It was perhaps the twentieth day of the lockdown. I had lost count of dates and days, sitting in my small ten by twelve feet study, like my ancestors the pit dwellers, I had no idea about the world outside. Dead landlines and lifeless cell phones had gathered dust as thick as scum on the stinking pond in the heart of the city, once a turquoise spring-fed waterbody gasping for breaths. I had no idea what was happening next door. I had no news about my friends Dr Ahad and Dr Javid, living just across the stream, at a distance of three minutes crows’ flight from my home. My friend Hamid, a retired police officer, had sent his PSO, on his bike to know about my welfare. And if my stock of insulin and life-saving drugs had not exhausted, but I had no news about my elder brother also dependent on life-saving drugs just at a distance of five kilometres. I had no information about my other siblings. It was only after   ‘donkeys’ days’ when mobile communication shutdown had got partially restored; I heard their voice. The excitement was no less than that in NASA when it establishes its contact with a lost spaceship – something one sees in the Hollywood films. It was on this day, a bicycle started ringing at the gate of my house, and it was after weeks a guest was at the door, it was none other than my classmate and friend Mohammad Maqbool Bhat, living at fifteen minutes’ walk from my home. My heart thumped, if everything was okay; what makes him pedal on the deserted and desolate streets and make it to our colony fenced on all entry points by razor wires with ever alert men in olive green guarding them. A stainless steel milk pot told the story: milk powder of his grandson had exhausted, and he wants to buy fresh cow milk from a small dairy in our neighbourhood.

Poet and Writer

In a desert of despair of isolation, seeing an old friend always bursting with laughers and filling the air with guffaws was no less than realizing an Eldorado that too with a good tiding. In a weird atmosphere as intense as in the city of ‘C’,   in Jesse Ball’s 2010 novel ‘The Curfew’; in which  William, a violinist who has been forbidden along with the rest of the country to play music lives under perpetual fear with his mute daughter Maqbool had come with a rare gift. A recently published collection of poems, ‘New Gods’ by an old friend and classmate, Indu Kilam. Maqbool had received “New Gods’ on   August 4, 2019, some ten hours before the mid-night lockdown proclamation from the lap of Zabarwan hillock.  During the dreadful days that followed the declaration ‘New Gods’ might have taken avatar of Elpis- a metaphor for hope for my friends; as all poetry of protest, resistance and empowerment have been for me. The collection comprises over one hundred and sixty poems spreading over one hundred and sixty-six pages. Aditya Publishing House, Kolkata have published it.  It opens with the quote, “Their relationship consisted in discussing if it existed”, from a contemporary poet Thom Gunn (August 29 1929 – April 25 2004) known for his ‘enjoying the bohemian lifestyle’ He considered as one of the important poets of America. I have not read the poet, and my knowledge about him is “Wikipedic”, and a couple of newspaper articles so cannot say what inspired the poet to start her work with a quote from him.

I must say with all frankness in a disparaging stifling atmosphere; almost every poem enabled me to work off my feelings- the collection is cathartic.  The very first poem ‘Guests’ loudly speaks about the spiritual void inside and loss of the roots that torments the poet.

Yes, the lane was the same,

but there was no presence of the

naked fakir on the pavement,

looking at nothing

and occasionally crying Allah-hu.

I saw a uniformed shadow,

peering through a bunker.

Had my fakir exchanged places with him?

I don’t see any symbols, similes or metaphors used in the poem but only a painful experience articulated by the poet on a revisit to her native land. An experience of all the natives wedded to the centuries-old mystical past and ethos of the land. That even gusty winds have failed to erase. There would rarely be some in our generation and generation before who may not have his experiences of mystics, fakirs, dervishes, mutoos, saints and majzoobs. The names like Nanda Mutoo-Pandit Nanda Lal Mastana of Nonar, Lassa Bab of Nowhatta, Sultan Saib of Budsgam, Ahad Saib Sopore are etched in our memory.  Many other unnamed fakirs lived in shacks on the roadsides and blessed the passers-by – and with the increase of boots on the roads their abodes made of old gunny bags have disappeared. Indu has beautifully versified this experience.

I would leave the literary qualities and failings to the critics of English literature to judge‘. Nevertheless, as a reader, I believe ‘bursting the bonds of stanzaic form, and metric pattern has enabled the poet to express her feelings, emotions and thoughts with clarity. That makes the poetry of protests and resistance communicative and gives it sinews to expose grim truths and raise consciousness. ‘Shut Window’ is one of the many poems that bring out collective pain of Kashmir, and exposes the dark truth.

“Has an evil eye cast its dark gloom

on this once beautiful city?

Where are the joyous songs,

————————

Why don’t the temple bells ring anymore?

I have come to the wrong place.

My land was full of colour,

Were we sang together

the songs of love and peace.

This can’t be my home.’

The protest is embedded deeply in the bosom of the poet, like all other poets of protest  she has many questions – with a quiver full of questions,  she speaks truth to power:

‘amidst darkness a few women

Huddled together,

talking in whispers,

and the occasional soft.

……..

I dare to ask:

Why do I see only old?

Where are the young?

What do the old do?

Where are the blooming roses?

Why this Iris?#

Besides speaking truth to power, she  questions the society in the poem “Traders” for its apathy towards its fellow citizens:

Her wails for her lost Adonis

makes her life speechless.

…………………

Can we put to price her tears,

…. Yes, there are traders,

trading in misery and tears.

The pain of mothers losing their blooming children to the strife is most agonizing to the poet; it soaks most of the collection in tears. And there is a deep urge in the poet to see an end to young dying and wailing mothers nursing a life long pain.

Each day I see young children laid

into muddy graves.

I see mother’s wailing.

I see the bowing sun,

redden sky in shame.

My leaves fall on the graves.

The unbloomed flowers question:

Isn’t there an alternative?

In Motherhood, she feels earth is shivering on hearing agonizing cries of mothers on seeing their children buried in graves and put on pyres.

Going through ‘New Gods’, reading poem after, couplets after couplets of Agha Shahid resonated in my mind, shivering me down the spine:

                          From windows, we hear

We hear grieving mothers, and snow begins to fall on us, like ash.

Someone has said it and said it rightly, ‘an unshakable sense of identity is life’s most prized possession’. And the loss of identity is psychologically devastating, emotionally disturbing and politically catastrophic. It bruises your pride when someone alien to your culture, tradition, ethos and history asks you for an Identity proof. Getting uprooted from one’s native land whatever the reason as Edward Said says, “is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.” Of course, there could be nothing more painful than rootlessness and loss of identity to Indu, a poet tethered to her roots, culture and ethos. And she articulates her ‘crippling sorrow of estrangement’   in her poem ‘speechless’.

Looking at me, an unknown old man asks:

Who are you?

Wherefrom are you?

What is your mother tongue?

What do you eat?

I want to answer.”

I have books of my six years old history.

But alas! I fumble.’

It reminded me of   ID Card” a poem by one of the most exceptional resistance   Palestine poet  Mahmoud Darwish:

Write down:

I am an Arab,

A name without a title,

Patient in a country where everything

Lives on flared-up anger.

My roots…

Took firm hold before the birth of time,

Before the beginning of the ages,

Before the cypress and olives,

Before the growth of pastures.

My father…of the people of the plow,

Not of noble masters.

My grandfather, a peasant

Of no prominent lineage,

Taught me the pride of self before reading of books.

My house is a watchman’s hut

Of sticks and reed.

Does my status satisfy you?

I am a name without a title

In Indu’s collection, there are poems where she has rendezvous with her soul, and there are poems where she sounds like John Donne in dealing with death. During the lockdown days, while I drew some strength from reading Faiz louder and louder, I also found some solace in reading my classmate and friend.

Z. G .MUHAMMAD
Columnist and Writer
Srinagar,
Kashmir.
www.peacewatchkashmir.com


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One Comment

  1. Avatar Peerzada Abid Ahmad Shah says:

    Sir nice peace and best wishes
    Do remember in prayers
    Really interesting piece