It is very well known that Kashmiri is not the only language that Kashmiri writers take recourse to while expressing their imagination. Kashmiris have and continue to produce literature in various languages including Sanskrit, Kashmiri, Persian, Urdu, Hindi and now English. This implies that the linguistic interchange which is a characteristic of Kashmiri culture has greatly benefited its literary traditions too. Kashmiri literary tradition has evolved over a long period of time with different linguistic and non-linguistic influences.
As history takes its course, typically mutating, each and every condition—cultural and material—gets appropriately altered. The eminent Marxist thinker Georg Lukács visualises the progress of humanity as a “constant historical process” in which a true literature and poetry is one which “comes into its own by virtue of artistically portraying the rising awareness of man’s location in time and [is] conditioned by social and economic development”. Thus history is seen as an ongoing cultural process characterised by a constant flux, and literature/poetry is a reservoir of nuanced reflections on these fluctuations.
Remaining oblivious to one’s real historical conditions and sojourns into escapist terrains has the potential to create self-indulgent quietism. In mainstream literary historiography, Kashmiri literature, for the most part, has not been able to cross this threshold, particularly considering the contentious circumstances of the last four centuries of its history. The concept of Kashmiriyat itself has undergone a great historical shift. Like other conceptions of identity, it is not static, as history has proved.
Chitralekha Zutshi writes in her book, Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity, and the Making of Kashmir, “To suggest that a Kashmiri identity, Kashmiriyat, defined as a harmonious blend of religious cultures, has somehow remained unchanged and an integral part of Kashmiri history over the centuries is a historical fallacy. Certainly, Kashmiri identities have followed a distinct trajectory depending on a host of factors, including state and economic structures, political culture, and the religious milieu at particular historical moments.”
Agha Shahid’s poem, “Farewell”, which he refers to as a “plaintive love letter from a Kashmiri Muslim to a Kashmiri Pandit”, poignantly, alludes to this tragic aspect of the rupture in the Kashmiri identity:
At a certain point I lost track of you.
You needed me. You needed to perfect me:
In your absence you polished me into the Enemy.
Your history gets in the way of my memory.
I am everything you lost. You can’t forgive me.
I am everything you lost. Your perfect enemy.
Your memory gets in the way of my memory…
Lalita Pandit, another Kashmiri-American academician and poet, reveals this aspect in her poem “Anantnag” in these lines:
What of that? Now you are
a stranger, an enemy.
Children stare with
suspicion. They have learnt
to hate; they are afraid.
Hollow eyed ghosts
walk the streets.
Due to the certain unique historical and existential contingencies, an artist does feel the need for greater commitment, engagement and sensitivity to the immediate reality and conditions. In the mainstream Kashmiri literary tradition, Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor, who wrote in more than one language, is noteworthy for giving a fresh impetus to Kashmiri poetry by his attempt to “free Kashmiri literature from heavy Persio-Arabic influence to take it out from literary stagnation.” It is debatable whether the revolutionary character of Mahjoor’s poetry has been critically explored enough or not. His famous poem “Call to the Gardener” (1938) in which he gives a graceful call to “create a new spring” has over the period of time achieved the standing of a celebrated revolutionary anthem:
Should you want to arouse this land of flowers,
Abandon your song and dance,
Shake the earth, unleash raging
Winds and thunderclaps
Give birth to great storm!
Revolutionary poetry like his heralded the beginning of progressive influences in Kashmiri literature. This coupled with the emergence of a new political awakening in the form of a plural nationalist movement against the oppressive Dogra regime in the Kashmir of the 1940s. Mahjoor outlines this pluralistic appeal in his poetry when he says:
Mosques, temples, churches, hospices, and holy places:
To enter these many houses I will build but one doorway.
Literary giants like Abdul Ahad Azad and Dina Nath Nadim followed Mahjoor in the progressive tradition. They played a significant role in synchronising the Kashmiri poetic tradition with contemporary times. The revolutionary zeal combined with excellent creative skills is a hallmark of their poetry which transformed the Kashmiri poetic tradition. Azad writes in his poem “The River”:
Life is nothing but the gospel
Of change and revolution.
I feel pleasure in confronting with
The hardships and difficulties of Life.
Continuing his zest for social emancipation and giving voice to the suffering sections, Azad writes in his poem “Peasant”:
Look to our innocent children and their plight
See to our bodies, they are feasts for the rich
You neither heard nor did you see
What you gained of your labour.
In a similar instance, Nadim’s “My Hope of Tomorrow” invokes revolutionary hope for an emancipated future:
I dream of tomorrow
When the world will be beautiful!
O how bright the day, how green the grass!
Flowers paradisal, earth aching with joy,
And dancing tountains of love in his breast!
The world will be beautitul!
A rare confluence of happy stars!
Wim my eyes sparkling wimout collyrium.
Rose-red nipples, breasts swelling with milk
The world will be beautiful!
In many ways, it provides a subtle reminder of Mahjoor’s “Call to Gardener”. Other notable poets and writers of 20th Century Kashmir, who wrote either in Kashmiri or Urdu or sometimes both, and were influenced by the progressive movement are: Rahman Rahi, Ghulam Nabi Khayal, Ghulam Nabi Firaq, Prem Nath Pardesi, NN Raina, Ghulam Rasool Renzu, GM Rajpuri, Ali Mohammad Lone, Abdul Sattar Ranjoor, Arjun Dev Majboor, Mahender Raina, Kanwal Nain Parwaz, Akhtar Mohiudin, Som Nath Zutshi, Qaisar Qalandhar, Bansi Nirdosh, Nand Lal Ambardar, Prem Nath Premi, Deepak Koul, Tej Bahadur Bhan and some others.
In the contemporary era, Rehman Rahi is arguably the greatest living Kashmiri poet who has created enormous poetic treasures like “Siyah Roode Jaren Manz” (In Black Showers) and other collections. He seems unmatched in his poetic greatness among today’s Kashmiri poets. Initially, Rahi was strongly influenced by the progressive movement and the revolutionary leanings. He commemorates the suffering of the peasants and workers by writing “Dried up the streams, they died by drowning”, yet his poetry transcends any narrow bracketing as it engages with the multitude of human reality where, at times, “Life is nothing but dark downpour.” More importantly, in his verses he poignantly captures the suffering of modern Kashmir which is now beset with conflict for the last three decades:
The melting of snow, a soft breeze, a garden in blossom
Be my witness,
O Spring, we, dumbstruck, too could sing …
We couldn’t even close our doors,
the dying voices never reached us
The researchers kept recording us as history...
After 1990, the conflict created an atmosphere of fear and siege as the gun of the warring factions took centre-stage. This aspect is poetically reflected upon by Rahi in the following lines:
Rahi, even the breeze spies on you
You can’t even greet someone here, and you speak of a dialogue
Pity the times, when you have to sew your tongue!
What to do when none has tolerance to hear!
The prominent Kashmiri fiction writer Akhtar Mohuiddin captures this tragic reality in his various short-stories like “Waenji Manzuk Puj” (The Butcher in the Bosom), “Aatank Vadi” (The Terrorist), “Nav Bemaary” (New Disease) and a few others. The “Butcher in the Bosom” is suggestive of the internal contradictions within the Kashmiri struggle and also the rise of the native counter-insurgents who targeted the local population and militant sympathisers. “The Terrorist” is about the new profiling of Kashmiris that the military apparatus was increasingly resorting to in Kashmir in the 1990s, as it sought to quell the armed uprising. “New Disease” describes the adverse psychological disorders Kashmiris faced or are facing because of the conflict. It reminds of Frantz Fanon’s well-known work on the psychological consequences of colonialism or militarisation, The Wretched of the Earth. It is noteworthy that Akhtar returned the Sahitya Academy Award to the government of India in protest against the atrocities in Kashmir.
After its initiation into the tragic phase of the 1990s with the beginning of the armed conflict, the contentious historical and political perceptions on the Kashmir conflict have evoked countless responses and explorations in both the literary and non-literary realms. The conflict and violence of recent times has evoked literary responses from Kashmiris in languages including Kashmiri, Urdu, English and Hindi. The promising young poet of the Kashmiri language, Nighat Sahiba, who has already won many laurels for her craft, recounts the tragic aspect of the enforced disappearances in Kashmir in the following verses:
Revealing their star-faces to us by the evenings—Where did they go?
Dazzling the hearts of this light-starved city—Where did they go?
Those snatched by the bullets are safe in their graves
Sleeping those were by their mother’s side—Where did they go?
Another contemporary poet of Kashmiri language Naji Munawar laments Kashmir’s political and cultural ruin after the conflict in his poem “Then and Now”:
Now will you put out the lamp, and sleep?
Why don’t you sleep? Why keep waking?…
You remember people used to keep
Their lights on for the whole night,
Why are you irked by this lamp?
Oh, then we were afraid of darkness
That it might devour us,
And now it is light
That really devours...
Contemporary Kashmir’s most prominent Urdu poet Hamidi Kashmiri also alludes to such description of siege in his poetry. In one of his ghazals “Hum…” (We…), he writes:
We desired to tell all of our tales
But for the silence by their chains
In one of his other ghazals “Barham bahut hai…” (At odds…), he symbolically writes of the repressive conditions which had engulfed Kashmir of 1990s:
Those old pirates have invaded us again
The quietness of our ocean is now at odds
In a similar instance, a young Urdu poet from Kashmir, Faheem Iqbal, reflects on the tragic conflict in Kashmir and the rest of the world’s indifference towards it in his ghazal, “Kashmir Jal Raha Hai” (Kashmir is burning):
We implore someone raise a voice to the heavens, Kashmir is burning
We implore someone send a plea to the deaf gods, Kashmir is burning.
Chandrakanta is a contemporary author from Kashmir who writes mainly in Hindi. Her novel, Ailan Gali Abhi Zinda Hai (Street in Srinagar) where the pre-conflict phase in Kashmir’s history, characterised by relative harmony and peace, and the post-1990 phase characterised by violence and a disintegrating social order, is portrayed through the metaphorical description of a congested street, right in the heart of Srinagar city.
The author is a blogger and writer based in Kashmir. The views are personal.