University of Westminster) Speaks About Kashmir on BBC Newsnight and Euronews
Professor and writer Nitasha Kaul who teaches International Relations at University of Westminster recently spoke on BBC Newsnight and Euronews about the situation in Kashmir. Some of her publications and relevant interjections in articles by the international media are displayed for further understanding of her work and writings, particularly those concerning Kashmir.