Friday, 26 December 2014

I PRAISE: Panun Doud Panen Dug

One may have many reservations regarding the poet but the work of art calls for proper appreciation

Rilke, one of the greatest modern poets, has a poem that reads:


Oh speak, poet. what do you do?
I praise.
But the monstrosities and the murderous
how do you endure them, how do you take them?
I praise.
But the anonymous, the nameless
how, poet. do you still invoke them?
I praise.
right have you, in all displays,
in very
mask, to be genuine?
And that the stillness and the turbulent sprays
know you like star and storm? 
Drawing inspiration from Rilke, I today praise a little known contemporary Kashmiri poet who has struck some deep chords in me, as a token of gratitude for the ordeal that the poet has suffered for conceiving or writing poetry.  A work of art has to be approached first and foremost as a work of art and let us note that some masterpieces of poetry in all traditions have been composed by people whom nobody knows. Seeing myself as a visitor of a City or Castle of Art, I enjoy some art works more than others and one hardly asks in a beautiful museuem about CV of the artist or unknown craftsmen who gave them to us. Believing with the traditionalist critics that every man is a special kind of artist and not that an artist is a special kind of  man, I have been seeking some contemporary pieces of works of art that would be possibly of interest of  some more readers.  Slim works of poetry are less suspect for being worthy of larger attention. Mostly few poems of poets are all that deserve to be preserved for posterity. Rafiq Masoodi’s slim volume captured my attention, so today his work provides me the opportunity to offer my gift of praise. Let it be noted that man is a praising animal and I can’t resist praising.
There are two kinds of people or “critics”: those who focus on beauty and those who focus on ugliness in a given piece of work or in our acquaintances or fellow travelers. I am in the first camp and take my time’s worth in enjoying those glimmerings of beauty.
I recall some great tributes to parents but not to grandparents in Urdu or Kashmiri poetry. The dedication of the poet to the grandparent gives a refreshing opening that recalls Chinese culture’s reverence for the elders. Refreshingly it happens to be a book of tributes. Dedicated to two generations of his family, it has wonderful tribute to Alamdar, to his one time “patron”  G R Bacha, to his Murshid Shafi Sahib and some others that would appear surprising to most readers.
All of us have perhaps been hurt but very few have been able to prove this as blessing in disguise by transforming the experience into poetry. It is hard to believe how such a sensitive poet could engage in protracted prosaic legal battles and reportedly win them as well. While I have enjoyed reading the poet I couldn’t help wondering why he shouldn’t be immensely grateful to those who have hurt him for bringing to surface the hidden poet in him.
Duchiyut illustrates wonderful imagination. Half mystical half pastoral, “Moan hamzaad” is a song of experience that takes us to haunting world of Blake. What a beauty!” Poems such as Lal Daedi,” “Gonahgaar”  “…..?,” “Urbanisation” “Rishti“Moun Chahrer”  may find place in any anthology of  modern Kashmiri poetry. 
We keep judging and backbiting but hardly find time for just enjoying, just praising life. The crux of Holderlin, arguably the greatest German poet, and Heidegger, undoubtedly the greatest German philosopher of the twentieth century, lies in cultivating faculty of praising. Masoodi’s “Wuni ti chi zindagi zindae” recalls mystic appreciation of what Abraham Heschel calls the blessing of just being alive.
The book is perhaps in unique in being a collection devoted to poems instead of ghzaals only and all in free verse besides making some daring new innovation in form as some poems printed on facing pages can be read both separately and jointly.
Poetry is sacrifice, escape from personality. If our poet hints at his inability to transcend this personality when he turns explicit in his statement of being hurt, we may recall of human, all too human, character that we are before being artists.
Kashmir’s present predicament finds voice in many poems. “Gam ti Kabristan” depicts how Kashmir has become a graveyard. A subtle portrait of our collective sins and corruption is “Naeth naen.”
Panun Doud Panen Dug has indeed been transformed into Soan Doud Saen Dug and that shows the success of the work.
The only problem in the book I found with the poet’s preface in which he has filed a wrong affidavit that he is not a poet. We have poets who keep shouting maan na maan ham hae teray shair.
I conclude with a prediction: Some poems of Masooodi will never be out of print and editors of anthologies or text books can’t ignore the poet who has the humility to disown any poetic credentials.

Ethics or Politics: Choosing the Alliance

While I am convinced that current democratic model is corrupt, unworthy of those who want serious change, complicit with money power, impermeable to genuine change from the below or in the favour of the impoverished class and that our choice could only be between two evils, lesser and greater, we are called to question, condemn and hope simultaneously in this knotty scenario that admits of no neat idealistic solutions. While ethics would require shunning the politics altogether and fight using non-political spaces, somehow the question of the political props up. Regardless of the charge of political naivety that raising the question of ethics today may warrant according to many pundits who command the language of power, I think, recalling Faiz, we can’t afford silence,“Ham matayilowh-o-qalm karate rahaegae.”  Let me put, regardless of political correctness, some ethical questions to those who matter politically as today, on this apparently crucial time, Kashmiris are asking a sharp question: Will ethics or politics rule in choosing the alliance? From people’s perspective equations could be fairly simple and there is hardly any need for detailed negotiations.
I ask why is there a need of two regional parties, NC and PDP, playing against each other, sharing almost similar manifesto, making similar promises regarding good governance and safeguarding people’s political and other aspirations? Why not dissolve the two regional parties and agree to form one? The same question could, of course, be asked of Indian national parties, BJP and Congress? Is there any key difference in their manifestoes? Are there fundamentally different commitments to people or promises? The question is we have been taught to accept party politics, absurd games of 44 or winning and losing by a vote and no representation for those who don’t vote or who press NOTA and no representation for vast majority of people who vote for candidates rather than parties or single largest party but not in correct mathematical proportion to add up to magic figure? Are people’s interests kept in consideration or party’s interests? Do people’s interests count or those who fund elections? Do people count in anyway except in playing a game and choosing players that always win their game or seek to win it forgetting people whose destiny is at stake? How come independents matter so much so that they need to be assured good portfolios in coming government? How come we find unconditional support given to some parties even without formally asking for it? Will people’s interests count in taking the decision or shrewd calculus of long-term political gains? Isn’t it very easy to see that party and people’s interest often diverge?

There may be an archaeological question to disallow alliances. It might be asked that one party is a creation of intelligence agencies to dent the regional political space monopolized by the pro-freedom camps. But question could be posed how was the main party born? Isn’t it a subject of heated debate that National Conference was violently wrenched from Muslim Conference and NC has often played a role that is more loyal than the king? How was the current dispute born? Out of democratic process of consultation between “representatives” or out of dictatorial policy of the leader?  Who has the moral superiority to claim?
Now the question that Kashmiris ask to PDP and NC: Will you forget family feud and explain what makes you distinct parties to booty of blood and sweat? Why can’t you, for the sake of people, fight an “intruder”as vast majority of people perceive so? Jammu and Ladakhi people ask a similar question to Congress and BJP.
I think ultimately the question is one of ethics and not politics. And unfortunately, unlike Borges, politicians mostly understand politics better than ethics. Could this time ethics count?

Making Politicians Irrelevant

I don’t understand politics; I understand ethics only___________Borges

The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.
__________John Calvin

Hateful to me as are the gates of hell, Is he who, hiding one thing in his heart, Utters another.

There is no greater hell than to be a prisoner of fear.
_____________Ben Jonson
We understand more politics than ethics. And no wonder we find ourselves in hell. Hell is facing other people you don’t like. Hell is greed, envy, desire, ambition for worldly power. Hell is where love is not. Hell is regret, guilt, heedlessness. Hell is the laughter of the enemies. Hell is feeling unable to act. Hell is a desecrated nature, deserted relationships, distrust, betrayal. Hell is the world under capitalism. Hell is the world today. Hell is Kashmir in search of home, in search of trustworthy leaders, in search of peace.
Our world is hell thanks to the money power. Our politics seems such a stinking affair because of money power. Our people go hither and thither, in search of Hell are girls pining for marriage but none ready to marry them. Hell is prolonged unemployment. Hell is failure to maintain an ethic, satisfy demands of one’s conscience, be oneself, afford to speak truth.

I now ask aren’t we living in a hell created by our own misdeeds. Yes! Our own misdeeds. We fail to cultivate the courage to side with the truth. Sheikh Abdullah couldn’t afford to tell the truth that power (exemplified by Nehru) doesn’t honour truth or demands of the weak. Prof Mujeeb has said the last word on the question of Kashmir vis-à-vis India, “Army doesn’t leave from a territory it has conquered unless driven away from it.” Sheikh Abdullah invited Indian army and that ended his political clout. It was only a matter of time that he would suffer 1953 and later humiliation of accord that clipped his wings and made him a Chief Minister. Our leaders, who surrounded him, could never afford to tell naked truth to the power he exemplified. Many Muslims couldn’t oppose two-nation theory in the name of a truth that they believed delegitimized nationalism. We didn’t listen to Maulana Azad. We failed to cognize the truth that Jinnah was pushed to the wall to seek Pakistan. We disregard the truth that Iqbal rejected nationalism and feudalism and today in Pakistan, created partly in his name, both jingoism and feudalism have been ugly realities.
There is an ideology and there is a truth. For perceptive analysis of this difference we need to use the tools of Marxist and deconstructive approaches in a world where ugly binaries and ideologies.
Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.
____Thomas A. Edison
Why can’t we make politics irrelevant? How do we tolerate genuine people falling for temptations to power? Our kith and kin, our friends think they can make the difference.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

What is missing in Kashmir political discourse?

Perhaps many important questions are missed but a couple of them haunt me and I wonder would they ever be properly discussed.
First is a question of building up spaces outside the current political system.  And the second is cashing on spaces opened up by changing dynamics of politics. There is belated recognition that election boycotts have been counterproductive. Even in early 1990s we could have been politically active and exploiting given spaces for helping people move forward.
Hurriyats have been increasingly criticized for being almost a spent force. And we can’t avoid an impression that fundamental failures in methodology and conception have been made by it. There is no culture of debate in it, no consultation of latest developments in political theory to help it better understand changing political scenario following major changes in the economic and political order after the end of cold war. One could seriously ask if attention had been given to create certain institutions rather than fight abstractions or trade certain slogans. One wonders how come a discourse if foisted on people; how come a leader poses to be a leader who doesn’t care to update himself. Even the most brilliant political scientists keep updating themselves and visionary leaders countercheck their vision against the reality check that such scientists provide. Why has it taken decades to understand that the boycott shouldn’t have been an issue? Why isn’t copy of discussion amongst leaders provided to people? Don’t they debate issues? Don’t they introspect? Do they lack the courage to register their disagreement on policies? How much internal criticism is tolerated? Are intellectuals and professionals of different fields taken seriously? If not, why? Why don’t the leaders face questions on policy publically? Do they lack the guts or the integrity or the courage to face the public?
To incumbent pro-India leaders one would like to ask: How many contradictions are you able to live up with? How do you gather the courage to repeat the discourse that is hackneyed or disowned or discredited even by some of your own party members? Do you still believe that people can take you seriously when you talk of restoring autonomy? Don’t you notice that people have eyes to see and minds to notice contradictions, election posturing, trading of dreams, countless compromises you made to remain in power at the cost of ideology you are committed to in manifesto? Don’t you notice changes in Naya Kashmir document from 30s to 70s you made? You couldn’t give dignity or sense of care to people. You failed on almost every front – retaining J&K Bank, helping Afzal Guru get a fair trial, getting power houses back or denting NHPC hegemony. You increased age of retirement not because you suddenly got convinced of the rationale behind it, because you lost elections. You gave concessions to ReTs whom you had been opposed in practice because you lost elections. You kept silence on major administrative lapses and corruption because you thought you would lose power or coalition partner. You didn’t side with truth but power. You couldn’t get cases against your own people properly investigated. You couldn’t dent rising capitalism as manifested in mushroom growth of costly private schools. You did nothing to change education policy which is suffering from multiple organ failure syndrome? What did you do to better the knowledge economy? What did you do to help agricultural or livestock sector? One could ask scores of such questions.
So what do we propose to do now framed as we are in a discourse of choosing a particular party or carrying forward a political ideology of complicit democracy? Strengthen those spaces that will help people irrespective of who rules them. And keep leaders- pro-Indian and pro-freedom-reminding that you have been largely failing your people.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Kashmir has legacy of rejecting communalism

It is perceived that we are today in the grip of a communalist politics. Let me hazard a prediction. It will not take roots in Kashmir because we have a long legacy of rejection of communalism. Anything that rejects the mystical or that imposes a sectarian or fundamentalist approach here can’t sustain. Historical and cultural forces are too strong to be appropriated into narrow ideological ends by any politician. It is commonly believed that during medieval times in Kashmir dialogue between Islam and indigenous religious traditions of Kashmir didn’t happen on any level and it was a question of either or with regard to acceptance or rejection of new religious identity.
Communalist interpretations have coloured views of many scholars and common people because religions have been approached as exclusive categories. We need to revisit the Reshi tradition as a space where dialogue happened and keeps going on in Sufi poets until today to question usual exclusive and communalist views that colour even current Kashmiri politics. I use insights from perennialists' traditionalist approach to comparative religion to situate the problem in a new light.
One can begin by noting with the traditionalists and many other scholars of comparative religion that none of the traditional religions is at loggerheads with any other tradition when properly approached with due consideration to deeper esoteric and metaphysical content and symbolism. Thus we can say that Hinduism or Buddhism and Islam are not as divergent at deeper level as literalist theological reading of Islam would have us believe. Originally every human collectivity has been blessed by the presence of prophets according to the Quran. Vedanta, Kashmir Saivism and Buddhism are not dualistic or polytheistic but essentially Unitarian or Tawhid centred traditions if one grants Sufistic-metaphysical understanding of Tawhid as the correct view of it in place of dualistic theological reading. These are all Absolute-centric tradition and this Absolute is not to be subsumed under the theistic theology. Despite distortions and extrapolations in subsequent centuries it is still possible to unearth the core of Tawhid in these religions. Spiritually or mystically one can easily see how all religions are oriented towards God and none allows associating partners with God, the popular “polytheistic” idolatrous interpretation or mask of Hinduism not withstanding as it is quite heterodox reading of originally Unitarian traditions. Abdul Wahid Yaha and Isa Nuruddin, arguably the greatest metaphysicians and authorities on comparative religion in the 20th century, demonstrate that there is no pantheism, no idealism, no rebirth, no individualist subjectivist mysticism as ordinarily understood in orthodox Hindu traditions.
The intimate dialogue between Saivism and Islam in Kashmir as exemplified in relationship between Lalla and Sheikh-ul-Alam is possible only because the masters are situated at esoteric and metaphysical plane where theological divergence largely ceases. Let us try to understand why after Rumi’s death Christians and Jews mourned that Rumi taught them deeper meanings of their own traditions. We need to understand why Lalla’s religion is still a matter of passionate debate and why late Amin Kamil pushed for his Nunda and how Shazanand could be used as a title for Sheikh-ul-Alam. This will help us to understand the poem in praise of Buddha attributed to Sheikh-ul-Alam.
Some critics here are needlessly apologetic about using the word Reshi by Sheikh Nuruddin. It suffices to mention that it was the Sheikh who opted for this terminology and found no need of another term such as Wali for describing himself and his disciples. Had the Sheikh adopted the strategy suggested by our critics, which emphasizes differences instead of common points and wishes to prove that the advent of Islam was a radical break from the traditional past of Kashmir, Islam could hardly have been firmly planted in Kashmir. It was great catholic, assimilating and appropriating genius of the great Sheikh to Islamise Reshi movement and it opened Islam for natives. Loud recital of durood, awraad etc. was another strategy to show Islam’s assimilating potential. Thank God Syed Ali Hamdani had no advisors to censure him for these “un-Islamic” innovations, as otherwise Islam’s diffusion in the masses would have been more difficult.  Our Sufi poets have appropriated pre-Islamic notions and allusions and nothing can be done to edit them from a supposedly Islamic perspective. Sufis are at home in different traditions and don’t feel Islam is polluted or in danger if one appropriates other than Islamic mythological or linguistic resources.
It must be noted that Sufism can’t be practised outside the doctrinal framework of Islam. The fact is that post Nuruudin, Kashmir is Islamic Kashmir that has already appropriated the best of spiritual genius of India. Islamised Reshiyyat appropriates, for all practical purposes, Buddhist, Saivite and other Indian traditional philosophical thought currents and is not to be construed as an appendage to them. By practicing Islam in all its depths, one practices all religions, as Abdul Wahid Yaha (Rene Guenon) said, who wrote, despite being a Muslim, many greatly acclaimed and sympathetic works on Hinduism. We must not allow encroaching of Islamic identity of Sufism or present day Reshiyyat in the name of superficial syncretism. We must understand that at juristic level Sheikh-ul-Alam could have emphatically meant hendenheinz kami travavto and still uphold Unitarian vision of Tawhid that perceives brotherhood of spirit and opens up to the religious other. We say in Kashmir that Adam had two sons, one chose grave and the other Awren. Mirwaiz Ami Sahib is reported to pray for the safe coming of Hindu pilgrims from their pilgrimage in Kashmir.

Revisiting the Life and the Work

How much do leaders matter in the great march of history and do we understand inexorable logic of history
Martin Buber has a great passage that explains who ultimately counts in history. He includes more than leaders or politicians, unknown devoted workers who silently but faithfully pursue their assigned jobs.  Today I recall one such devoted unassuming teacher-translator Prof. Amin who taught generations English literature. I keep recalling his statement that he didn’t pursue PhD and become professor as he thought himself not upto the task of writing a good or original thesis. This humility coupled with his acknowledged mastery of the subject he taught is so rare in the days when many professors vie with one another on the number of papers and books they have authored for reasons we can guess and of a quality one hardly needs to guess.  Amin Sahib has primarily focused on translations and his latest work is translation of famous Aatish-e-Chinar, a work whose author’s legacy evokes strong reactions both for and against. Kashmir tragic story – its divided self – can be gleaned from this polarization with regard to Sheikh Abdullah, better known as Sheri Kashmir. One can’t uncritically read the work that, on first glimpse, invites criticism on a host of grounds (some of them highlighted by diverse scholars including Dr Ahad and G. N Gowhar, to take two very recent examples only, who have deconstructed some key claims of the text) but I feel hardly any problem with the translation that succeeds in even improving on the original as the latter has been occasionally marred by overplaying of metaphors. However, as we can see even in title translations, the language is not always easily accessible. However, generally speaking, it is both simple and lucid. We can’t bypass either the author or the book that presents an insider’s version of modern political biography of Kashmir. A few remarks on the Aatish-e-Chinar and its author.
I am not an historian but a victim of history struggling to understand my predicament of living in a place that others call paradise but its inhabitants have felt as hell, not just for last two and a half decades but for many decades for many more conscious denizens. One of the most important questions all of us are required to answer concerns why we are what we are in this particular moment in history. In our context it could be phrased as why is Kashmir still struggling to resolve basic question of political identity, why don’t we have any heroes whom all Kashmiris (or vast majority of its people) could proudly identify with, why we are still complaining about past and new leaders of almost all hues, why we can’t cheer for either Indian or Pakistani team (without troubling conscience or other fellow Kashmiris who may have different understanding or perception) and why in this big and beautiful world of God Kashmiris feel homeless, voiceless and directionless?
Once dismissed as puny shahruk mashter (Srinagar’s teacher) by some feudal lords of Kashmir, Sheri Kashmir’s rise can’t be attributed to conspiracies. He does emerge, in the first phase of his career that culminated in his struggle for a cause for which his party now persecutes others, as the voice of (most) people of Kashmir. Who can afford to ignore that we all owe a great deal to Sheri Kashmir. If today class divisions are not as marked as in rest of the subcontinent, especially Pakistan, it is because of his land reforms. The facts that an average Kashmiri is not so poor as an average Indian and that we are better educated can’t be explained without his historical role. He helped us jump by almost a century through land and other reforms. However, if our political destiny has been so chequered and littered by enormous tragedies, bloodshed, corruption, if we are still searching for our collective soul or spirit, if our deepest aspirations, dreams, resources and full potential of Kashmiri genius are yet to be realized, he can’t be fully exonerated. But the question is how much do leaders matter in the great march of history and do we understand inexorable logic of history, of forces bigger than ( and determinative of) any leader’s vision or dream.  (I side with Tolstoy who illustrated in War and Peace and argued in its epilogue how leaders are more led than lead, as against Carlyle who argues for determinative role of heroes.) Volumes have been written for and against Sheri-Kashmir but very little of substance that tackles the more basic question of what it means to be a leader in a world that rules by brute force politicians call power or national interests, by inhuman ideologies like market fundamentalism,  where feudalism and slavery have gone only to be replaced by more inhuman capitalism and slavery of soul (“souls on hire,” I keep recalling Dostovesky) and alienated labour. 
Authoritarian, rash, ambitious, bold, admired (seen both as saviour and saint once by many), reviled, appropriated and misappropriated by all kinds of ideologues, idealist in heart and pragmatist in action, Indian to the core for Kashmir’s sake, partly responsible for perpetuating family rule, betrayed by close aides, pushed to the wall by the might and shrewd planning of Indian state, great dreamer, a politician who brought Kashmir to India against the wishes of vast majority of people but who sacrificed much to get modicum of autonomy to the State, insightful critic of two nation theory (that only divided Muslims as Mawlana Azad perceived) and feudalist character of “Islamic” State of Pakistan, terribly suffered for his convictions and strong enough to resist great temptations, at least in early phase ( such as accepting full integration with India by relinquishing autonomy proposal) and convinced that he had a vision and a destiny to shape, “The Lion of Kashmir” contained multitudes, fought battles that he later disowned, lost Kashmir to India rather than gained India for Kashmir and illustrates in his dreams, aspirations, contradictions, failures and successes Kashmir’s tragedy and terrible beauty, contradictory forces in international politics, blunders of Pakistani leadership, Machiavellian character of nationalistic project, conquest of the souls and wills of the commoners by the power of Capital, a colossal human tragedy that cries for justice. The point is not to redeem or convict Sheikh M Abdullah but to revisit his life and work to take some lessons home so that we stand up to the challenge that confronts us today – the challenge of lost moral credibility for Indian and international leadership, sighs from the otherworld of countless Kashmiris from 30s till date that suffered or died for a vision and a dream and surviving with dignity in a world that has surrendered all autonomy to the forces of globalization – consumerism, development myth, – a world where such notions as India or Pakistan or being pro-India or pro-Pakistan or East and West appear as abstractions that have lost content if not relevance as symbolic gestures, a world where souls and environment, neighbours, relatives and friends all seem to be forgotten or abandoned.
Postscript: Some books are to be read with all humility to learn from the author (especially if he is a saint like Eckhart or a poet like Holderlin or Lal Ded) and some to be read with caution or better deconstructively (especially if written by politicians) who have an ideology to sell. I illustrate by noting that  Chinar signifies breeze, shade, cover, strength, grace, beauty. Aatish symbolizes passion. Now let us ask if Sheri- Kashmir’s legacy has turned out to be these things. There is little glow or glory or passion, especially in later Shaikh and his family. Isn’t it more a case of burnt Chinar, not glowing Chinar? And did he die as our Sheri-Kashmir or as caged or wounded and muted lion who couldn’t even roar as he saw history or fate or trap against him? I think our, truly ours, Sheri-Kashmir is still struggling to be born or listened to. So far only fragmentary images of him have we seen and hope we prepare for the birth of our Alamdar in political sphere.