Introduction to 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.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Kashmir's Literary Revival

Arjimand notes the success of three new books in English by Kashmiri writers and feels something to cheer about

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, was born in Srinagar. He is a columnist/writer and a development professional who matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University and has a diploma in journalism as well. He is an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany and has worked with UNESCO, Oxfam and ActionAid International in some seven countries in Asia and Africa. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit.)

Our English Jihad: Reflections on Curfewed Night, The Collaborator, The Garden of Solitude

Hope seldom overrides despair for we Kashmiris. Let us honestly admit, most of us often give in to what looks like ‘the inevitability of a national decay.’ Our circumstances usually leave us confused, and dejected. Left marooned and captive, we often crane our necks for a glimpse of hope, some fresh air.

The good news is that our grey clouds have plentiful silver lining. Look at the sort of renaissance our English literature is going through. Kashmir is catching global attention today, and not for ordinary reasons.

It is true that we have a rich tradition of producing fantastic literature, mostly in Kashmiri, Urdu and, to some extent, Persian. But our brush with English is somewhat new.

If ever Kashmir happens to own the hated, the brilliant, the maverick Salman Rushdie, then we have made our mark in English literature for a while now.

If not then our English era begins with Agha Shahid Ali – the genius, who made the literary world take note of Kashmiris’ ability to craft astonishing English literature. No matter the angel of death had him little early, and we didn’t get to read a novel from him, his poems remain the best thing we have ever produced in English. His writings – including his translations of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Urdu ghazals - continue to captivate, and leave a reader with incredible but pleasant bewilderment.

What has created ripples in the literary world lately, however, are Basharat Peer’s memoir Curfewed Night, and now Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator and Siddharth Gigoo’s The Garden of Solitude, both novels.

And, one hears, more stories are just on the way.

Listening to Waheed Mirza at a Srinagar café a few days back was a real treat. This genuine English writer, who seems to know his job well, made an excellent case for what he had crafted. And, frankly speaking, I greatly enjoyed his narration of the evolution and the making of The Collaborator than the tracts he read from the novel.

Having spent the last couple of weeks in the reading of The Collaborator, Curfewed Night, and a partial reading of The Garden of Solitude, I am left with a mixed feeling.

All these three books are undoubtedly a work of colossal effort. What they have done in great measure is make the world open its eyes to Kashmir’s profound human stories. These books are bold, do not mind making people angry, and come with an emotionally-charged personal relation to their narratives. For those who wish to appreciate why Kashmiris nurse so much of pain and anger, these books hold the answer. In two of these books, there is also some resonance with Muzammil Jaleel’s "My Lost Kashmir", which appeared in the London Observer way back in 2002.

But there is something that is missing too – a captivating narrative that captures intricate details normally seen in Kashmir’s non-English writings and an inquisitive plot. Curfewed Night and The Garden of Solitude have mostly relied on linear story telling. But there are some brilliant thoughts in Curfewed Night as well, like this one - Srinagar is never winning or never being defeated.

In the end, in all these three books, the thirst for a narration where imagination goes berserk, and attention to detail sounds obsessive, is left unquenched.

But those who see too much of politics in these books miss the point. No writer having been witness to Kashmir’s mayhem can skirt the political circumstances their authors have breathed in. Those circumstances shape their cognition, and so what they write.

But when it comes to literary merit, one would surely love to see more of magic realism squeezed from a million things that are Kashmiri, entwined in our historical fiction, which is inevitable.

To say that a first person or third person protagonist narrative could have been avoided in these books is unfair too. No creative writing needs to be moored to a particular genre. Likewise, it is completely ethical to narrate a story from the prism of one’s perceptions and biases. But, yes, when personal political biases cross a certain line, and balance creeps in for being politically correct, literature loses its charm.

What The Collaborator does remarkably well is bring to the world the story of Kashmir’s secluded hinterland – the life of the hapless people living close to the Line of Control. But as what Peter Carty in his review of the novel says, The Collaborator is “frequently histrionic and overwrought.” Although that sounds little too harsh while reading, but actually not totally unfounded as one goes into the novel in detail.

When it comes The Collaborator’s title - originally titled In the Valley of Yellow Flowers – a reader is left thinking if it is intentional. A best-selling novel of the same title by Seymour Gerald, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is already in the market since September 2009 in the UK.

There is, nevertheless, a big reason to cheer our Aborted Martyrs kind of writers – waging a jihad of a different ilk, winning friends to their political cause and empathy for their people’s suffering.

First novels seldom bring out the best of the writers. Writers evolve as they write. Basharat, Waheed and Siddarth possess a talent that is capable of producing far more striking stories.

And then we have our other brilliant and veteran creative English writers - Syeda Afshana, Ajaz-ul-Haque, Muzammil Jaleel, Sajad Lone and Ajaz Baba. These individuals are capable of producing English literature which could hit the global literary stage with unpredictable results. I wait for the day when these people find time from their work commitments, resign to themselves, and let their literary genius go berserk. I am also greatly fascinated by the writings of Sameer Bhat, whom we read mostly on Facebook. He has the talent of being a global sensation. He is my favorite number one.

And who knows we may one day have a master piece, a contender for the Booker, as Agha Shahid Ali said – in a language that must measure up to one’s native dust.

1 comment:

rashme said...

Wonderful.. I love this blog!