Book review

This book of gut-wrenching short stories is a testament to how military conflict has bled Kashmir

In 'The Night of Broken Glass', Kashmiri writer Feroz Rather tells us how the military conflict in Kashmir depletes everyone touched by it.

In June this year the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released an unprecedented report on the situation of human rights in Kashmir. Instead of paying heed to the grave concerns this international body raised, the government of India chose to “reject” its report. Calling it a “so-called report”, Tanmaya Lal, deputy permanent representative of India to UN, echoed the government view, saying that the report reflected the “clear bias of an official who was acting without any mandate whatsoever and relied on unverified sources of information”.

This was in stark contrast to how an overwhelming number of Kashmiris enthusiastically welcomed the report, many calling it long-awaited. Kashmiri newspapers and timelines were flooded with serious interest in its contents, and demanded that the Indian (and Pakistani) government not only acknowledge it but also implement its recommendations. It was as though the report stated what the Kashmiris already knew by experience, confirming what they had seen happening around them in the last several decades.

The Indian government deflected the unwelcome attention by calling the “sources of information” in the report “unverified”, Kashmiris have been providing this “verification” for decades now, in their newspapers, photographs, human right reports, testimonials, novels and poems. How much more verification do you need, they seem to ask. Feroz Rather’s book The Night of Broken Glass is only the latest among a series of remarkable and gut-wrenching literary testaments to how the conflict has bled Kashmir and morally bankrupted its aggressors.

A fusion of forms

For The Night of Broken Glass, Rather fuses two literary forms – the novel and the short story – to achieve a powerful effect. In these stories you encounter Kashmiri characters at different points in their lives (and deaths), each navigating the minefield of the military conflict that besieges the valley. Rather combines the capacity of shock implicit in the event-ordered genre of the short story with the meditative longue durée of the novel that is conducive to growth arcs and inner conflict. With this dual-pronged form, he sets up a puzzle of events and people, that crisscross the sharp interconnected stories. What is a premonition in one story reaches a brutal realisation in another. What is an eventuality in one finds a causal explanation in another.

In such a form, he makes the reader work with him, making them experience that which another Kashmiri writer Huzaifa Pandit has called Rather’s main contribution to the literature from the valley, the unsparing “vertigo [of the] occupation”. The narrative style does create a vertiginous effect on reading. The characters, and the conflict they move within, do not grow on you so much as they begin to spiral around you.

Feroz Rather
Feroz Rather

Generosity and empathy

For example, consider these three figures from Rather’s stories. First, a father who since “the war came to Srinagar eighteen years ago” would take “long walks through the city”, picking up “the shells from bullets from where the guns had been fired by the soldiers”. He would bring these shells home and hide them in a cache. On being asked by his wife why he did it, he said he didn’t want his son “to see the bullet shells when he goes out to play”.

Second, a grocer, who “one Bazar” found “his face pressed against the cemented wall of his shop...six soldiers encircled him. [He] was moving his head up and down.” What is he doing, the onlooker or the reader wonders. “He was licking the wall of his own shop, his tongue following the letters of graffiti: JKLF. The soldiers kicked [him] as he lapped at the letters...until [his tongue] began to bleed”. Third, and quite incredibly, the figure of the soldier himself. Cloaked in the “sinister darkness and boredom” of the sandbag bunker, this man who “could have been from anywhere: Jharkhand or Orissa or Mysore. Perhaps...miserably homesick”. Rather writes in an act of incredible generosity, extending psychological complexity to this soldier, something the Indian mainstream media rarely does, its jingoism notwithstanding:

The soldier – a shadow of the sovereign in a castle of bones – thrust the cold metal he clutched in his frost-bitten hands, beyond the wall, and into the heart of the city. The soldier, imprisoned within the choking walls, could get killed the moment he stepped out of the bunker. And the soldier had an unbounded freedom to kill on the slightest provocation. Safir could not imagine the moral landscape of such a soul – a scorching scrubland? a fatal forest? – which vacillated between the fear of getting exterminated and the terrible duty of exterminating.

In the reams and reams of Indian mainstream print that seeks to speak on behalf of this soldier, I have not encountered such an astute paragraph. One which hopes to map the inner landscape of this soldier, who even retired Indian military officers and cabinet ministers often observe in their interviews, is seen by most Kashmiris as the primary aggressor in the valley. What does it tell us that it is a Kashmiri writer who finally gives the gift of complexity to the Indian soldier? Rather’s craft is so attuned to observe both the events of brutal violence and the slew of micro-aggressions that proliferate in a military conflict, that he ends up extending this empathetic hand even to this figure of the putative aggressor. Implying that the military conflict undermines everyone involved, those who reel under it of course pay its biggest price, but also those who engage in it are left as harrowed, morally depleted beings, like one paranoid Major S in Rather’s book.

Rather belongs to a long and extraordinary literary lineage in Kashmir that has borne witness to the military conflict in the valley and laid bare its disastrous consequences. He joins novelists and poets Mirza Waheed, Nitasha Kaul, Agha Shahid Ali, Muzaffar Karim, Ather Zia, Malik Sajad, Siddhartha Gigoo, Mubashir Karim, among many, many others, who have made apparent the costs of living in or being exiled from the most militarised zone in the world. Anyone who’s still asking for more “verification” is in denial.

The Night Of Broken Glass, Feroz Rather, HarperCollins India.

Akhil Katyal’s second book of poems How Many Countries Does the Indus Cross is forthcoming with The Great Indian Poetry Collective later this year.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”


“Like what?”


A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”




“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:


This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.