Kashmir: Towards A Literature Of Our Own
By Basharat Shameem
16 June, 2016
The contentious historical and political perceptions on the Kashmir conflict have evoked countless responses and endeavours of exploration in both the literary and non-literary realms. The unending conflict in Kashmir is also seen as a site for two contending hegemonies—Indian and Pakistani. The vast majority of writings on Kashmir, written from these positions, it can be said, often come up with their own monolithic projections regarding the realities of the conflict.
These writings often betray their own arguments by their indulgence in propagandist and rhetorical posturing. However, with the emergence of many indigenous voices now, particularly in the literary realm, we are witnessing fresh perspectives as these voices aim to portray their lived experiences of the conflict, and hence offer a break from the previous narratives. Among the various narratives published in the recent years, many important novels which have caught readers’ attention worldwide are Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator and The Book of Gold Leaves, Shahnaz Bashir’s The Half Mother and The Scattered Souls, Siddhartha Gigoo’s The Garden of Solitude, to mention a few. Basharat Peer’s memoir The Curfewed Night is another literary feat. Besides these writers, many others are taking to different artistic expression like poetry, music, painting and graphic arts to express their profound angst at the existing conditions of the conflict.
In significant ways, these writings fall within the ambit of “resistance literature” as they provide witness to many profound issues like identity, justice, struggle, and oppression which are usually absent in the mainstream narratives on/of Kashmir. In doing so, these writings provide an alternative and heterogeneous account of a reality that seems to counter the view of the “other” hegemonic discourses that neglect very basic and yet very important facets of Kashmir’s reality and experience. In the context of literature, the term ‘resistance’ (muqawamah) was first used by the Palestinian writer, critic and martyr Ghassan Kannafani in his study Literature of Resistance in Occupied Palestine: 1948-1966. Ghassan Kannafani argues: “If resistance springs from the barrel of gun, the gun itself issues from the desire for liberation and that desire for liberation is nothing but the natural, logical and necessary product of resistance in its broadest sense: as refusal and as a firm grasp of roots and situations. The extreme importance of the cultural form of resistance is no less valuable than armed resistance itself.”
For centuries, Kashmiri literature was said to be characterized by its peculiar quintessence of mysticism in which the idea of Kashmiriyat was nourished and propagated. As the history moves ahead through its typical fluidity, each and every condition appropriately gets altered. Remaining oblivious to one’s real historical conditions and taking sojourn into escapist terrains has a great danger of creating self-destructive quietism. Unfortunately, much of the Kashmiri literature, for the most part, has not been able to cross this threshold particularly when the last four centuries in our history have passed under occupation and immense oppression. Many of us have been compelled to aspire for a literature of our own which is in total consonance with our reality and experiences. When blood is being spilled on the streets, cities and villages are being burnt, and honour is being wantonly violated; is that the moment for a foray into a Neroian world? The concept of Kashmiriyat itself has under gone a great historical shift. Like other conceptions of identity, it is not static as our history has proved. As Chitralekha Zutshi states in her book Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity, And The Making of Kashmir: “To suggest that a Kashmiri identity, Kashmiriyat, defined as a harmonious blending of religious cultures, has somehow remained unchanged and an integral part of Kashmiri history over the centuries is a historical fallacy. Certainly, Kashmiri identities have followed a distinct trajectory depending on a host of factors, including state and economic structures, political culture, and the religious milieu at particular historical moments.” Without appearing self-assertive, there is a necessity for greater commitment, engagement and sensitivity to our immediate reality and conditions.
In their own ways, the new generation of Kashmiri writers reflects on the situation of the Kashmir of the early 1990s when Kashmiris took up arms against Indian rule and ushered in the era of a full-fledged militancy. In our contemporary history, the renowned Kashmiri-American poet, Agha Shahid Ali, can be regarded as the first modern chronicler of Kashmir’s current pain. Agha Shahid describes the calamity of the 1990s in the following words: “Summer 1992 — when for two years Death had turned/Every day in Kashmir into some family's Karbala.” This is the immediate historical backdrop against which the writings of our new writers are set as they endeavor to explore these realities by reflecting the perspectives of the people who face oppression from all sides. These new narratives can be seen as historiographies which sensitively bring to fore many unknown or unexpressed dimensions of the Kashmir conflict, thereby drawing attention to a long-neglected human story. In doing so, these writings represent a stream of writing which has grown out of the realities of armed struggle and conflict. Though the texts, under mention, grow out of a specific and critical historical reality, they convey a multiplicity of versions and facets that armed conflict in Kashmir has stimulated. These are not mere accounts of victimhood; rather, their power lies in them being testimonies of humanity which is what great literature is all about. This cannot be categorized as merely a “literature of protest” or “literature of propaganda” as some self-assuming critics would lead us to believe. The sensitive reflection of profound dimensions of human condition at a certain point is the real characteristic of literature.
Through the art of fiction, these writers have attempted to give an outlet to the suppressed aspirations and collective memories of violence and loss of home. In their narratives, memory, identity and time play a very significant role. Finally, these works also show how literature can intervene to challenge the contorted truths of power structures in the contemporary world. The idea of loss becomes the new metaphorical ingredient of this type of literature. Out of its specific set of circumstances, it tries to develop a new aesthetic out of the elements of a lost joy and the current moments of suffering.
BASHARAT SHAMEEM, hailing from Bugam, Kulgam, J&K, currently working as an adhoc Lecturer in English Literature at the Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir.