Mahoor Zahid’s ‘Traumatic Zombies’ Notes Kashmir’s Disregarded Distress

Mahoor Zahoor. KO Photos by Special Arrangement.

With trauma rearing an ugly of suicides in Valley, a young Kashmiri woman’s treatise is detailing distress in a literal manner. Mahoor Zahid’s debut book is an attempt to make people aware of how bullying and the idea of fitting in can be toxic.

BARELY a month before mental trauma apparently touched threshold and rattled Kashmir in June 2021, an unassuming Kashmiri girl had literally detailed the messy mindscape of the valley. The written attempt was to explain the pressure of a clandestine life that youngsters are currently going through.

“People call them unlucky matadors,” Mahoor Zahid talks about Kashmiri youth, “but they always forget to understand that someone’s degrading mental health is also an outcome of the childhood trauma that he/she was never able to vent out, finally resulting into the augmenting suicide cases.”

Mahoor’s debut novel published in May 2021 is a story that talks about a paradigm shift in a family and an individual’s life without a character’s name but pain, desperation and hurt, all going in circles. The narration of the events that unfold is a journey of how trauma shapes a person who is more of a dead than alive—to which the author refers as a zombie, making the title much clearer: Traumatic Zombies.

Mahoor’s wit and ability to conceive nameless characters who feel “natural”—as she rather put it in the book’s original introduction—enable the novel to outpace the didactic intentions, to become something far more lifelike and original than a morality tale.

When the conflict is resolved, about halfway through, the reader enters a narrative full zone in which the author’s more qualities come to the fore. The unnamed characters become a mouthpiece through which Mahoor delivers life lessons.

Mahoor’s expertise in the field of mental health including anxiety and depression among the millennials amid the contemporary culture of Kashmir is undoubtedly scholarly. With a story to tell, she’s a writer of sublime eloquence.

During her long stay in the valley witnessing various kinds of traumatic issues that mainly juveniles had to undergo has also helped her to produce a reference material for the book.

But mainly, it’s her childhood experiences that set her apart from the rest of her tribe. In the name of ethics, she argues, some adults have been abusing youngsters—framing them as a “strategic point to vent out stress”.

However, fearing societal pressure, Mahoor had avoided writing about such topics for a long time but when the pandemic hit, she no longer could resist writing on the same.

But even before she would pen down details for her novel, she had written a torrent of essays mainly on mental health detailing every single issue that affects a child’s mind.

“As a writer, I’ve tried my best to analyse the disturbing journey that youngsters usually have to travel through because of a ghouslish childhood,” she says. “Such anxieties are, of course, one of the abiding preoccupations in their future. A form that first achieved cultural centrality by reflecting the ambitions of a deteriorating mental health, it has always kept one eye on the shadow side of worldly striving.”

A year ago, Mahoor had expressed these thoughts as a Kashmiri scholar in a roundtable discussion in Amity University. Sporting an unplanned meteoric ascent to fame, the impregnable speech, and an unpronounced plunge out of obscurity, she was highlighting every possible bully, harassment and traumatic abuse that “some adults” have inflicted upon youngsters over decades.

Her speech was steady if not an uninspired hand at the helm. Slowly, painstakingly, Mahoor had struck the poignant chord among the audience when she spoke of a reliable prose and constructed an appealing reality of “the elderly harassment that follows children forever”.

It was as if she was determined to alert her audience to the difference between the elderly affection and a well-worn sexual and physical harassment by adults—questioning everyone who drew the two together. Thus marking the route for her rise as a novelist on an imaginary map where every passing pavement looked forbidding.

“In an age of voice-driven fiction especially in Kashmir, novel of ideas has an unavoidably dusty ring,” Mahoor says. “It summons the drowsy cadence of the writer, the tedious rehearsal of concepts on loan from antiquated topics.”

And among these ideas, she says, mental health, harassment, bullying remain an obscure reality.

On May 9, 2021, Mahoor was shortlisted for the Tagore Commemorative prize in the field of literature. Some top names in Indian literature were judging the works of almost 150 participants from India, Sweden, Malaysia and US for a cash prize as an aid for the writer’s contribution towards literature.

Among the few hundred nominees, the work of a Kashmiri woman writer stood out. It was Mahoor’s debut novel Traumatic Zombies—the only first nominee novel from Kashmir.

One of the judges, Chandrani, made some quick but eloquent remarks about this debut novel: “This book is no one person’s story, it’s everyone’s story one way or the other. The commitment of writing this book without any publisher or an agent and with all the flak and troll lying by her side, the writer has still experimented with the creativity of the idea and maintained the sense of responsibility.”

The nomination had brought Mahoor smiles amid tears—expressing the narrator in her body that supplies the setting for the drama of Heaven.

“I could hear my heart throbbing in my ears,” Mahoor recalls. But more than the narration, it was her avowal to bring forth the tabooed topic that the society had always mis-talked about, inviting flak to her side.

A few days later, Traumatic Zombies was being reviewed by a few Indian critics. In every review the book would raise a serious question — until when will the adults enjoy an open impunity over children.

The human existence of children is being viciously troubled by the adult bully, she argues in the novel. But above all, the book raises some serious hopes of existence among readers who themselves suffered from a troubled childhood obscurely getting harassed and bullied for no mistake of theirs. They contended that Traumatic Zombies spoke for them.

But when Mahoor first discussed the impunity of adults—her literal idea—with her immediate family, she was scoffed at: “Better focus on Kashmir history, culture and art, rather than defaming people!”

Even though Mahoor’s idea of fiction was only to trace how terms of moral value evolve, the flak and hate had already embraced her side. She wanted to explore how good and evil, or pain and pleasure, get affixed to ordinary interactions—becoming a well-wisher or a harasser and loving someone as an adult or preying upon them as an adult.

Mahoor has been quite agile in demobilising such assertions. “One reason failure is such an irresistible subject is that it scares us,” Mahoor says. “In a society that worships success, few things are more disquieting than the prospect of a blighted career and all the attendant personal, social, and financial woes.”

If narratives of personal unravelling afford a person a frisson of danger—“hate, troll and flak are a part of everyone’s life”—they also reaffirm a person’s sense of relative achievement and security. “Assurances that the story was real can heighten the effect,” the novelist opines.

The stem in the flak maybe from the fact that as a Kashmiri women she speaks about the taboo topics in the valley, such as bully, sexual harassment by teachers, relatives and other adults towards children, mental health and much more. “If out of 100, only one person could relate his life story with my book, I’m ready to accept the hostility from the majority,” she says with a firm face.

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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