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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

In The Quest For FREEDOM

When one thinks of Kashmir, a few images come to mind, ranging from breath-taking snow-covered landscapes and Bollywood outdoor location to a land marred by terrorism. Avantika Sharma reviews Birds of the Snows, the English translation of Barf Aashna Parindey, giving us a multi-layered perspective through the journey of the protagonist, Sheba.

By Avantika Sharma

A tale of hope, sacrifices, responsibilities, love, and growing up; a tale of life, in short, Birds of the Snows, the English translation of the original Urdu novel Barf Aashna Parindey, weaves a beautiful yet gut-wrenching feeling in the hearts of readers.

The author, (L) Tarannum Riyaz pens down the life of Sheba – a selfless, compassionate girl who participates in the journey of life rather enthusiastically.

Cooped up in a warm abode surrounded by her Ammi, Abbu, and two elder sisters in beautiful Kashmir, the youngest daughter, Sheba, leads a life following her own instincts, as has been taught to her.

The story opens with Sheba in primary school, hungry for education and knowledge, unlike her elder sisters. Spending the afternoons with her asthmatic father, she always has it in her to dwell on her Abbu’s interests – love for poetry, classical music, the art of dignity, and the dream of becoming a doctor, following which she adopts not only his qualities but also leaves Kashmir to fulfill her father’s dream.

She is introduced as a sensitive and emotional girl, fond of nature and birds.

Throughout the story, Sheba desires to be a free bird herself, however, she stays within her limits upon realising the need to fulfill her liabilities.

In this coming-of-age novel, the author from the very beginning maintains decency that helps Birds of the Snows stand out.

The minute details make one want to visit the valley city. Riyaz has effortlessly spun a thread of deep-knitted thoughts and feelings of characters to make the reader understand and relate with each one. The description of life in Kashmir brings alive images of the calm of the city, the orchards, ice-cold streams, nature, and the delicacies, at large.

Somehow, one tends to live the novel.

Sheba leaves her comfort zone and goes on to lead an independent life, amid new people and environment. Even though she craves to breathe the fresh air of the valley and listen to the birds chirp, Sheba develops new bonds and even ends up turning into a motherly figure to her inspiring and dearest mentor, Dr Danish, who slips into paralysis.

Highlighting poignant matters of feminism, the importance of marriage, the right to education, societal pressures, jealousy, and even terrorism, Riyaz, through her writing, brings out the day-to-day life and ways that bound people.

The deep-rooted practice of domestic violence and male dominance is another aspect put forth through the sub-plot of Sheba’s sister’s sister-in-law, Nuzhat, who becomes a victim of an unhappy marriage and trauma, eventually leading to her death. Things take a turn for the worse when Nuzhat’s grief-stricken son runs from home and joins a terrorist outfit, never to be found again, which raises another big question in Kashmir’s as well as the nation’s development.

Even though the words leave the reader in a magical trance, some parts in the book are unnecessarily stretched – one will just want to rush through some pages and move ahead in Sheba’s story.

Another major element in the book revolves around humanity – this, in particular, grabs the attention of the reader toward humanism, woven throughout the journey of the protagonist.

After losing her father, a dissociated Sheba continues to pursue her studies whilst staying back alone to take care of her ailing teacher, despite her friends moving ahead in life, including the continuous pressure of marriage and concern from her married sisters and widowed mother.

Sheba, in her early twenties, experiences the feeling of love toward a married man, slowly but gradually moving on, only to be proposed to by him in her mid-thirties, at the end of the story. She, however, lets him go, instead pledging to heal her teacher, who eventually passes away. She indulges in another humanitarian act of moving back to Kashmir along with the professor’s helper, Saleem Miyaan.

Through raising insightful questions about societal norms, bitter difficulties of life, and freedom, Riyaz’s Birds of the Snows is a pleasant read. At one point in the story, the reader will relate to Sheba, in particular, the desire to feel free as a bird.

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