Friday, 4 July 2014

Reading our New Resistance Literature

Karb Raezay by Isar Kashmiri, Kalae Daywoo Ka Saya by Riyaz Tawhidi, Disappeared Dad and other Poems by Shahzada Saleem

How much of contemporary writing really deserves to be read? I think we will agree that the proper question is how little it deserves to be read. However when the question is of resistance literature of which we don’t have much, the job of a reviewer is easy. One may begin without any apology for being a reviewer of it. 
Let me begin directly from the excerpts of the books. Isar’s dedication to the book reads: “To my late father whose blood is even today nurturing sad lanes of Kashmir” Excerpts from Saleem’s poems reads: “Don’t  give me birth/In the land of/Terror, my lord/Where I will be killed/In my teenage,/And become  burden/On the weak shoulder/Of my father/In the coffin”(Jehlum only knows) “That we have soaked/ Its banks with our blood/To live a life of dignity/But always our wishes/Were crushed and our /Desires were buried/long its own course and banks. (Jehlum is the Witness) “Someone has kept me/Captive saying:/My father has signed/An agreement/Of killing, massacring me;/And my innocent children/That too in my home./I should thus count moments/Of my turn/To be killed, and massacred/He said” (Captive).  Just contemplating Tawhidi’s haunting title Kalae Daywoo Ka Saya  is baptism by fire we have been experiencing in the purgatory of conflict. 
Saleem gives voice to almost every aspect of tragedy that has hit Kashmir: Prisoners, orphans, widows, youth, Pundits, Sikhs, strikes, crackdowns. While there is some brilliant imagery like “wearing the tombs like turbans”(Idgah) there is also incongruous imagery “throat of teens.”  While there is genuine poetry there are prosaic pieces like “Kashmiryat”. Some of his poems are fit subjects and almost translatable into short stories. I see in him a latent short story writer who can excel in the genre. Sleem’s work is unique in the sense that he has illustrated it with images of conflict hit Kashmir from local dailies.
Although Saleem’s language is not poetic enough and much of what he says can be better written in prose, he does succeed in giving us a handful of  noteworthy poems including “Assets Shared” “Disappeared Dad” “Hookar Sar”etc.  He needs to note that poetry primarily evokes rather than states or argues or moralizes.  His book is mostly  a “poetry” of ideas. The poet has a long way to go by way of mastery of form – he has chosen only free verse so far to express himself – and language and use of figurative devices and symbolism if he is to succeed as a poet. Saleem impresses us by power of observation. Though occasionally he can weave magic out of very ordinary things or events,  he is at times too prosaic to produce lasting poetic impact. 
Isar’s strengths are his language and diction that is both lucid and compelling.  He deftly deploys irony to shock. He seems to be an effortless story teller. And he has the trick of constructing a story where one may not suspect any. Almost all the stories are enjoyable both at aesthetic and cognitive planes.
Some stories of Isar especially deserve to be read and he is seasoned enough a story teller to let you down in his other stories though one would not be equally moved by them. Isar’ s short stories “Soda”  “Dil Ki Baat” “ Bay basi” “Ahsaas” show how he is capable of conveying profound thoughts through the medium of short story. Riyaz Tawhidi  has given us a few good short stories including “Klae Daywoon ka Saya” Gula Qasai” “Haijack” “Jenazae” “Naqoos –o- Azaan” “Mentaal Hospital.” His subtle treatment of sectarianism and loss of tradition in his stories is quite impressive.  His work is studded with insights, especially in concluding parts of certain stories. However I think insufficient attention to converting deeper experiences into equally deeper works of art is discernible. Isar Kashmiri’s attention to language and artistic treatment of tragedy  is often missing in Tawhidi. Isar's very short afsana is often a success but occasionally fails to be a proper story. Tawhidi better succeeds in plot construction. 
Tawhidi would be a better story teller if he works more on symbols and replaces heavily adjectivized authorial commentary with description of objective situation. What evokes admiration from Isar and Saleem is their appropriation of Tradition. What is noteworthy about Tawhidi  and Isar is acute sensitivity to sheer horror all around us that we have been engaging with but almost fails to evoke sensitive response now. As if habit has accustomed us to the inhuman. The beauty and power of both Isar and Tawhidi lies in taking full look at the worst, sensitizing us to the loss and tragedy all round. Tawhidi has a knack of summing up his insights in pithy sentences. He is too direct in his story telling art. One can too easily penetrate his symbolic universe. Even Isar too allows us quite easy engagement. There is some predictability in plot construction though that is more in Tawhidi than Isar. The titles are revelatory. Isar succeeds best in choosing it. Tawhidi explores fear and Saleem explores loss. All the works recreate the lost Kashmir in their own ways and seek to articulate contradictions in the ruling ideology. 
To sum up strengths of all three: Isar is subtle and charming and I hope we can expect deeper symbolism in his work in future. Tawhidi is insightful and has a keen eye on our moral, spiritual and intellectual failures, both individually and collectively. He shows the mirror to the dehumanizing fear centric oppressive apparatus of the system. Saleem brings his background readings of sociology and gives us some good poems and some scattered observations and insights interspersed with interesting commentary. All the three focus on the pain of Kashmir – not just its conflict but its passing glory, its decaying tradition, its embracing of vandalizing modernity. 
However what is true about all the three is relatively little attention paid to the works of the Masters in short story or poetry. There are so many great works in the world literature that reading them should be life’s wazeefa for aspiring writers. What characterizes all three is failure to explore deeper meaning of the tragic. They explore pain, oppression but not truly tragic. There moral vision is not informed by Greek, Shakespearen, or Oriental view of the tragic. They lament but not resist a world of meaningless Waste and launch wild complaints to the Department of Injustice. Literature of resistance doesn’t necessarily translate into literature of revolt. It may remain only a poignant lamentation and not work out an ethic of revolt. Perhaps we should wait for their next collections.

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