Recalling Pablo Neruda and Mehmoud Darwish in Khayal’s Kashmir
When all appears dark in Kashmir and you have nowhere to look to for light and one stares at immense futility and tragic waste, what remains there to goad us on, to keep hoping and dreaming? It is faith for some but poetry for all including those who don’t know how to pray. Today we ask Mehmoud Darwish and Pablo Neruda about this sacred and prophetic mission of poets and then read few verses from our own G. N. Khayal’s new book of resistance poetry Shabnum Ka Aatesh Qada.
Poets are those saintly alchemists who transmute our saddest thoughts and pains into songs that console, uplift and illuminate. As Neruda says,“give me all the pain of everyone, I'm going to turn it into hope.” Powerless against the sting of death as we earthly creatures are, what do we do when even life seems to sting and one envies dead in their graves? Neruda answers that “at least love should save us from life.” We know that poetry is the revelation from the God of Love. The poet’s rather secular version of scriptural statement that man is created for worshipping God is expressed by Neruda: “I just want to never stop loving like there is nothing else to do, because what else is there to do?” The poetry’s way to fight barbarity is, in Darwish’s words,“by confirming its attachment to human fragility like a blade of grass growing on a wall while armies march by.” And in fact, every beautiful poem itself constitutes “an act of resistance,” and a brick for the Home for those rendered homeless. Against the world marred by violence and war, the poet constructs an invincible fortress of words “that enables us to sign a pact for a permanent and comprehensive peace ... with life.” Peep into the hearts of violent people, criminals and war mongers and you will find battered hearts who have failed to make peace with life – its weal and woe and its wild jokes.
In a scenario where our more important poets have chosen silence or highly veiled mode of writing for understandable reasons, researcher, translator, journalist, author of some highly useful works including the first one of its kind from Kashmir Gashik Minar that introduces major writers of the Western world, G. N. Khayal is one of the very few wide ranging, multilingual and highly informed poets who has now come up with his slim volume of what is mostly resistance poetry. Khayal has lived through, as a witness and even participant, of post-1947 Kashmir’s intellectual and literary history.
We encounter a different Khayal in this volume – one who is best described as a rebel and who sings of a way of redemption by martyrdom, whose heroes are not mainstream leaders but counter-stream resistance leaders. At times the poet in him disappears and is replaced by an ideologue.
This slim volume though impressive only in patches (one finds rather direct, less imaginative, didactic, clichéd and too explicitly ideological content in many poems) is a significant news for Kashmiris whose political tragedy hasn’t found due representation in great imaginative representation in poetry. Although we have poets of diverse hues from Mushtaq Kashmiri to Agha Shahid attempting to transmute Kashmir’s pain into poetry and we do find occasional expression in almost all better known poets from Rahi to our very promising young poets, it remains a fact that Kashmir has no Faiz or Mehmoud Darwish. Khayal’s work seeks to atone for this silence or neglect. While it does give us some remarkable pieces but one feels the best will be forthcoming in future from his pen and it will inspire other poets to speak. Poetry mayn’t change the world but it does change the poet as Darwish has noted and it indeed is the case in Khayal. We have now a Khayal who seems to have found new youth or rebirth. He surprises us, almost shocks at times, with his new found celebration of resilience, hope and passion. With poets around, Kashmir needn’t despair. Leaders need to read them in order to understand the role of memory and desire and the imperative to be authentically oneself. However, poets aren’t political leaders but messengers and singers of people’s dreams and hopes; they can’t be taken at face value. Transposing what Mehmood Darwish said about Palestine, we can say that the metaphor of Kashmir has more reality than the reality of Kashmir. Poets’ metaphors shouldn’t be read in the manner political slogans are read. Khayal’s love is now Kashmir with all its beauty and tragedy and the project has epic dimensions – to redeem the bride or Sita called Kashmir from the horde of Ravans who are difficult to identify or isolate. Our resistance and mainstream leaders who seem now to be short of ideas might profit by taking note of poets who sing of those things that our politician ordinarily or often ignore. It is poets who are in the most intimate touch with people at ground level – they know their hearts and dreams and take note of their silent prayers. Poets are better guides as they are required to have escaped from identification with the projects of ego and ideally have no communal or ideological axes to grind.
Dedicated to Maqbool Bhat and “Khon-i- Shaheeedan sae jo khilae un veeranu kae naam/Is Kashmir pae mitnae walae deewanu kae naam” and singing of what one could call the phases of innocence (pre-Mughal and also pre-1989 and of Kashmir’s beauty or unsullied love) and experience (post-Mughal, also especially post-1989) but not consistently succeeding in converting the later part into poetry, we have here a call to action and not resignation or lamentation only. “Bekasu ki qasm/Kah-o-khoon ki qasm/Is jinoo ki qasm/Ab to shadaan hoga yeh apna wattan/Khul uthae ga dobara yeh veeran chamen.”
Especially two poems that Kashmir lovers and analysts would find interesting are “Jeng” and “Shaheed-i-Kashmir sae Khataab.” The first one recalls Kashmir of 90s when wild enthusiasm of mad heart could sing without inhibitions and there was no disillusionment with violence as a mode of resistance and the second one is important because the beloved of the poet has changed signifying change of qibla of Kashmiris from Delhi to Srinagar. It is a tribute to Maqbool Bhat though it was originally written in honour of Shaikh Abdullah but with whom the poet, after 1975 when he is perceived to have sold his people cheaply, is disillusioned.
This slim volume has some poems that talk of love (such as “Tumharae Naam”) and Kashmir that can be read by everyone, of all ideological persuasions. Here the poet has succeeded best both in form and content and has given us some memorable verses that recall earlier Khayal who was intoxicated with Persian masters such as Khayam and Hafiz. But what should interest conflict torn Kashmiris more is the later part of the book. Here the poet asks the stars to light up the dark night with tears to light up the graves of martyrs and laments that we have somewhere lost sight and stumbled, got blind and concludes with a prayer asking for forgiveness and light.
I conclude with reflections on what poets can offer to Kashmiris today. When time seems to be out of joint, how poetry helps or heals? By making whole, by uniting opposites, by noticing hidden harmony, by lifting us some distance above the earth so that souls don’t bleed even if bodies will continue to be part of the deadly bloody ritual. As Neruda said: “I intend to confuse things, to unite them, make them new-born intermingle them, undress them, until the light of the world has the unity of the ocean, a generous wholeness, a fragrance alive and crackling.” This light shines there even in the darkness of Tihar jail and curfewed nights. Who can snatch the company of the moon and the stars, memories of near and dear ones – Khayal eloquently sings of them – strange joy of suffering for truth, infinite lightness and healing silence of our being and company of the great poets whom we can summon any moment to help us build a heavenly mansion of our own in the sanctuary of our souls.