GHULAM MOHAMMAD KHAN
The former US admiral and commander of NATO in Europe James Stavridis’ interesting injunction to read and closely scrutinize Russian Literature in order to get to the ‘soul of Russia’; its public behaviour and political actions to the people and politicians of Europe in general and America in particular, vindicates the relevance and authenticity of ‘Literature’, the discipline otherwise adjudged by many as something simulated or apocryphal. To figure out any possibility of getting closer to the otherwise cryptic Kremlin foreign policy, Stavridis preferred the reading of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace over the works of Stephen Cohen, Zbigniew Brzezinski and many other outstanding scholars in Russian studies. Marxism, a ground-breaking philosophy that still continues to be the obsession with intellectuals across the globe, is thematically not so different with what Dickens, Trollope and Thackeray forewarn in their novels. After attaining a Reader’s Ticket to the British Library Reading Room in 1849, Karl Marx voraciously consumed the volumes of Dickens, Bronte sisters, and Thackeray. The Victorian Novel perfectly ‘estranges’ or ‘defamiliarizes’ the thematics of Marxian oeuvre. Marx himself confessed that Dickens, Thackeray, and the Bronte sisters, “have issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together”. Literature, therefore, is not something merely imaginative, figurative, aesthetic, and rhythmic or something that only imbricates a world of abstractions or unfounded philosophical meditations. In fact where a historian, due to some political pressures, fails to record the events judiciously, literature can still come up with a more reliable narrative. Literary discourse, as Terry Eagleton believes estranges or alienates ordinary speech, but in doing so, paradoxically, brings us into a fuller, more intimate possession of experience.
If ‘Literature’ has such significance and relevance, then Kashmir, given its vulnerable political environment, a convoluted political history, and tough living conditions, desperately needs a strong independent architecture of literary accomplishments, which would survive as the perfect apotheosis of the collective Kashmiri memory of anguish and affliction, of distress and deceit, of death and disappearance, of pain and protest, of beauty and the beast. Though we have a rare creed of literary stalwarts and a long tradition of literary imagination, but we lack a group or groups of poets or writers, who could perfectly capture the ‘sociological imagination’ of an age in its variety and complexity as we see the literary actors doing in other parts of the country in particular and the world in general. We should learn from the way Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand and R.K. Narayan, the great triumvirate of Indian novel, represent the socio-political and cultural imagination of an age, or from the way Dickens, Thackeray and Bronte sisters capture the soul of Victorian England or the triumvirate of Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen systematically produce a substantial body of literature representing the gory experiences of war. The huge chunk of the literature written in Kashmiri language is either an omnium-gatherum of disparate philosophical abstractions yoked together in abstruse verbal mechanics or something impregnated with the profuse of romantic and imaginative ebullience and sensual and spiritual delight. Barring a few progressive poets and writers, who metaphorically expressed the common man’s cause, the rest of the troupe was and its progeny still continues to be strangely enmeshed with that ‘airy nothing’. We have a body of literature, but why could not it keep Basharat Peer from blushing or feeling almost ashamed as he walked across a line of book-shops in Delhi? The eye-pooping titles of the books and the relevant issues they covered might have pinched Peer’s heart as to why his own valley, where the simmering political crises and depraved human life were enough equipment to produce hundreds of masterpieces, failed or lagged far behind in creating a single similar book. Here, the big repository of books in Kashmir University’s Allama Iqbal Library on the religious, geographical, cultural and socio-political history of Kashmir or our diverse newspaper columns, editorials or opinion pages should not be confused as Literature. Literary and non-literary value-judgments exist separately. We can include Charles Lamb and Macaulay in nineteenth century English literature, but we cannot include Karl Marx and Jeremy Bentham.
We have a big oeuvre of books written on the thematics of conflict, its emergence, escalation and consequences, but unfortunately we have a meagre, almost inconsiderable Literature on the same. The magnitude of Kashmir Issue, its impact on the psychological health of the inhabitants of the land, its gifts of political and ethical degeneration and disillusionment, its annihilation of an age-old community kindredship should have produced an unprecedented literary corpus. Our poets and writers writing in Kashmiri language must realize their grave injustice to the cause. Don’t they find it is time to replace the hide-bound subject matter of recondite and irrelevant philosophical musings with social issues like the adversity of the conflict and its impact on social life? Though some literary efforts were made towards the close of the last decade to represent the harrowing political culture, but it needs a strong burgeoning and sustenance. Agha Shahid Ali came on the scene earlier, but his literary dealings with the Kashmir imbroglio did not go beyond a small collection of poems. Interestingly, these new attempts at representing the conflict in literary writings come in English language, and not in the local Kashmiri language. Let’s focus on why we need our own Literature and how can it immortalize, survive and glorify the condition of life in the times conflict better than any other subject or discipline of thought?
Literature is not merely an ‘organized violence committed on ordinary speech’ or an imaginative way of looking for a similitude in the fantastic universal dissimilitude; it is a more tried-and-true substitute than history or philosophy to represent the multifarious dimensions and complexities of human life. It is a form of permanent insurrection that not only reflects nations but also invents them. The American professor of Political Science, Raymond Taras rightly observes, “Novels [literature] chart subterranean cultural and political cleavages within the society, and have the freedom to do so. Politics, on the other hand, plays out contests in a dualistic and binary universe aimed at overcoming an adversary rather than unearthing absolute truths.” This stands true when we critically evaluate a small body of literary work produced by the writers like Agha Shahid Ali, Basharat Peer, Siddhartha Gigoo, Mirza Waheed, Sudha Koul, Rahul Pandita, Shahnaz Bashir, and a few others. Take the example of Basharat Peer’s memoir Curfewed Night or Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator or Gigoo’s The Garden of Solitude: all three of the exemplary literary documents from Kashmir powerfully highlight those ‘mini-narratives’, which had always been crashed out by the dominant (political) meta-narratives, and which our bulk of books on political history of Kashmir has failed to foreground. Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night “does a great deal to bring the Kashmir Conflict out of the realm of political rhetoric between India and Pakistan and into the lives of Kashmiris”. Peer’s Curfewed Night is not a fictional representation of the different faces of terrorism in Kashmir, but an authentic account of the gory realities of war based on real life experiences. Peer’s heart is heavily burdened by his ghastful encounters with various maimed and muddled victims of the war. Feeling overburdened by these realities, Peer criticizes the apathetic politics of war and different linguistic constructions, loaded with the poison of ideological antagonism at the end of the memoir.
Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator (his greatest literary-cum-intellectual effort till date. The prose of the novel is intensely poetic, exceptionally descriptive, and above all perfectly chiseled) again highlights the devastating conflict by focusing the narrative not on politics or ministers or bureaucrats or irrelevant Sufi philosophical musings, but on the travails, agony and helplessness of a remote insurgency and counter-insurgency hit family, a village. Mirza Waheed tells the story of those, who have had been discarded and disowned by the politically motivated history. Similarly, Gigoo’s ‘polyphonic’ or ‘heteroglossic’ text The Garden of Solitude artistically entwines a number of disparate experiences related to militant uprising and the havoc it played with the common man. Another significant aspect of the novel is its escape from the convoluted historical-cum-political narratives based on the exodus of Kashmiri Pandit community and its focus on human experience in a given situation. By focusing on the actual lived human experience, Gigoo creates a more relevant narrative that could have been otherwise lost in the darkness of history.
It is time to construct a well-built structure on the foundations laid down by these writers otherwise; our collective memory of the conflict will be permanently lost for the generations to come. We do not have to dig in and look for the content; we can feed the white paper on the rubble of the conflict for decades to come. We desperately need a literature of our own because, as George Henry Lewes opines, “Literature is at once the cause and the effect of social progress. It deepens our natural sensibilities, and strengthens by exercise our intellectual capacities. It stores up the accumulated experience of the race, connecting Past and Present into a conscious unity; and with this store it feeds successive generations, to be fed in turn by them.”
(The writer is a PhD Research Scholar at Central University of Haryana, Email id: email@example.com)