From The Friday Times: “The Inheritance of Loss” –Commemorating Agha Shahid Ali
“Woh dard ki shiddat badhaatay hain, main apni yaadaasht… They’ve been raising afflictions upon me… I polish my memory.”
The subject is Kashmir’s incessant struggle for justice. And these political verses, written by Muzaffar Karim, a young Kashmiri writer, were whispered not in the corner of a closed room in the valley. They reverberated in a packed hall in Jawaharlal Nehru University, right in the heart of India’s Capital. Apart from a dozen-odd young Kashmiris present in the hall, most of the audience – scholars, writers, filmmakers, students, teachers and others old and young – belonged to different parts of India.
“At one time, it was horrible to talk about Kashmir in JNU,” says Najeeb Mubarki, who studied literature at the university during the later half of the nineties, explaining how difficult it was to discuss openly Kashmir’s struggle for freedom in places like Delhi even within the boundaries of a university campus. “But Kashmir has broken through,” says Najeeb, now a journalist with a major Indian newspaper. “There lies one of the greatest contributions of Agha Shahid Ali.”
Agha Shahid Ali undisputedly is Kashmir’s most celebrated modern poet. “They make a desolation and call it peace,” wrote Shahid, and captured in the imagination of countless Kashmiris the inconceivable loss and pain brought up on them by the Indian state. Shahid’s tenth death anniversary, this December, witnessed tributes paid to him around the world in New York, New Delhi, Berkeley, London, Minneapolis, Singapore, and, of course, Kashmir, among other places…
…Back in Kashmir, meanwhile, around the time of Shahid’s anniversary, the valley remained crippled. It is the month of Muharram. Mourners have been prevented from gathering, lest the religious processions are “used by separatists to stoke anti-India sentiments”. Lal Chowk, the heart of Srinagar, was sealed with barbed wires as the police, with armoured vehicles, kept vigil. Dozens got injured in clashes with the police, and dozens got detained amidst an “undeclared” curfew. “The same government, during the summers in Kashmir, employs the entire state machinery to ensure that people from the plains climb right up to the Amarnath cave for pilgrimage,” says Arif Parrey, another promising young Kashmiri writer. “What prevents the government from ensuring an undisturbed Muharram?” he asks. Just how does one respond to such a state of affairs? Shahid, in his poem Stationary, perhaps has an answer: “The world is full of paper… Write to me.”