Introduction to KashmirForum.org Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.
www.kashmirforum.org

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dealing With Kashmiri (Literary?) Snobs

Riyaz has some advice for pseudo-snobs who are jealous of a budding author

(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 36, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)

For those upset over Curfewed Night

“The facts,” says the famous Twentieth century British Historian Edward Hallett Carr in What is History (Macmillan 1961), “are available to the historian in documents, inscriptions and so on, like fishmonger’s slab.” The historian, according to Carr, collects them, takes them home and cooks and serves them in whatever style appeals to him.

Steering clear of fact-cooking, Basharat Peer in his debut work, Curfewed Night (Random House India), has wanted facts served plain and caused nausea to some of our ‘writers’ who are almost always for a culinary treatment to the facts.

They tend to subject Peer’s work to the canons of literary merit. It would be as clumsy as comparing a precocious child’s rant with a stoic Sufi’s forecast. It’s silly, also, to expect the ‘revolutionary stimulant’ such as Ye Kis Ka Laho ye Koun Mara of 1990s at a time when people have displayed the art of diplomacy (look at their balancing act during elections), and at a time when the army and police dread the stone-pelting mobs more than the gun wielding militants of yesteryears.

But, curiously, some ‘experts’ are also upset over the economics of Peer’s work, for which he had sweated his eyebrows for more than three years. In the somewhat contorted intro of a review published in a local daily, Professor Muhammad Aslam who teaches English at the University of Kashmir writes: “Kashmir Turbulence and turbulent Kashmir have provided opportunities to many otherwise non-writers to become writers and reap the harvest in plenty.”

Earlier in this newspaper, a young observer had chosen to ‘review’ the book under a pseudonym, Syed M I Rehman. Ironically his review clumsily started off with a sweeping conclusion: “There was nothing unique; nothing memorable, and nothing banal as well. His descriptive narration doesn't hold attention for long. Unlike David Devadas whose 'Kashmir: in search of truth', was gripping and laced with lurid narrative, Peer's book has no such ingredients. In trying to follow a non linear narration Peer often stumbles.”

Sadly, such crackpot responses are emanating from our celebrated institutions such as the University of Kashmir. Indeed Basharat’s book has got bagful of reviews and hardly anything remains unsaid about the widely commended work. The book does not need any promotional exercise by our self-obsessed writers because Random House is a corporate concern, knowing well where to invest and why. A Kashmiri response to an indigenous work like Basharat’s was expected to be patriotic rather than envious. If some self-praising academic could not produce a meaningful work over decades he or she better retire off humbly rather than condemning a fair work with fallacious and stupid arguments.

The loose reviews that appeared in the vernacular press have only proven how thin our intellectual exterior actually is. That is, primarily, why the supposedly intellectual section of our society overlooked the starker facets of this new work. For example, if Basharat writes for Random House at 31 may be in future our youngsters write for even bigger banners at the age of 28! And, in this evolutionary process, if the greenhorns outgrow their senior thinkers the elders should betray maturity; they should weigh their words before acting on their fickle impulses.

What concerns you as a conscious reader is that a young Muslim Kashmiri comes out with a book at 31; the book is published by an MNC, Random House; is reviewed widely in the periodicals of global note; many other publishers sign the author for newer works. In response to such an admirable effort the author’s countrymen exhaust their keyboards only to find faults in the book. Prejudice! what else?

In terms of a native response, all what the Curfewed Night evoked in Kashmir was from the aforementioned Professor’s problem with issues of money to Mr Rehman’s perceived standards of a ‘lurid narrative’, which as per his own confession have bewitched him in David Devdas’s recent twist to the Kashmir story.

Why did not we understand the purpose of the work? Peer has, in fact, tried to tell a very circumscribed story to the global readership.

Books about life in oppressed societies generally evoke debates within the same societies. But the debates elsewhere are at least worth unlike ours in which we have laid bare our brittle egos and couched insecurities. A quick look at the Afghan response to Khaled Husseini’s second novel, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, which deals with contemporary Afghanistan, would substantiate this point. The success or failure of such works including Curfewed Night depends on how effectively they shock the inexperienced reader (in Indian metros or in UK and US) into a response. Basharat’s prose may have enough vignettes and the portrayal may appear very vivid yet we shall have to wait how quickly it evokes the response from the target audiences.

By the time that comes through, Basharat’s effort deserves loud acknowledgement as he has appreciably set the mood for Kashmir story in the western or may be within India’s burgeoning book market. In their shallow and poorly written reviews of the book Professor Aslam, who is nervy over the works of ‘non-writers’, and others whose tinted glass of pseudonym has been shredded, have, actually, given out their jealousy instead of a calibrated response.

Curfewed Night should not, therefore, be tested against the accepted critical standards of Great Literature nor should it be subjected to the moralistic confines of Tehreeki (pro-resistance) and Non-Tehreeki (anti-resistance) stuff. It is a symbolic encouragement to Kashmiri youth that the outside world is ready to listen to them if they can articulate in the contemporary idiom without sounding melodramatic but at the same time appearing as an eye-opener for those who might be listening to the Kashmir story for the first time.

Being woefully under-read I spare myself the hazard of technically reviewing Curfewed Night in which Basharat has moderately tried to blend a tragic narrative with a lively described frame of cultural mores and civilizational milieu. Nevertheless for a freelance reader the book gives out that Basharat seriously needs to build further upon his blending style and fact collection. That is not about the statistics or dates. In the words of Housman accuracy is a duty, not a virtue. For a serious reader it hardly matters if British India got divided on Aug 15 or Aug 14 or Aug 17; what matters most is the fact that the partition saw a worst humanitarian crisis.

Basharat, and all of us whom he has inspired with his accomplishment, will have to understand that a dispassionate Kashmiri storyteller requires not just the innovative, honest approach to history but also the sense of national responsibility. If the stories we choose to tell are purely indigenous the underlying discourse too should be reverberatingly indigenous, not the one punctuated with the clich├ęd ‘official version’.

Let’s walk past the instructive debates about whether Basharat has written a good or bad book; a neutral, one-sided or a balanced book. What needs be examined is what Basharat wants to do through this. Shock the Western reader into a sharper response? Take the Indian reader away from the media-induced image of Kashmir? Or enrich the already discredited palace discourse with moving stories? Let’s not beat our chests, let’s wait for the second edition.

And if someone’s stomach is still twirling over “the same old tale now told in a new fashion” he better pull up sleeves and produce a work that, according to his weird wish, would contain ‘new tale with a new fashion’. Upstarts like Basharat will not mind!

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