Book Title: For Now, It Is Night
Author: Hari Krishna Kaul
A profound sense of ambivalence, a mosaic of voices, convoluted emotions, and poignant dilemmas — Hari Krishna Kaul thus constructs compelling story arcs. A prominent Kashmiri writer, Kaul initially wrote in Hindi before beginning to pen in his native Kashmiri language. Known for his gripping stories and thought-provoking plays, Kaul’s literary contributions have garnered acclaim for their depth, sensitivity and fine portrayal of the region and its people.
‘For Now, It Is Night’ brings a comprehensive spread of Kaul’s stories to English readers for the first time. It is a translated selection that offers a rubric from his collection of stories written across different phases of ‘the past’ — 1972, 1985, 1996 and 2001. Interestingly, each phase presents varied and shifting social and political frames of Kashmir, depicting to the world typical scenes and scents of the Valley, much indigenous and yet not missing out on its universal appeal.
His keen attention to detail — whether in describing the intricacies of solemn rituals, the enigmatic landscape, or the nuances of the Kashmiri language and culture — lends an authentic and immersive quality to his narratives. Through Poshkuj, the elderly woman in ‘Sunshine’, Kaul presents a dysphoric mind, torn between the nostalgia for tradition and the struggle to deal with cosmopolitan reality. The narrative reflects upon the incapability to be completely cut off from one’s roots and adapt to the newer world: “In Kashmir I was ‘Kakin’, and now in Delhi I am ‘Mataji’? What nonsense!” She is rather lost and baffled at a complete departure from tradition and an unexpected corrosion of values in an urban setting.
Kaul’s stories are often distinctly featured by their exploration of complex human emotions. He delves into the depths of his characters’ psyches, exposing their vulnerabilities, desires and conflicts. The conversation between Nathji and Pyari in ‘The Lights on the Other Side’ is resonant of the inner turmoil of individuals, whether in love, loss or quandary. As Pyari puts it: “Having one’s throat slit is better than being abandoned.”
An amusing interaction among five young men coming from separate backgrounds in ‘The Mourners’, when attending the funeral of a Hindu woman, turns out to be an arresting juxtaposition of diverse elements of profane wit, ponderous sadness and profound deliberation. The discussion ranges from cricket to morality to literature to cultural commentary highlighting Kashmir’s identity on one hand, and exhibiting the understanding and sensitivity of the contemporary generation, which appears both insightful and cursory, on the other. The details of rituals narrated by Kaul symbolise not just their typicality but hint at a sense of inherent reverence that the author has been seeking to preserve.
His storytelling is often characterised by its multilayered narratives and non-linear plot structures, intertwining the past and the present, creating a tapestry of interconnected events and characters. This complexity adds to an intense reading experience, inviting engagement with the text at multiple levels.
Undoubtedly, Kaul’s stories are a testament to the power of literature to illuminate the subtleties of human experience, transcending regional and cultural boundaries, and provoking contemplation to find meaning in the entire scheme of seemingly random events, experiences, and actions. His extraordinary ability to capture the unique essence of Kashmiri culture and ethos, while addressing universal themes and emotions, establishes the superlative quality of his work.