IDENTITY, IDENTIFICATION AND THE FUEL OF TIME’S FURNACEby HUMRA QURAISHI August 4 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 28 secs
Humra Quraishi writes, “It’s August and focus is on Kashmir. On 5 August 2019, the status of Jammu and Kashmir was altered by revoking Articles 370 and 35A”.
If one wants to understand the ground realities, it is best to read Anuradha Bhasin’s recently published book, A Dismantled State - The Untold Story of Kashmir After Article 370 (Harper Collins). Although the focus is on the happenings in the Valley after August 2019, there’s also adequate details of the build-up, the crucial background and grim facts.
There couldn’t be a more fearless journalist than Anuradha Bhasin to recount what’s happening in Kashmir. Anuradha, like her late father, the veteran journalist Ved Bhasin, is known for her honest, forthright reportage. She has detailed the varying aspects of the goings on in Kashmir. Perhaps, not a single part missed out - right from the fate of journalists, to the communication breakdown, to the restrictions on free movement, to the encounters, humiliations and abuse. Also, perhaps, the last nail in the coffin is the bypassing of the elected leaderships.
To quote from this book, “Once there were puppet governments and puppet politicians with their multiple limitations and their restricted area of mobility, with the actual reins of power in the hands of New Delhi. The manipulation of the political space by those at the highest echelons of power in New Delhi was no secret and had not spared even one of the greatest leaders Kashmir ever had – Sheikh Abdullah – who had to spend over eleven years in imprisonment. Power changed hands from the 1950s but was exercised through remote control even as one regime replaced another. Yet the local politicians had their own space and freedom to operate, barring some bold red lines that could not be crossed…That power completely sank when Parliament, dominated by the BJP, decided the political fate of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019.”
A strange level of sadness and pain overtakes as one visualizes the fate of this generation of the Kashmiris, and what lies ahead for them. There is also that lurking silence of the hapless inhabitants that stands out…eerie strains of silence that convey the fearful apprehensions, also fear of the aftermath, which could come in various forms.
The book goes on to say: “At present, Kashmir throbs with a silence that is pervasive. Those imprisoned within exist like living corpses even as they go about their daily lives, illustrating John Berger’s concept of ‘undefeated despair’, which he used to describe the survival skills of ordinary Palestinians. As they try to make sense of the new reality, Kashmiris continue to live as they have ever, celebrating marriages or births, cracking jokes, getting together, even as they try to resist through art, poetry, writing, congregating and even maintaining silence. Across J&K, seeds of consciousness, contemplation and introspection are germinating in the minds of the people, particularly the younger generation, and finding some escape in conversations of various hues. Silence is being broken by feeble murmurs of disappointment, despair, anger and dissent, much of which remain in the confines of private walls.”
The last paragraph of the Epilogue to this book, hits most: “Today, Kashmir finds itself not just sapped of hope but also stands at the cusp of doom. What filters in some optimism are the crucial lessons from history: that things never remain static forever and that global economic and political discourse, dictated by greater powers, has the potential to change the fate of a far-off, insignificant region, though often not without adverse implications.”
Anuradha doesn’t dwell on the vague haziness of it all, but gets to the exact detailing, in the last couple of lines of this epilogue, “But if and when the global and regional tectonic plates begin to shift, J&K’s foray into the zone of optimism will not only take time, but it will also come at a price. It will neither be easy, nor bloodless. At this point in time, what is known is that this godforsaken land is condemned to multiply its baggage of trauma and grief - with or without bloodshed.”
Today, in these dark times, as painful situations spread around, I take refuge in the verse of the poets. I’m reading this recently launched book, Hazaar Rang Shaairi. Published by Harper Collins, the verses have been selected and edited and translated by the New Delhi based well-known academic, Anisur Rahman.
Tucked in this book are 140 nazms, from the sixteenth century to the present times… Poets and their nazm, from the Deccan region to the Northern states and regions.
And if one were to ask what’s a nazm, Anisur Rahman explains: “Nazm is an Arabic word, which, as a noun, means arrangement, and as a verb, it implies an act of stringing together, maybe of beads or pearls. Nazm also means verse, or poetry, which interestingly enough, is born out of an act of stringing, not of beads or pearls but of words. Metaphorically speaking, words are the beads or pearls, which the poet strings together in the larger body of a poem, in the many ways and forms as desired.”
I’m reading the nazm of Vali Deccani, Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah, Mir Taqi Mir, Mohammad Iqbal, Kaifi Azmi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shahryar, Balraj Komal, Nida Fazli, Sarwat Hussain and many other poets. Here, I’m leaving you with this verse, of Nida Fazli, titled ‘Identification’, tucked in this volume: Identification (For Hajira Begum, whose four children were burnt alive by rioters in Jalgaon).
‘No, not he,/Not he,/Not even he -/I don’t know who they were –/All these are like me,/Little moons twinkle in their heartbeat,/All these are like me, the fuel of time’s furnace/Those who broke into my hut last night and burnt my children/Alive before me,/Were some others -/Those faces are no longer in my memory, Your Honour!/But if they were close by/I would know them by their smell –/They had come from a jungle/Where women don’t bear any children/Their laps don’t twinkle/With the smiles of infants.’