The Reminiscent of the Beloved Witness-Aga Shahid Ali
They ask me to tell them what Shahid means-
Listen: It means ‘The Beloved’ in Persian, ‘witness’ in Arabic. (Aga Shahid Ali)
From the ancient times, Kashmir has remained a hot seat of learning and scholasticism. The land has produced a great number of writers and intellectuals who wrote about the congeniality of their times. The contemporary writers flashed on the literary screen with a variety of themes ranging from domestic life to political unrest in Kashmir and contributed a high voltage literature of protest to Kashmiri-English literature. The life of Kashmiris which is under daily cordon is powerfully expressed in the writings of a new generation of Kashmiri writers. There is no denying of the fact that most of these contemporary writers of Kashmir have been essentially influenced by Aga Shahid Ali and his themes of trauma and lamentation. Justine Hardy, a British journalist and the author of The wonder House, a breathtaking novel which is set in Kashmir against the background of political unrest, says, “Aga Shahid Ali put Kashmir on the world literary map inspiring a whole generation of young Kashmiris”.
Aga Shahid Ali was essentially a Kashmiri. Although he lived in a foreign land yet he remained deeply rooted to his homeland. He could never turn a blind eye to the plight of a common Kashmiri man. His poetry collection, The Country without a Post Office, is a true picture of wounds and scars which Kashmiris have been suffering from ages. His poetry does not show only the pain of Kashmiri Muslim community but in his poetry he also mourns the exile of Kashmiri Pandits and many things they took with themselves. The poet laureate of Maryland, Michael Collier, says, “As a Kashmiri, Ali is aware of the historical vicissitudes that breed violence and hatred in people who once lived together peacefully. His poems speak to the enduring qualities of love and friendship. With elegance and wit, they also speak to the difficulty of maintaining such relationships.”
The people of Kashmir are waiting for the day when their pain would come to an end, whatever the people of Kashmir have experienced in the past decades: the bloodshed, losing of the dear ones and losing of the peace for which Kashmir was known. The poetry of the Beloved Witness, Aga Shahid Ali, is filled with the longing and the cries of loss. He gives a kind of window to the world through which the world can watch and witness the suppressed feelings of Kashmiri people, their pain, suffering and anguish. Shahid turns a tragic witness to the truth of 90’s and which still carries the same picture in Kashmir. “Don’t tell my father I have died, – he says/ And I follow him through blood on the roads/ and hundreds of pairs of shoes the mourners/ left behind, as they ran from the funeral,/victims of the firing.
Shahid’s poetry echoes the pain and suffering of the people of his homeland. His poetry collections, The Half-Inch Himalayas and The Country without a Post Office are directly linked to the politically volatile nature of Kashmir. Aga Shahid Ali is not less than Russian/Polish poet Osip Mandelstam who too wrote the literature of protest and conflict, as Shahid himself says in one of his poem, “He reinvents Petersburg (I, Srinagar), an imaginary homeland, filling it, closing it, shutting(myself) in it”. No Kashmiri writer could close his eyes to the tragedy of Kashmir or its effects on the psyche of a common Kashmiri. He lived distances away from Kashmir yet he remained emotionally attached to it and he succeeds in observing the accuracy and exactness of the political upheavals in Kashmir. He has preserved every wounded figure of Kashmir in his poetry. In his poem, “Dear Shahid” he speaks of the ill fate of Kashmiri youngsters which still carries truth in Kashmir:
“You must have heard Rizwan was killed. Rizwan: Guardiann of the Gates of Paradise. Only Eighteen years old. Yesterday at Hideout Café (everyone there asks about you), a doctor- who had just treated a sixteen-year old boy released from an interrogation Center- said: I want to ask the fortune- tellers: Did anything in his line of Fate reveal that the webs of his hands would be cut with a knife?” The character Rizwan symbolizes the whole generation of Kashmiri youth who still live the life of pain and agony and who still resist the epidemic of bullets, pellets and chill shells. The uprising of 2016 was a deadly dance of bullets on the streets of Kashmir that injured more than 10,000 people in four months, killed nearly 100 people and blinded shockingly more than 500 civilians, indeed! The year 2016 will be remembered as the year of dead eyes. Most of the victims were below the age of twenty-years, the poem, “Dear Shahid” is a prophetic poem
and all victims of the uprising reminds us of the character Rizwan. Nishat Zaidi, professor of English from Jamia Milia Islamai University, says, “Shahid not only displays a very clear and close understanding of the politics in his homeland Kashmir, but also raises a strong voice of protest against the political repression, the weak political will on the part of the Government and the plight of innocent people dying in the valley”.
Aga Shahid Ali is such a dreamer who does not lose hope but rather hopes for the return of peace and a beautiful tomorrow to Kashmir. He believes that one day truth shall win over falsehood and his motherland would once more rejoice with peace and prosperity and sings : We shall meet again, in Srinagar/ By the gates of the Villa of Peace/ our hands blossoming into fists/ till the soldiers return the keys/ and disappear.
Waseem Majazi is a book reviewer, lives in Hajin Sonawari, Kashmir India, and can be reached at email@example.com