Barff- Saurabh Shukla

Set amidst a scenic yet deserted village in the valleys of Kashmir, Barff is a story of one extraordinary night where a doctor, Dr. Kaul, is requested and fetched from the city to look into the health problems of Gulam Rasul’s son, Jigra. Gulam lives in this secluded village with his wife, Nafisa, and their only son. As it is difficult to get any amenities where they live, the Doctor was indeed a God-sent miracle.

Rasul from the very beginning is portrayed as a mysterious man. His words at times hold no meaning to an educated and practical country-doctor. But then will words like (translated to English) ‘no one else lives in the village’ or ‘ Nafisa and I light the lamps of all the houses of the village so that it seems it is inhabited’ make any sense to anybody? As the mystery builds up, the Doctor and Rasul make it to the latter’s house and meets his wife Nafisa and son- Jigra. What transpires next is impossible to comprehend or understand by practical minds.

Barff, originally written and performed as a play has been recently given the form of a book. This play by the renowned actor Saurabh Shukla is a cult thriller in the Hindi language. Thriller, it is believed is a very tricky genre. It takes a lot of hard-work in penning down a perfect thriller to appease the audience.  Furthermore, this is a genre definitely less explored in Hindi language or literature, especially in contemporary times. What is most interesting is that the author does not kill anyone to build up the atmosphere. Rather it has been very subtly done through the dialogues and conjuring up an apt atmosphere.

Rasul and his wife, Nafisa share a bickering yet loving bond as husband and wife. Rasul’s love for his wife is quite visible through his actions as often he ends up doing things which he knows at heart are wrong.  He gives Nafisa the independence to think and believe in what she wants to. The freedom of thought is indeed quite overpowering as one can feel as the story progresses.

Shukla touches on the themes of mental health and alternate reality through the play. The effect of mental health is portrayed not as much as on the person suffering through trauma but mostly on those surrounding them.  Post-reading the entire play what remains with me is the line (translated to English) – Reality is based on beliefs without which reality alone has no meaning. This definitely is food for thought. The idea of what is the reality in its truest sense has been beautifully explained in the story. Is reality always perceived literally in what is in front of a person; but then do people not have the right to choose what they want to literally see and therefore make their own world out of it? Further, he goes on to explore who decides the ultimate truth for a person – that individual or the onlookers; and if it is indeed the onlookers then who gives them the right to decide on someone else’s reality.

Barff connects with the readers on various intellectual levels. A simple mysterious atmosphere and a story of just one night elaborate some pertinent and yet unasked questions of life. What remains with the readers are not the characters, but the simplicity with which these complicated situations have been portrayed.  It also compels one to contemplate as to what is the way of life that one has been leading so far. In the literal sense, Barff translates to ice. Cold and freezing ice sets shivers up your spine once you touch it, just like the atmosphere of the story. Ice is used to heal hurt minds and bodies, just like the way the past of the characters soothe each other’s hurt minds. Moreover, when the ice melts it becomes water, a colorless and odorless shape-shifting liquid much like the way our thoughts never stay at one place and our ideas keep changing rapidly, molding itself with the situation in hand.

It is not every day that one reads a thriller, so aptly put, which explores the cultural milieu of Kashmir, gives food for thought, breaks the monotony with its perfect comic timing, and also highlights the effects of a war-torn state on its residents.  Although the book is in Hindi, it is worth a read. Shukla’s brilliance in the industry for decades has culminated into this wonderful script which definitely leaves a mark on the readers and compels them to visualize the world through renewed energy, understanding, and knowledge.

No. of Pages: 94

Publisher:  Rajkamal Prakashan

Available on: Flipkart/ Amazon

Rating: 4/5

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