Friday, 22 August 2014

Chronicles without Connecting Threads

The question of Kashmir conflict is largely a question of history, memory and desire. And the tragic part of the tale is that we don’t have scholarly texts that we can call comprehensive histories. Contours and interpretations of almost every important event shaping our recent history is disputed. Before turning to recent events we note certain points regarding our ancient and medieval past as these are to be considered while questioning Kashmir identity.
Our collective loss extends to medieval times as local Tantric cults made sophisticated philosophical and aesthetic systems of magisterial thinkers suspect. Ritualism and decadence into occultism and magic took a heavy toll of Kashmiri Saivia tradition. Buddhism had already been marginalized. Economically too Kashmir needed a boost. It is in this scenario where vacuum was created that providence sent Islam that appropriated the best of indigenous traditions and Kashmir moved forward on almost all fronts.
Rishi movement and Kashmiri mystic poetry provided fresh blood into Kashmiri culture. During Islamic period magnificent progress was made in arts and crafts and then on, Kashmir economy got a  more solid plank. Kashmiri scholars contributed not insignificantly to development of Persian literature. The fact that we produced likes of Yaqoob Sarfi and Ghani Kashmiri shows vibrancy of intellectual and spiritual tradition in post-Islamic period. Even Kashmir Saivism lived in different incarnations not only in Kashmiri Sufi poetry but mystic poetry that appropriated more explicitly Saivite influences.
The fact that Kashmir could produce Lakshman Joo shows how Saivitte tradition could survive in certain sense for centuries. All this shows how problematic is the assertion of radical break supposedly introduced by Islam, a myth perpetuated by many scholars who are little aware of as evidence of rich multi-ethnic multi-religious culture. Seeing relative neglect of philosophy in post-Islamic period as evidence of Islam’s hostility to indigenous tradition is simply blindness.
In the Islamic period intellectual heritage was developed in its own way and Sufi poets appropriated the best of local indigenous traditions. Dense works on Islamic intellectual-spiritual sciences were written and if we note that it is the same tradition that under grids the Saivite, Buddhist and Islamic metaphysics and esotericisms, the argument of any violence to local tradition and forced privileging of any other gets deconstructed because it fails to explain so much and excludes so much that we all see around us the tradition that grounds all religions and proposes certain communalist interpretations.
Any exclusivist interpretation that builds on husk or exoteric content of pre-Islamic and Islamic traditions must be corrected or we have a communalist vandalization project to contend with.
We may broadly divide approaches to Kashmir history into traditionalist religious and modernist rationalist. From Kalhana to Didmeri to Hassan Khuyhami, we have traditional religious – Hindu or Islamic – approach in which one can easily identify prejudices and sympathies of these chroniclers. After Hassan Khuyhami to the present day, we have historians which are modernist rationalist in sensibility though this is not so strong as to justify clubbing them with mainstream secular historians of India or the West.
Though the only great name in historians of medieval India belongs to Kashmir, today we have no less confusing or contradictory accounts than are found elsewhere. And it is unfortunate that our history begins and ends with the Kalhana to be revived rather late and never becoming quite professional and still largely immune or not responsive to major thought currents that have affected history writing elsewhere. So far no approach has been consistently or comprehensively used by historians in the specific case of Kashmir. We have primarily Brahmanical account bequeathed from Kalhana. Muslim scholars too have bequeathed us accounts that can’t be called comprehensive intellectual accounts. Narrating few reigns, lives of saints and related material without helping us to explain clearly the historical order, our current condition and failing to connect to pre-Islamic past is what describes these histories.
Various approaches have been used by isolated individuals – we can identify no schools as such – on certain selected issues in Kashmir history. Our indigenous histories are mostly chronicles without any connecting thread of definable perspective or standpoint of their authors though one can broadly identify some elements of underlying worldview of the author. A good number of works have lately been published that attempt to bridge a few of the gaps and what is needed is a megaproject on History of Kashmir that would take cognizance of these individual attempts and provide encyclopaedic account that would help us better define our past and present.
We have yet to write a comprehensive history of Kashmir’s religious, philosophical, aesthetic, literary thought. We suffer from basic absence of comprehensive review of historical material and therefore the problem of divergent interpretations is far from soluble. We have now some studies focusing on the questions of ethnicity, gender and identity. Most of the recent studies have focused on political dimension of its history. We have far too little material on ancient Kashmir or studies on it to warrant any general comment. Medieval period has been approached from mostly communalist perspectives.
Modern Kashmir is a contested category for political historians. Ambitious attempt of capturing the essence of thousands of years of history are being made. Writing our history is not unconnected with the question of sovereignty we today struggle to articulate.

Absurdities of our Academic System

Our examination system is simply an academic terrorism
People complain about disappearance of reading culture;  of disrespect for the Word. I think reasons are not difficult to seek. One important reason is irrational academic system. I asked a friend what book he recently read he said, do exams spare us the time for reading books? Unless we question and reform academic system, there will be no culture for books, for readings, for thinking.  
There are thousand and one absurdities in current academic arrangements in our State and the implication of them is a crippled academic system geared to promotion of mediocrity, wastage of human and other resources, stress on students and overall disaster in terms of development of State. Examination system is simply academic terrorism – a point I wish to target separately in future.  Admission and Recruitment systems are simply at cross purposes and result in such a colossal loss that I wonder why all this is not in news. How our minds and souls are destroyed, how new generation and brilliant students are pushed to depression if not to suicide is an untold story of Kashmiri’s enslavement and a massive academic corruption. Let me recount a few facts and ask why we don’t seek change.
Students are enrolled in such numbers in both professional and other academic courses that most of them must end up sitting idle, cursing their fate or the day they got selected. To illustrate let me cite the case of Veterinary sciences where around 100 students are admitted annually and now more than 800 are sitting idle despite many of them having invested 6-7 years for BVSc and MVSc courses. It was the sweet will of the then CM, Mufti Sahib, that number of seats was almost quadrupled in a single day. More than 30 students can’t be ideally taught in a class. And there is a discrepancy even in this distribution of seats. Jammu veterinary college is relatively less burdened. Kashmir is discriminated against as facilities for teaching so many students are not forthcoming. 
Aspiring students for some professional courses are in thousands while the seats are in dozens only. It means huge energy of thousands of students (from applying to preparing) goes waste. Sometimes a student has to appear for the same exams number of times and ironically the more attempts he makes, slimmer get the chances to qualify, as fresh students have better touch and more recent memory that gives them an edge. Why not replicate the pattern in some other States of India where students are entertained only batch wise or seniority wise. The fact that a student has invested 5 or 7 years in earning particular certificate means he need not be judged again. Were teachers, who have examined them, fools? In professional  courses scores if not hundreds of exams are to be cleared to complete the degree.
What need is there to force students to apply time and again for the same post? Why wouldn't  one-time process of submitting the form do? A nation that has time for filling so many forms is better  suited for digging  pits and filling them again. Why  require SKUAST to conduct special exam for agriculture and BVSc, and force students to apply again? 

There are many ways of looting aspiring candidates. Would the authorities, for God’ s sake, spare the way of collecting form fee? Whose fault is to overproduce eligible candidates, to disconnect education from jobs? Why follow disastrous laissez faire logic in a State governed by article 370? Why can’t one’s SMS be enough that mention’s Marks Percentage, DoB, Residence or any other important information?  No fees, no submission at particular place, no time wasted in downloading and filling long forms, no paper pollution in this digital age. If the State needs money from more than 90% of aspiring candidates who are not going to be selected anyway, let it try such measures as collect some prefixed niyaz from successful candidates to meet expenses for conducting exams etc.  Today PSC, SSRB etc. are realizing revenue through proxy. No need to call too many candidates and waste countless men-days that students spend in revising the content for entrances and interviews. No task is more soul killing than revising what has been revised many times previously. We can devise ways to shortlist (in the first place why can’t we not overproduce candidates so that no need to short-list and then further humiliate and waste resources by dropping majority in interviews. Most interviews are mechanical exercises that can judge nothing worthwhile in few minutes and only check memory of certain useful and useless items of information. More productive suggestion is requiring one day’s manual work for all aspiring candidates as application  fee  - this would be only a fraction of time misspent on preparing for exam/interview. Can one ask to get guarantee of job at the time of getting admission in professional course after its successful completion? If not, why not? How come we afford wasting resources for teaching or training students for years if no certainty of making use of the same for community?  Currently our academic/recruitment system is like a huge poultry farm that produces more than 90% of chicken not for market but for just fattening or feeding for dogs ; wasting feed, labour and other resources. 
We needlessly hype some small scandals in our system. The very system built on the pranks of universal literacy (Coomaraswamy  razes to ground the idea of requiring all to read and not get skilled in particular vacation or craft) examination system that primarily tests memory, curriculum not in mother tongue especially in earlier classes, producing students who are generally alienated from studies and hardly read a book later in life, a system where thousands apply for few posts time and again, where majority are not tailored for academic courses but forced to take up and then end up mostly just wasting precious years of life are elements of a mega-scandal that costs us souls and minds. 
Will authorities, including the Chief Minister, take note of such crass absurdities? Education sector suffered a death blow under Bakshi, and the decline continues. Reforms suggested by our educationists have not been carried out. Why, is not difficult to guess. We need radical reforms in examination system,  proper rationing in number of students that get admitted, correcting discrepancy between Jammu, and the Kashmir (I used to wonder why isn’t  our State called JK instead of J & K and then I see all kinds of discriminations and I understand why!); scrap the need to separately apply for admissions in SKUAST, not require applying for the same course again and again, give seniority its due and devise mechanisms to decrease wastage of human and State resources, seek a report on all round failure of current examination system to bring forth excellence and creativity or critical thinking etc.?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Revisiting Drabu-Bazaz debate

Apropos of Hasseb Drabu-Abir Bazaz debate on sovereignty, a few points need to be made in this regard. I first need to clarify why this debate is so important for all of us as Kashmiris. This is the debate about legitimacy of mainstream politics that takes more or less implicitly or explicitly re-integrationist view that states that our fate is sealed with India, that we must renounce the love for Houri called Freedom, that we own India and that alone will ensure our development.  However, more sophisticated versions would put it this way: given a globalized world and gradual irrelevance of concept of sovereignty in post-nation state discourse such notions as freedom that requires more defined notion of sovereignty need to be given up and we learn the language of merger or some kind of federalism. What is ordinarily presumed by disgruntled youth chanting slogans of azadi is idealistic or utopian notion of freedom or sovereignty that are now passee.
We also need to note that this debate is between an acknowledged professional economists and one of our best minds or intellectuals who is better informed about more philosophical issues at stake in the debate on sovereignty.   As the debate is on a philosophical conceptual issue, I think one needs the language of theory to clarify the issues. If Kashmir issue was expressible or solvable in purely economic terms though I personally grant that it is its subtext and of far more importance than has been recognized till now, Drabu would warrant our attention more than Abir. As Kashmir issue is also one of sentiments – there is a sentiment for Pakistan, a sentiment against India if not for Pakistan, a sentiment for freedom from historical occupation, a sentiment against dozens of betrayals and wrongs committed against Kashmiris from the alleged forging of questionable accession document, suppressing  pro-Pak faction of Kashmiri leadership, arresting Sheikh Abdullah, giving BakhshiGhulam Mohammad free hand for wholesale corruption and in fact using corruption as a strategy to occupy till date etc  –  all this means economism is no panacea to our ills.
And the question of Kashmiri aspirations, of political issue, of sovereignty is vital. Mainstream politics evades the question. Those who ask for freedom may be charged of selling dreams or idealism but those who want to speak on  behalf of Kashmiris, who have all the reasons in the world for feeling let down or betrayed or alienated, must recognize difficult questions need to be faced and answers are not simple.
Let us draw boundaries that seem to be blurred in technical abstractions of theory that Drabu brings forth. Drabu is an apologist for integrationist thesis (that Kashmir needs to be with India with all its soul, body and mind) that is official PDP (and NC) position despite what slogans of self-rule and autonomy would imply. Although original position of Sheikh Abdullah was some restricted sense of sovereignty for Kashmir, even he had to yield to the idea that involved its gradual liquidation.  Now follow a few questions that I think need to be taken into consideration while taking a particular position.
Kashmiris have made a fateful decision not to integrate with India, millennia before in cultural sphere at least.  Kashmiris have produced separate philosophical school whose uniqueness can’t be explained away or appropriated too easily in broader conceptual schemes of either orthodox Vedic or other heterodox systems of Indian philosophy. Kashmiris rewrote for themselves traditional canons as Ramayana and Gita. They have their uniquely stamped mythical genealogy, folk tales, cosmology, ontology, psychology and pneumatology.
Their elaborate rituals and festivals connected mostly with religious observances distinguish them from non-Kashmiri mainstream. They came up with a robust world and desire affirming worldview that challenges exploitative casteistic-Brahaminism and some of  its ritualistic scaffolding. In fact Kashmiris developed unique philosophical schools even in Buddhist period not to speak of Saivist period.
Of the cultural products like philosophical and religious aesthetic, we have been more autonomous than would ordinarily be imagined and have been better exporters than importers of a host of cultural products. Kashmiris have been distinguished in terms of nurturing history writing. For them temporality and thus history has been a vital question.  It would imply historical memory is not an irrelevant datum for them. What an irony that they alone should still be grappling with the questions of history and memory.
We need to consider an argument that has hardly been noted against integration that Sheikh Abdullah put forth through rejection of feudalism and historical and unique land reforms that alarmed both feudal and capitalist elements in India and probably questioned the idea of India that was getting consolidated despite socialistically oriented J L Nehru,which ultimately led to his arrest. Kashmir has given unique demonstration of communal harmony. Even Gandhi recognized this uniqueness.
Anderson’s idea of imagined communities may here be invoked to press the point that as Kashmiris we don’t oppose India as such but the corrupt idea of nation state that forcefully hooks people in service of imaginary boundaries that only facilitate particular class interests. Kashmiris don’t want another nation state. They only want right to self-determine their future. I would vote for a Kashmir that stands as moral-spiritual space, a laboratory of inter religious and cross cultural dialogue, an idea that takes Sacred seriously in a secularized world.
A related argument against integrationist thesis is Kashmiri aesthetics that operates on principles that are perceived as rather dangerous by non-Kashmiri India philosophical  systems. Abhinavgupta and Kashmir Saivism have been marginalized in Indian philosophy departments despite the fact that India has no figure comparable to Abhinavagupta to project as its key aesthetician.
There are many more arguments against integrationist apology, would follow in future columns and suffice to conclude here on the note that one can invent arguments for anything, even the worst tyranny or absurdity but the arguments that convince, that can bring catharsis, that can heal evergreen wounds, that can erase memories of humiliation, pain and death are not there. Truth and Justice  can heal. Can we tell the truth about ourselves? Who can answer the question: Where is Justice for Kashmiris, for the wounded lion, for martyrs, for orphans, for countless other victims of post-1947 games of occupation?

Reading Stories of Dante and Ibn Arabi

All things are to be loved in God, not outside God.
The sweetest four lettered word, the holiest of mysteries, the meaning of life, the cause of creation, the essence of religion and mysticism, the object of poetry - LOVE; it is all that ultimately counts, that all seek, that sanctifies everything, that dissolves all questions and that drives our every movement.  Even acts of cruelty are ultimately reactions to denial of love. We demand nothing except love from our fellow humans. The quests for fame, for power, for money, for status are really roundabout quests for love or parasitic on love quest and are important only for those who don’t allow themselves to be consumed by love. Problems with spouses, hash or nosh or divorce can be mostly traced to failure to read the language of love. Teach love and you don’t need to teach anything else. Islam has been described as “the religion of Love’, for the last Prophet(SAW) appropriated the station of perfect Love beyond any other Prophet, since God took him as His beloved.” One definition of kafir may be thus formulated: one who is not open to love as hiding truth is denying love. Hell is a place where there is no love. How open we are to love shows how much is our proximity to God.

Some books are too important for our choice to read or not to read them. One such book is the Book of Love. This book recommends us; we can’t recommend it. Perhaps all other books are variations of this book. The best story in the Quran – the story of Joseph as read by poets and Sufis – has this theme. The Bible has great songs Psalms that hover around this theme. All Sufi poetry is a stanza in the Book of Love. Today I recount two great love stories of Dante and Ibn Arabi. Dante’s story as told by a Dante scholar is reproduced below.
Dante came to see that all his early poetic activity had been directed towards one end: the mastery of a medium through which he could convey the nature of his love for a young woman, few months younger than himself, whose beauty and transparent goodness seemed nothing less than miraculous… Dante’s feelings grew from love-longing to love-service to love-worship. She was ‘ wonderful, without precedent and without peer” and seemed to have come down from heaven to make the miraculous known. He felt he entered new life. But she died when Dante was just 25. And this death was the fortunate misfortune that inspired Comedy. Shocked, grieved, he made afresh start and found “new serenity founded on a deeper understanding and a deeper love”. Within a year he could speak of her death as an assumption into heaven; and with new insight he would see it as the necessary climax of her life. In heaven her beauty was greater and her beautifying influence increased. He attempted now to make himself worthy of the role of poet of Beatrice in glory and hoped to write in her praise what has never been said of women before.
But his trajectory for this proved very different. In order to overcome his enduring grief he turned to two well known books of consolation” the dialogue On Friendship by Cicero and more importantly Consolations of Philosophy. Looking for silver, as he himself put it, he found gold. Looking for comfort and a “a remedy for his tears” he found philosophy and his intellect. The key theme of both Boethius and Dante is “ mankind would be happy if only men’s minds were governed by the love that governs the heavens” He converted to philosopher – love of wisdom ‘ whose goal is that perfect loving which admits no interruption for shortcoming, in a word, true happiness won through contemplation of truth. Dante asked himself two most pressing questions: ’What shall I do for the best” and “What shall I do to find happiness” and found perfect answers in Aristotle’s Nichomean Ethics as expounded by Aquinas. Right choices are not simply a matter of opinion, and happiness not simply a matter of good luck. For him “morality was the beauty of philosophy and placed ethics above metaphysics and second only to the study of God and the revealed word of God.”
Ibn Arabi fell in love with Nizam In Mecca and transformed her into a sort of Beatrice. He says that he had never “seen a woman more beautiful of face, softer of speech, more tender of heart” and thus describes the encounter with her: “a lissome young girl who captivated the gaze of all those who saw her, whose mere presence was the ornament of our gatherings and startled all those who contemplated it to the point of stupefaction. Her name was Nizam (Harmonia) and her surname "Eye of the Sun and of Beauty." Learned and pious, with an experience of spiritual and mystic life, she personified the venerable antiquity of the entire Holy Land and the candid youth of the great city faithful to the Prophet. Her glance, the grace of her conversation were such an enchantment... If not for the paltry souls who are over ready for scandal and predisposed to malice, I should comment here on the beauties of her body as well as her soul, which was a garden of generosity... And I took her as a model for the inspiration of the poems.” These poems constitute famous Tarjumanul Ashwaaq (Interpreter of Desires). Its publication caused a reaction from literalists and he had to respond by a commentary explaining its symbolism. But let us note in both the cases – of Dante of Ibn Arabi – inspiration is earthly. It is women that provide the passport to Heaven.
There is no such thing as mere women of flesh and blood. God made (wo)man is his own image. Women points beyond herself to heavenly archetype. She is a sign of God. To those who ask how does it feel to experience God one may reply “something like when one is in love. “Love and charity” is the essence of whole scripture as Augustine said. Humility, the key virtue that takes us to heaven is “concealed form of love.” But let us not confuse lust and love, falling in love and rising through love. All things are to be loved in God, not outside God. And then everything is indeed fair in love.

Metaphysics in Kalimah Shahadah

There are thousand and one proofs of God though for a sage a single flower is enough to prove God as Schuon has noted. The Quran says that no doubt can be possibly entertained regarding God. The Bible tells us only the fool has said in his heart that there is no God. Now if this is the case how come many great modern scientists and thinkers are said to be atheists? Either they are not atheists or they are not fools. To see how, I think that right understanding of the definitions is enough explain things. Let us understand meaning of beauty and such statements as “God is Beautiful” or God is Beauty or Beauty is God.
Plato says that God catches most people through the net of beauty. We need no sermons to tell us to love beauty. We are irresistibly drawn to it. One of the names of God is the Irresistible. So who is attracting us really? Keats or Rusul Mir or Akhtar Shirani can be read as invitation to God-the Irresistible in beautiful forms. The universal liking and adoration for women’s face – this mode of worship has no disbelievers, there is no kafir of their beauty and thus God the Beautiful – is best understood if we read with Plato or Ibn Arabi the meaning of divine name Jameel. I start by reference to the beautiful book God’s Art by Greg Smith in which he meditates on our aesthetic notions to state the case  for a royal road to God is freely available to anyone who cares to see. I quote from the jacket of the book:
“In the entire universe, there seems to be one constant that most everyone shares: the notion of beauty. This fact is not scientific, it is not logical, and the value of this knowledge is hard to assess. But the certainty is absolute as every one of us looks into a meadow of weaving flowers, gazes at the surf and the sea, or looks deep into the night sky at the stars and beyond… Why is not the universe grey instead of such a rich incredible range of colours? Why is there so much variety in all things from flowers to  sun flakes to galaxies? Why are we blessed with an appreciation for all this wonder if it does not contribute to our survival?”
This beauty that saves, that dissolves all scepticism and claims of indifference and absurdity, is everywhere for the seeing eye, even in the terrible aspects of phenomena. As Smith notes: “Clouds, storms, the brazen sun, all of these are part of a holy canvas – always. Their meaning is taken by every soul who witnesses them, and asks not what or how, but is deeply satisfied with the knowledge of why.”
Let us read Schuon, arguably the greatest of modern metaphysicians and Sufi, on the question who says in To Have a Centre, arguably the best book against so-called atheism:
In fact, when God is removed from the universe, it becomes a desert of rocks or ice; it is deprived of life and warmth, and every man who still has  a  sense  of  the  integrally real refuses  to admit  that  this  should be reality; for if reality were made of rocks, there would be no place in it for flowers or any beauty or sweetness whatsoever.
There is a controversy on relation between ishq-i- haqiqi and ishqi majazi. The Prophet’s (SAW) saying that women and perfume (besides prayer) have been made dear to him provides the clue. The great appeal of Romantic poets for all and sundry implies some universal or eternal or sacred element in it that we need to better appreciate. Reading Plato or his modern advocates like Coomaraswamy and Schuon helps to dissolve the controversy. To quote Schuon:
"A love of beauty does not signify attachment to appearances, but an understanding of appearances with reference to their essence and consequently a communication with their quality of truth and love. Fully to understand beauty, and it is to this that beauty invites us, is to pass beyond the appearance and to follow the internal vibration back to its roots; majaz and real."
The following Schuon passages constitute a definitive statement regarding what we may call aesthetic proof of God.
The perception of beauty, which is a rigorous adequation and not subjective illusion, implies essentially a satisfaction of the intelligence on the one hand, and on the other a feeling at once of security, infinity and love. Of security: because beauty is unitive and excludes, with a kind of musical evidence, the fissures of doubt and anxiety; of infinity: because beauty, through its very musicality, melts hardenings and limitations and thus frees the soul of its narrownesses; of love: because beauty calls forth love, that is to say it invites to union and thus to unitive extinction.
 Let me ask: Is not a modern atheistic scientist or thinker like Hawking moved by beauty? This movement of soul, this wonder, this joy, this serenity, this is the mode of worship of God’s name-the Beautiful? So who is an atheist? Isn’t beauty “the splendour of the True” as Plato said? Can anyone deny the beauty of mathematics or logic at intellectual plane? Can anyone imagine any argument against inward beauty – the beauty of soul – we call goodness or virtue? To be man is to love beauty, perfection, harmony, elegance. And that is, in its deeper sense, to worship God. To rightly see things is to see God. To be truly attentive to things or events is to contemplate God. Praising beauty is what is the deepest meaning of durood  or prayer on prophet. If this is so, who can dare to deny the Messenger who unveiled beauty?

Sunday, 3 August 2014

A Nation with no Narrative

Do we have local text books written by indigenous experts in local idiom while keeping in view local requirements and demands? Generally speaking, no. The local think tank, not just some teachers or professors, should  sit together and  survey other texts and copy paste or appropriate portion from them and come up with a new but localized text. It needs deep and critical engagement with the whole worldview that informs these texts and an informed response based on our understanding of tradition or heritage that we attempt to safeguard. In order to illustrate, I today focus on history text books.
Firstly, we have imported paradigms of historiography that starts from an evolutionist account that drops out transcendence and relies exclusively on modern scientific narrative. Secondly, we don’t have good local history of Kashmir, especially modern Kashmir. Thirdly, we don’t have tools to appropriate references to hagiography that appear incredible in light of modern rationalist viewpoint. Fourthly, we don’t have critical understanding based on our own assimilation of the tradition centred on Metaphysics to take on modernity on our own terms. Fifthly, we largely ignore alternative approaches that have surfaced up in the wake of post-modernity that are better integrated with our traditional or received understanding. Ask Kashmiri students – graduates and we will be disappointed by knowing their abysmal ignorance regarding ancient, medieval and modern histories of Kashmir. They know next to nothing about Buddhist school that developed here, masterly works of Abhinavgupta, mysticism of Lalla, metaphysics and aesthetics of Kashmir Saivism, subtlety of symbolism of Kashmiri Sufi poets, meaning of Aknandun or even names of scores of folk tales, politics of National Conference nomenclature vis-à-vis Muslim Conference, Mirwaiz-Sheikh Abdullah rift, changes in cultural geography in recent history, questions regarding accession document and almost every important  event in our history. This implies that our quest for freedom and identity gets problematized until we take care. A few more points detailed below further clarify my point.
We often give an impression in our text books as if there is an agreed upon understanding of important events and processes and ask students to remember them rather than encourage to doubt and revisit the given narratives. There are many histories, all conflicting with one another. There could be many approaches to history. Communal, nationalistic, mystical or transcendentalist, Marxist, historicist, new historicist and so on. All the modern approaches that have been used to approach Euro-American orAsian history have been transposed to Indian/Kashmiri history. We have a plethora of viewpoints on significance of almost all important points and we have yet to agree on even such basic issues as who were Aryans, antiquity of Vedas, prevalence of heterodox philosophical systems, historicity of characters in Epics etc. The traditional is no longer the case. The History of India is exploded as a myth replaced by histories. Brahmins, Dalits, Buddhists, Secularists have their own narratives and certain radical historians question all of them. We have largely erased histories of devadasis, sudras, adivasis etc. Orthodox positions have been jolted and now we have fragments. Brahmins had not cared to focus on histories but today books such as Hindus expose some unsightly aspects. Meanings and messages are no longer simplistically read. There are no great men or heroes in the chronicle of class wars for some. Taking post-independence history as our point of reference things is no less obscure. We have fragmentary and contradictory narratives. Who was responsible for partition? Was it a dagger of colonialism? Have we lost much that we identified as most importantly ours for so long? Has globalization erased our distinct history or we have betrayed glorious heritage? The tussles between nationalists and communalists and between many other groups such as subalteran, Marxist, environmentalist, saffronizers and Islamizers are continuing.
Villians and heroes often change clothes. Our historians and text book writers have to consider possibility of dialogue between the account bequeathed by tradition and mostly memorized in folk memory and dissenting perspectives that are continuously multiplying and both illuminating and obscuring our view of our former selves or history. It may well bethat history belongs to those who can write it. On how little can we agree besides dates of birth or death of kings/empires is amazing.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Bereft of Rationality?

How do we approach our important issues? Either emotionally or with certain prejudices. We hardly address the problems with calm, rationality, philosophically, scientifically. Why? Part of the reason is, we are not taught to think. Our school curriculum doesn’t include philosophy. Our madrassas are not giving enough attention to logic and its applications though there is a rich tradition of teaching logic in these institutions. How irrational is our approach can be seen by analyzing street or facebook gossip. How many varying opinions we have regarding almost all important issues which call for serious understanding rather just an illogical opinion. We have many conflicting narratives regarding role of Sheikh Abdullah in our history or hartal politics or poll participation or role of Pirs and Shrines or use of loudspeakers in Mosques other than Azaan .  Sectarianism in religion is an offshoot of this problem of failure to think rationally. As a community we are guilty of confusion between opinion and truth. We know Socrates fought against Sophists who could defend or reject any opinion they were interested in thinking there is no objective truth on which there can be a consensus.
We illustrate the mess by noting heated debates over use of loudspeakers. A philosophical attitude would have settled the issue. Let us ask the following questions? Does Islam call for or require using loudspeakers as is the practice today? Does Islam allow disturbing the sick or children or students? Does Islam enjoin or reject show off of piety? Does Islam allow unrestricted or unnecessary use of energy or electricity? If the answer to all these questions   is a firm no, how come we are still debating the issue? In fact does it need anything but common sense to give a sound verdict in these cases?
Leaving aside the question of juristic permission for or against anything, let us consider the point that we are living in a global world and are required to address and deal with other religious communities and be torchbearers of the Truth. It means we must learn to use currently acceptable idiom or language and thus fulfill the Quranic dictum that calls for using Mouizatun Hassana and Hikmah while addressing and dealing with the Other. We can refute other’s positions in cool objective rational manner. Otherwise we will be called intolerant.  Ghazzali used philosophical idiom or arguments to critique Greek philosophy. Ibn Taymiyyah too did the same ( used logical argument and not just fatwa) to refute Aristotelian logic. As Muslims we need to study philosophy because we are rational creatures, because the Quran links our salvation to right use of intelligence, because we have a great legacy of philosophers in our history, because we want to speak to modern educated minds that are influenced by philosophical orientation or questions, because we have to live today in the world that is shaped by philosophy and science, because the Prophet of Islam(SAW) as a teacher of Hikmah called for learning or gaining knowledge and called for love of wisdom, for perfection of virtues, for preparation for death.What else can be termed philosophy in the traditional sense apart from these things.
Today Dawah work needs philosophical approach, at least in certain parts of the world or certain sections of addressees. If one doubts this it means one is living in medieval age and has not heard of Nietzsche or Heidegger or Freud or Derrida.
If philosophy or love of wisdom or preparation for death or perfection of virtues are important for salvation (these are synonymous for traditionalist historians of philosophy and for those who have cared to read ancient philosophers of any tradition with any seriousness), then how come one can deny it as part of Islam? If Islam endorses Hikmah and even if we grant it a moral-spiritual aspect only but not the intellectual one as usually understood in terms of philosophy, one opens the room for philosophy.
In sum, there is no escape from the need to learn philosophical method as a community and as specialists of Dawah, as preachers, as imams. The question is who bothers to make an effort to learn and disseminate rational philosophical attitude today?

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Ayaz Nazki and his Postmodern Poetry

Dealing with the phenomenon of modernity has been a tricky affair and poses a grave question to all the traditional cultures. In fact current crisis in the Muslim world is primarily attributable to problematic response to this question.
Modernity means many things with divergent constructions of it. However what suffices here to note is that it is rejection of fundamentalist ideologies of all sorts. This is especially true about its new incarnation- the postmodernity. It is synonymous with relentless questioning. The great implication of Enlightenment Project for the Western world has been keeping the critical spirit alive and subjecting everything to rational inquiry.
Modern man asks questions. Nothing can silence him. He can’t relinquish his hard won freedom to question. However certain contradictions in the modernity project led to current age of postmodernity that is characterized by loss of faith in big claims made by previous ideologues of science and exoteric religion or social and political ideologies like Marxism. It preserves right to doubt, to say, with Beckett, perhaps or on the contrary when any opinion is imposed on it. None can claim to represent God or speak with arrogance on questions divine in the postmodern world. Postmodern world is more humble, more open to other marginilized voices. It has no heroes but exposes violence in often advocated moral ideals, especially when they become absolutist or dogmatic. The postmodern world is not rationalist in the way prophets of modernity advocated. Modernity embarked on ruthless critique of tradition but postmodernity is allowing the marginilized traditional voice of faith, of alternative sciences, of tribal worldview, of archaic wisdom, to express itself.
Kashmiri culture is fortunately better positioned to face the question of modernity and appropriate the postmodern mood because it was never fundamentalist. Inheriting Persian mystic sensibility and rich diversity of Buddhist-Saivist-Islamic heritage and more aesthetically than cognitively oriented, ours has been a more nuanced, more open, more tolerant culture. As a Hafiz or a Khayam or an Ibn Arabi would appropriate the cultural or religious other based on more fluid mystic sensibility, a Kashmiri philosopher or mystic who shares the mystic’s language of the Self too would be comfortable with the divergent voices asking to be heard in a world where justice is never done or truth has no copyrighted formulation. Although our Sufi poets provide us with basic armoury for engaging with certain challenges in the postmodern world, we need a more nuanced modern or postmodern appropriations of the mystical as we see in such poets and critics as Rehman Rahi. We have amongst more recent  generation of poets some noteworthy figures who can help us to articulate our predicament and move forward. One such remarkable figure is Prof. Ayaz Nazki.
Many Kashmiri poets have only heard of postmodernity. Few know it inside out. And fewer have responded to it or appropriated it in poetry attempting to marry the tradition they have inherited with new mood and have done this without much formal readings of it. Nazki belongs to the last group. We have few poets who are also well read and equally capable researchers and could write columns, novels, travelogues and cultural history. We have very few poets who write equally well in both Kashmiri and Urdu. Nazki is amongst these few.
Ayaz has been able to carve his own distinctive niche  (“Ayaz qadri khud bishinaas”) that may be called postmodern and traditional at the same time without being fully identifiable with either. His Urdu poetry has been favourably reviewed but I think his Kashmiri poetry is no less interesting. I offer some general comments on his work.
Ayaz is an author of an unpublished novel that deserved to be published long back as it is the first of its kind successfully deploying the technique of magic realism that made Marquis so charming and world famous and that was later appropriated by postmodernists dares to use history as metaphor or recreates a history of Kashmir as none has attempted to recreate in a symbolic space. What makes him stand out is iconic postmodern style.  Shaam sae pahalae is a postmodern image that forms the title of his Urdu collection. His columns are most characteristically sceptical analyses of current discourses. He deploys wit and humour to question what is sold in the marketplace.
Here is a sample of postmodern Kashmiri poetry.
Wuddi chus zalaan chain navaey, mushkin adfar dourer choan
Naer wahraavith praran oas, kemres ander dourer choan
Soantes herdes kun anhaar, preth kaenh menzer dourer choan
Ayaz, as a postmodern poet, has been living and negotiating conflicting identities and spaces. Quite conscious of his own failings, he is convinced that none is a moral-intellectual hero around to deserve the fate of Socrates. Yaeti ti kus oas thakidar pazruk, gov apuz az ti kamyab, mae kya (Who is the guardian of truth here? Truth has been defeated again, what can I do?)  He is quite conscious of the trap of illusions like those of self, intellectuality. Ayaz saebin laash laibikh, paiy cha si kem ek daer moar. (Ayaz’s corpse has been found, who knows which sect killed him?) Longing for the ideals of Sufism and even didactically batting for them he finds this path difficult in practice.
Lucid, delightful, witty, self-reflexive, dexterous about form, Ayaz gives voice to paradoxes and contradiction that living in Kashmir and being a poet of far off things embody. Ayaz gives voice to this age that has practically though not theoretically lost convictions – moral, intellectual and political. Chelha wudwun janawaar, chelha chus ma chelnes waar, baend gov reth tae tham-i-hawa, shah khaarun gae kreeth katha. I wonder, how he manages to be successful in the world where “worldly wisdom” is required.
Ayaz’s idea of Self is both postmodern and mystical: Brem mensaewith, ham phutravith, aabes wouth, naeb nishaani yi naav chae yeeraan, allah hu.( Transcending ego, erasing all signs of identity, the boat of the self is drowning, That alone is true, Allah hu).
He  has some beautiful Sufi poems. He is not known to be a Sufi poet though but does share Sufi sensibility. Asi wuch kem kem sir asrar. (What secrets have been vouchsafed to us). Again, he has a postmodern caveat: he acknowledges it is a dream experience only.
The fact that Ayaz succeeds best as a poet of ghazals perhaps again illustrates both his eastern sensibility and postmodern orientation that assimilate polar extremes of experience, all kinds of little stories, questions and “contradictions.” He has no self to sell any constructed grand story or ideology. For him life is best approached in aesthetic terms, again something that allies him with both mystics and postmodernists.
Seeking in art or creative act an anchor to move or dissolve existential questions, Ayaz has built beautiful castles of art in such wonderful poems as “Marmar Geet.”  In postmodern times it is art that offers for many less problematic language to live by.

The Feast of Mystery

Wonder that lies at the heart of philosophy is understandable as Mystery

It can be safely asserted that more than 99% people are blind – blind to the mystery and grandeur of things, heedless of the signs of God that all things in virgin nature are. We see things but not God’ signs or the Mystery that vivifies soul because they partake of the Mystery called God. 
What is the food of the human soul? There are various answers but what is common to all of them is Mystery. In fact mystery is the reverberation of Infinity in all beauty. Wonder that lies at the heart of philosophy is understandable as Mystery. Fundamentalism is wrong because it seeks to claim possession of this Mystery. So is rationalism that wants to explain everything and demystify the world. Against the both, saints and poets have always stood for profound awe and opening to Mystery all around us. In fact the keynote of Islam as of other religions is respect and acknowledgment for Mystery. 
Let us ask what do we know? The structure of quarks? The depths and breadths of cosmos? The reasons for love and love of beauty? Our passion for arts and poetry? Our subjectivity? The person before us? Mother’s love and sacrifice? Our deepest convictions? Why we were born and why we die? Our destiny or secret of taqdir? Do we know our own spouse or the unique individuality of any person? We don’t know how life with all its manifestations came to be though we have untestable hypotheses of scientists. Do we  know God, the angels, the otherworld in the name of which some exploit us? Zindagi teray ma’soom sae sawaloon sae pareeshan hu mein. Science offers no answers when we penetrate deeper into the how questions or seek to comprehend totalities, and why questions. Science explains in terms of lower order entities which in turn it explains in terms of further lower order entities and a stage comes when the process ends in silence or ignorance and we are told it is as it is. And this is precisely how God is understood in the Bible “I am that I am” as God answers Moses when asked on whose behalf he will go to Pharoah. Nagarjuna has famously shown that no answer given by rational faculty to ontological or existential questions  is free from contradiction. Last station for Sufis like Ibn Arabi is one of wonder. 
Omar Khayyam is one of the greatest poet-philosophers of Islam. Keynote of his Rubbiyyat is that we don’t know answers to deeper questions and those who claim to know can’t e trusted.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and saint, and heard great argument
About it and about; but evermore
Came out by the same door as I went

Hafiz made a similar point in his famous verse that states that none has been able to unlock the mystery at the heart of existence. 
The Quran calls God as Mystery and believers of all traditions are required to affirm the primordial mystery (Yuminoon-a-bil-gayyyib). God has been understood as depth or unfathomable mystery of things. If we could grasp God as we grasp other facts he would not be a God worthy of worship. God is a mystery or He is nothing, says W T Stace, a great mystical philosopher. Here are reproduced a few passages from a perennialist author John Herlihy’s essay “Hidden Sanctuaries: Unveiling the Spirituality of the Natural World” on role of mystery in human life and these make us realize why modern science’s attempt at demystifying the universe has been fraught with great dangers for us. We need mystery to live.
“One question we need to ask during this modern era: How do we understand the word “mystery” and how does it define and shape the way we understand ourselves and the world we live in? Many people today may even be surprised by a question that has little relevance to their daily lives. Today, who is prepared to assert that there are mysteries surrounding us that will never be resolved, mysteries that actually heighten human consciousness, mysteries that promise alternative worlds and a deeper experience of life than we could ever imagine on our own. The question of mystery and its power to resolve the human dilemma no longer inspires the modern psyche. The modernist mentality of today wants answers not questions, facts that neutralize the mystery pertaining to our origins and final end through scientific speculation, when once there was a time when certain questions were not asked lest a person risk destroying the very forces that keep us asking them.
On the surface, the question of mystery is profoundly simple; we ask it because its subtle inscrutability confronts us at every turn and stimulates the desire to discover what lies at the heart of the human condition. On the other hand, the question of mystery is quite simply profound, so deep that although it will never be resolved within this world, it fuels the desire to transcend human limitations. Elements of the mysterious substantiate for humanity an ancient purpose to life’s procession through time; that which is knowable or provable through the evidence of human investigation is superseded by an ancient mystery—amysterium tremendum—that positions us within a framework of time that does not pass us by and that creates an ambiance of wonder and bewilderment that opens onto the grace and beatitude of the supra-natural.

From within the cosmic wilderness there is placed within each person an initial spark—call it a form of energy, a vibration, a sound or a light—that initiates the line of human inquiry into the cosmic mystery. It is a spark that begins as a mystery, that becomes a hidden secret of the Supreme Being, that flowers into a revelation of the essential knowledge of God, that enters into the human soul as an eternal flame, that expresses itself as worship and praise of the Divinity, and that ultimately reflects through human virtue the qualities and attributes of God. Before a person can adopt a religious tradition, before any active participation in the life of the spirit, and before any true understanding of the role of a personal identity within a universal plan, this spark and the mystery it represents must be acknowledged and then confronted.
At the heart of the cosmic universe lies a fundamental mystery that will never be resolved on the human plane of existence. Yet this mystery, like a lingering scent, stirs up desires and emotions that lead us to the edge, not of some forlorn darkness, but of an ineffable light that illuminates a vast universe of aspiration and hope, a mystery that will witness the destiny of humankind as cloud-covered mountain peaks witness the valleys to which they are enjoined.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Missing Dimensions of Peace

According to the nature of things, peace can’t be attained without peace within. Without making peace with Heaven, there can be no peace on earth. Without clearing our debts we owe to God, there can be no real freedom.
We are in the loss, the Quran declares making exception for the select few who take care of their souls. Today we talk about peace in political terms but have forgotten its metaphysical or spiritual ground. Let us clarify why we must shift the focus and not put cart before the horse.
In Islam God is called As-Salaam and Islam is said to be derived from the root “slm” that implies peace achieved by submission. What is to be submitted is human will, individual autonomy, the world of centrifugal desires and passions. Fasting is one of the mechanism for achieving this end. Our deepest desire is to find peace and Heaven is where peace reigns and the greeting of Islam is also call for peace. Now this peace is an aspect of spirit/consciousness that constitutes our deepest reality. Peace is an attribute of purified consciousness and every religious ritual is ultimately directed to achieving this purified consciousness. Unless we have achieved control over unruly passions and self directed effort that ordinarily constitutes our sole activity in the world centric life, we can’t  go for jihad or establish God’s dominion that revivalist movements in Islam have sought.
In Islam prayer, fasting, zakat and even Haj are all subservient to the ideal of achieving proximity to God which effectively means accessing the World of Spirit/Peace. A saint is defined in terms of Ananda nature – how much peace he or she radiates by his or her very presence. A golden test for one’s credentials as spiritual Master or rightly guided Leader is how much harmony or peace has been achieved by the person.
The Quran declares that peace can come only from remembrance of God. Today fasting is one way of remembering God. But how many of us are happy when Ramadan is extended by one day? How many of us are happy with the discipline of senses that fasting seeks to realize? Don’t we wish there were lesser hours of fasting? All this means we fail to achieve peace with ourselves, our desires, our passions. So how can peace be there in the outer world if it is not within us.

Let us come back to the concrete question of achieving peace in Kashmir today. One may first note that the problem of peace is almost global. Worldwide there is a conflict of interests, classes, economies, ideologies and all these conflicts are ultimately traceable to wrong view of self and failure of achieving proper submission as demanded by religion. We fight for some kind of nationalistic ideology. Kashmiri nationalism or Indian/Pakistani nationalism is part of the problem and linked to wrong view of self and other. We fight for certain exclusivist version or our interpretation of  Islam – many Muslim fighters from Syria  and Iraq to Afghanistan and Kashmir invoke guarding Islam against the ideological or religious other. This again is based on a questionable view of Islam or religion in relation to other traditional religions and at root of much of sectarian conflict today.
We seek such goals as development that is based on war against nature or at least certain technological view of nature as something of a resource to be used, as an It rather than a Thou, as something that deserves recognition and respect in its own terms. All slogans of vikaas (prosperity) are rapist in origin – nothing short of raping mother earth is required to fuel so-called growth engine. Our economy is linked to increasing growth and GDP and not maximizing Gross Domestic Happiness or Peace. An economy that seeks maximization of profit, that involves manipulation of currencies, that takes inflation as something given, that has no problem in counting production of war machinery or narcotics or we have the largest faith healing  and black magic industry in the subcontinent. Here neighbours, even relatives, are suspected for disturbing our domestic peace and people throng occultist practitioners. All this supposes a view of other that is exact negation of our professed Sufi ideal of sulhikul, of “ekhtchetibayi bi gezermiba/habbaya chi gumanae/ hukustibikus/tilwan chi kus.
We have increasing population of drug addicts implying people seek short cuts to inner peace and these prove disastrous. We face such problems as  juvenile delinquency, divorce, alienated parents and families  and all these are linked to failure to find peace in normal rhythms of life. It means we have failed to properly orient our lives to the Centre or God. In the end every problem is one of ignorance. We pursue power and thus disturb harmony and peace that lies in the depths of our being because we don’t know that our real nature is Unruffled Consciousness, the still point beyond time. The question is what are we doing to get  the missing dimension that grounds peace? Kashmir problem has these ignored dimensions as well. A free Kashmir without free or virtuous souls – and everything today seems to conspire to destroy these souls – is not really free.