The Infidel Next Door | Book Review

Hatred is never born in a day. It lives for many years in the human heart before it develops a face.
-Rajat Mitra, The Infidel Next Door

Book : The Infidel Next Door
Author : Rajat Mitra
Genre : Fiction, Historical

About the Author

Rajat Mitra is a clinical psychologist who has worked with Islamic militants and radicalized youth on one hand and with survivors of religious violence on the other. The numerous narratives he heard over the years gave him psychological insights into two of the most disturbing issues of our times as to how do radicalized youth cope with religious indoctrination and how psychological trauma of survivors gets passed on as narratives to their next generation.

An avid reader of literature, he didn’t realize how and when these different feelings began to take shape and form characters in his mind who began to live and breathe through him telling him a story that he felt was the voice of a people that had become silent and gone unheard.

Rajat is currently working on a de-radicalization program for youth who were arrested for terrorism. He lives in New Delhi, India, with his wife and daughter. The Infidel Next Door is his first book.

About the Book

The Infidel Next Door is a novel that focuses on the lives of two young men, Aditya Narayan, a Hindu priest, and Anwar Siddiqui, the son of a Muslim imam. The book is set in the period before the seventh and last exodus of Hindus from Kashmir in 1989. The story opens up between the marriage of Krishna Narayan, a priest of Lord Shiva Temple in Kashi to Gayatri. As the book progresses, the readers get to know about the ancestral roots of Krishna Narayan in Kashmir, the black history due to which he was never liked by the fellow priests . After a few complications, they were blessed with a baby boy, Aditya Narayan; their Guru professed that he will do something remarkable in life. Considering this and for the bright future of Aditya, he was not allowed to play with other kids, or have a normal life like other kids, he was meant to be a scholar, a perfect child following the footsteps of his father and Guru, on becoming a priest. But unlike other Brahmins, Aditya is always away from the prejudice, he questioned the beliefs and practices laid down around. For this reason, the father and son, never comes to the same page, throughout the story.

Around the same time in Kashmir, Imam Siddique, was appointed as the imam of a Mosque which was built around the site related to a Hindu temple of historical importance. Imam Siddique was an educated Muslim, open minded and harsh towards the idea of idea of poisoning the heads of youth and turning them as a weapon to be used for “Azaadi”. The Imam’s son Anwar followed his father’s guidelines, but he was equally influenced by Haji Chacha, a staunch muslim, all the happenings around, the concept of Infidels, Azaadi, independence of Kashmir implanted in the head of youth.

In the due course, several important characters are introduced, Zeba; Anwar’s sister, who fell for Aditya. Nitai and Tara; two untouchables who happens to be helper in the temple, Javed, a Muslim who helped a Hindu priest in Kashmir and a few more ones. So this is basically the story of a determined Hindu priest and the son of Imam, how their paths crossed, how the events around shaped, how the hate flourished in the youth, how the heavenly state ‘died’ and how hatred turned to love. You will see how prominent members of both communities are loved and saved by the members of the other one.

My Review

The Infidel Next Door is a sweeping story about the clashes that takes places in the society in the name of religion, bigotry, radicalization, spirituality, corruption, cultural differences and caste system. The theme of the book is primarily the issue of Kashmir and the religious intolerance. But as we go through the book, it is literally much more, the caste system, the plight of untouchables, psychological condition of girl child abandoned after birth, inter-religion love relationships, challenges faced by children in following the path of religion and many more.

The story has a mix of history and religious values attached to it. Their are multiple sub-plots sprawling throughout the book, due to which it keeps up the pace. The author has maintained a commendable balance between the idea of story telling and the idea of highlighting social issues. There is literally no point, where it is felt that the equilibrium is lost which makes the story gripping, right from the beginning to the last page. The personal struggles of all the characters are dealt with in a sensitive and intimate way. There are incidents in the book, which are heartbreaking and depict the harsh reality of the society. The book even explains the historic events such as mass massacre by Aurangzeb or humiliation of Sikh Guru and killing of his sons.

The book is not a light read, and I guess it is not meant to be. The religious strife between Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir is not just an issue of past, it is heard and felt everyday in newspapers and social media. The story weaves multiple pictures, but the bigger picture is never lost. The issue of Kashmir and religious intolerance! The hatred lies deep in the history and memory of the people. There is a vicious circle of hatred and bigotry that may take centuries to break and for healing to take place. This book is a good step to depict that kindness is the answer. The ending of the book is hopeful.

It is one of the book, which stays with you forever. I personally wanted to read a book on Kashmiri pandits, and this is best option, to start with. A must read for everyone.

Favourite Part

There is an incident in book where Aditya says, “Memory is our only tool against the falsification of history.” This plays a major role in shaping our everyday thinking. The history and past events gives us account of actual happenings in past. With time, these events are twisted and people remember only those parts which suits their beliefs and assumptions. Turning an eye from everything else, doesn’t changes a fact, it remains there, all throughout. Only we are blurring our vision to see, what our belief directs us to see. This is the inherent truth in the issue of Kashmir.

My Rating: 4.5/5

You can purchase this book here.

Categories Book Review, Fiction, Historical

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