The Infidel Next Door – A book by Rajat Mitra

The Infidel Next Door is the story of Kashmir.

Kashmir has turned into a wound that has found no healing in three decades. On the contrary, the wounds have deepened. The events leading to the horror of January 20, 1990 cannot be understood without speaking of the bloody history of that beautiful, beleaguered land.

The story is told through five young protagonists – Aditya Narayan, Anwar, Zeba, Javed and Nitai. Perhaps these young people are protagonists because errors are as easily projected on youth as a change of heart. This fluidity is imbued with hope and courage. It rescues the story from being a helpless saga of pain.

Aditya Narayan is an extraordinary soul. He was groomed for the journey which lead to an ancient temple in Kashmir where his ancestors were priests. He is reluctant to go but his promise is the guru-dakshina his guru demands of him. He has no option but to keep his promise.

Unsure, he arrived at the abandoned temple. In the process of bringing the temple back to life, he managed to rekindle the suppressed aspirations of a community.  Over time, his quiet, unwavering courage awakened a deep affection in Anwar; his alter-ego, who had hated all that Aditya represented. The awakening of Anwar’s somnambulant soul happened quietly, almost as a by-product, the way a flower is pollinated though the bee’s purpose was only to collect nectar.

The book was upsetting to read. The grief it bespoke, the pain and sorrow it showed, were lacerating. It retrieved stories which have remained untold for decades. Meeting the pain of those stories took you by the throat and decimated you. It was chilling to see the casual ease with which an entire populace was first incited through false incidents, then indoctrinated and finally conditioned, one atrocity at a time.

Mass-conditioning is not a complicated process. A poison is introduced into a community, riding on a manufactured grievance with only a minor sliver of truth in it. The community digests the first grain of the poison and adapts to it. Gradually, the dosage is increased. By the time the community realizes what is happening, it is too late. It can no longer believe the steep depths to which it has plunged. If the community still possess the faculty of unbiased evaluation, this is the point at which it is horrified and repelled at the monster it has become.

This book takes the reader through the painful and twisted pathways of the conditioning that fractured the psyche of a people. As the horror unfolds, you cannot help getting caught in its web initially. But it soon spins out of control. You haven’t shaken off the initial support, yet what begins to happen is too unacceptable. You are torn between the contradictions. Each one of the protagonists are torn too, all for different reasons.

There were a few things that could be improved upon. A few times, the narrative became choppy and uneven. One gets the impression that the author wanted to get those parts done with because they were either upsetting him or demanded more effort than he wished to spare.

The manner in which Zeba reacts to the secret of her parentage could have been dealt with a little more elaborately. There was actually no point in suddenly introducing her biological father into her marriage ceremony and then making him disappear again. The introduction served no purpose in the story. In fact, it took away from the tension of the narrative that should have been maintained.

The story of Battmazar was also rushed through. It was stripped of details and gave the impression of a hurried throwing together of cold facts denuded of emotion. A perfunctory acknowledgement to the pain of that lore was inadequate.

The thing that I disagreed with the most, was the manner in which Aditya Narayan was eager to accommodate the Muslim community, whose sensibilities were outraged by the mere fact of the temple’s existence. It smacked too much of political correctness. To show that he was willing to replace the original, ancient temple bells because his neighbors found them too loud was too submissive by far!

If we accept that the followers of Islam find idolatry offensive, why was equal space not given to show that followers of Sanatan Dharma found their brutal prosecution -which included rape and murder- offensive?

The temple and mosque were adjacent with the priest and Imam both living on the premises. Surely there must have things the priest found difficult to accept? Such incidents are never mentioned in the book. That’s a glaring omission.

Anwar’s journey back to the truth of his heart and faith has been well documented. There are parts which are handled with immense sensitivity and depth. Aditya Narayan’s interaction with Professor Baig were a delight to witness. Nitai’s character is immensely endearing. You outrage on his behalf and feel contented when Aditya Narayan stands up for him and grants him permissions that have been withheld for ages.

The book ends with hope for a healing which is all that human-beings have in their hand to invest.

I wouldn’t have missed this book. It showed me much of what was a painful mystery to me.

My rating for the book: 4.4/5.0

By: ‘Dagny Sol‘ (Dagny is a passionate bibliophile. Her love for the written word is deep and enduring. She is a writer/ blogger and freelance editor. She edits fiction and non-fiction including novels, corporate communications and documents, as well as short stories, articles and blog posts. She has three almost adult children who try to keep her in line in matters of behavior and apparel. She can be contacted at:

Published: June 04, 2018

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