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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Naseem Shafai's Genius

Betab introduces the reader to a true Kashmiri intellectual

(Mr. Brij Nath Watal "Betab", 55, was born in Akingam, Anantnag district. He attended the Government High School in Achabal, and completed his pre-professional studies at the Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He received a Master's degree in Political Science from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. He is presently employed as a broadcaster/journalist by the All India Radio (AIR), New Delhi. Mr. Betabhas published three poetry collections, and received a National Award for poetry. He has traveled to Central Asia, and attended many national and international seminars. He is a regular contributor to half a dozen magazines, and is the honorary editor of the Hindi edition of the "Koshur Samachar." Mr. Betab is a member of J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL) subcommitte on Kashmiri language. He isassociated with various Sahitya Academy projects, and served as its jury. In leisure time, he enjoys writing and reading poetry, oriental studies and Shaivism.)

Naseem Shafai--- the Feminist Crusader

Professor Naseem Shafai's Sahitya Akademy Award winning book 'Ne Tschai ne Aks' (neither shadow, nor reflection') is a Kashmiri poetry collection of 44 poems and 36 Ghazals, Published in 2007.
Priced at rupees three hundred, the 208 page volume opens with a small canto dedicated by the author to her journalist husband 'Zafarji', with gratitude for his 'adoring encouragement'.

The 'radically feminist' poetry has a few stanzas , as prelude to the foreword, that portray the poet's emotions, and outlook towards the life.This works as a preamble to Naseem's poetry, where feminism is discernible in her almost every poem.

The title of the book has been taken from the first poem, BE NE TSCHAI NE AKS'( I am neither a shadow nor a reflection).

This poem is apparently a beautiful piece of romance, woven with epical Warf and weft and the threads from the legends of iconic Kashmiri women. The message is feminist and universal.

I am not like you, neither a replica of your dream
You have your own subsistence, I have an existence of my own
If you hanker to know, you shall realize a new world
My endurance is different, and you shall comprehend that....

Decrying the " male domination and a woman's afflicted subordination', like Kate Millet, the political theorist, the 1952 born poetess argues that through the ages, the woman have been on the receiving end. But now the world "must not stand in her way".

After a long time, I have realized my identity
Comprehended that I have to have a vision
well, I have to fill my rim with sunshine
I am the mother Lalla and the Habba Khatoon
Now the world must not stop me.

In another poem MOZREYN,(the female laborer) she poses the question. "What is it that the common (working) women folk in our society achieves.? Why is her entire life spent just for a morsel of food and a shred to cover the body . Why has she to shed the tears and always be a prey to the sexual exploitation by the ever famished husband.?

My inner voice warned,
He is not in his usual today
The man-eater is hunting a prey
There, I, opened Shiva's third eye
Stared at him
Made him to fall from the grace
His entire existence burnt down
Reduced to ashes
He was no more…(He died)

The poem is a 'gender identity interface', that is the reflection of the ideological advancement of the feminist ethnologists. However for the poetess Naseem Shafai, it is not the Sex, but the Gender inequality that poses the challenge.

Oh, you too got on to this boat
You also strayed at last
Oh, you also got swayed slowly
By this word smith
Oh, you also followed
Your late mother
shall you also live by cursed destiny
by your virtue the world is wonderful
please realize now
see, the Adam will be worthless
without you'.(Adam's trap)

This type of poetry is an expression of a woman's inner passion for self esteem, and self admiration. This type of passion is termed as 'Sun Passion' by Kshemendra, the 10th century writer from Kashmir. This passion, says Kshemendra , 'can create illusions of pleasure.' It is perhaps due to this illusion that it has been alleged about Naseem Shafai that 'she does not seem to bother about the equality of man and woman'.

When we de-construct her poems, as critics like Terry Eagleton advocated , it becomes crystal clear that the poetess does bother for the man-woman equality. It is in fact this equality that she, in her poetry, is fighting for.

I would never look for you, but my heart sometimes induces me
Finding no reason, it maneuvers somehow
Those, who studded my every gaze with stars
Should be aware that I am dreaming?

Naseem may not be dreaming of 'equality of opportunity', but she certainly is fighting for 'equality of persons, that is common to cultural, religious and moral traditions'.

The poetess, who is a retired professor and a post graduate of Kashmiri language and literature, from the University of Kashmir, does not challenge the existence of 'A woman's partner', a lover. She is rather active about love and romance in life.

The doors are still engraved with longing for someone
The gaze hanging through the window is fixed at the path.
Read my heart, if you can read my face
Write the reply to quires, if you can rub.

It is however her 'desire' to be treated at par and with dignity. It is this dignity in family and society that the women's lib stands for and Naseem Shafai is its crusader for that in Kashmiri literature.

Enter deep into me and trace me for a moment
I am something beyond the body and the beauty
Descend from skies like Krishna and worship me
Oh Rama, become like me, I shall test out…….

Naseem Shafai propagates the existence of self in flesh and bones. 'The Self' that for a women is a matter of existence. Existence with quality and equality.

For Naseem it is the denial of this quality and equality for a woman that finds an emotional outburst in her poetry.

"She knew
How to look straight into others eyes,
She was, but, taught
In her early life
That those who cast their eyes down
Achieve heights,
She would laugh
And enjoy hilarity
Celebrate the childhood,
She was, but, taught
Right from her birth
That a giggle does not augur well,
She was handed over such a fear
That frightened, she would say
"It is the world of satanic influences
Beyond the threshold,
Outside the doorsill" {Fareeb (Deception)

Poetess Naseem Shafai, who gave new diction to feministic Kashmiri poetry, is a woman of substance who enjoys not only womanhood, but the life itself and wants others to enjoy, following perhaps Antony Hopkins who said, ' I love life because what more is there"?..



Naseem Shafaie has become the first Kashmiri woman to win the country’s highest literary honour, the Sahitya Akademi Award, in recognition of her contribution to the revival of Kashmir’s long tradition of poetesses. Shafaie talks to Sameer Arshad about giving life to dying literary traditions of her state

What does the Sahitya Akademi award mean to you?

I do not see it as a source of fame, but as recognition more than anything else. As kids, we look at our elders for appreciation and that pushes us to set higher standards for ourselves. Similarly, this award means that I have grown as a poetess and now I have a place of my own in the world of literature. It has been a long journey and I thank my teachers for encouraging me to write in Kashmiri when everybody else was writing in Urdu. My teachers told me to stick to Kashmiri and I think that has paid off. Moreover, it is Allah’s gift. I am very happy, but it’s also a source of great relief that my work has been finally recognized.

What is the nature of your poetry? The anthology that won you the award is about female emancipation and individuality? Is your poetry purely womenoriented or does it also reflect suffering caused by the turmoil in Kashmir?

My poetry addresses a wide range of issues from a woman’s perspective. My first collection of poems — Daerche Mutchrith (Open Window) is about a Kashmiri woman looking out of her window, a metaphor for her yearning to explore the outside world in the 1970s when the women began to take to higher education and their representation in government jobs began to increase.

My second award-winning book Nah Chaien Tshay Na Aks (Neither Your Shadow Nor Reflection) —released in 2007— is about women’s empowerment and individuality. In the title poem, I say that a woman is neither a man’s shadow nor his reflection; she has a position of her own and that she can do wonders on her own. But it is not irreverent towards men. It talks about men and women being different but equal. Men are neither more important, nor superior to women. They should at best complement each other. Meh Tog Nah Ranun (I Could Not Cook) is about how life changes for a woman after marriage and the struggles of adjustment. Another poem is about a father’s love for his daughter and his apprehension that she may not be treated that well after him.

And the pain and suffering?

How can anyone, who lived through the difficult times, be immune to it? It has had a tremendous impact on my poems. My poem Bakh (Wail) is about women and their insecurity in letting their kids go out in Kashmir of the 1990s. Its last stanza mate martaw yen chew wansi kam (do not die, you are too young to die) is about women mourning young sons who have died in last 20 years. Another poem deals with enforced disappearances. Du Wuth (Two Ways) is about Kashmir of my childhood and my lament that our future generations may not see the same Kashmir again.

You have been credited with reviving the tradition of poetesses in Kashmir. Whatisthestateof Kashmiriliterature at the moment?

The basis of Kashmiri literature is the poetry of famous poetesses like Lal Ded, the 14th century mystic poetess; Habba Khatoon of 16th century, and Arnimal of the 18th century. They were very strong women who challenged the norms of patriarchy. We have had a rich legacy of women poets but we had nothing on what they had written in their own handwriting. Their works were passed from one generation to another orally before they were written in the 20th century. It has been challenging, but now many women are coming forward. I was the only one to go to mushairas in the 1970s. Things are changing now.

You started your literary journey from a vibrant Kashmir University campus in the 1970s. Has the campus retained that vibrancy?

It was extremely vibrant when I started in the 1970s. We used to have weekly literary gatherings on Saturdays. There was a lot of critical thinking and appreciation. We were really groomed well. Besides, the local radio station has played a vital role in grooming poetesses like me. We had outstanding guides like Avtarchand Rehbar, Lassa Koul, who gave us proper guidance and taught us the nitty-gritty of poetry.

Is the Kashmiri language dying as many fear?

I am an optimist. The language has been introduced as a compulsory subject till Class VIII. It is optional after that. The best thing about it is that mothers, who are more comfortable with Urdu and English, have now begun to learn the language to teach their kids.

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