Duplicating oriental biases

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  • Publish Date: Dec 4 2017 1:41AM
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  • Updated Date: Dec 4 2017 1:41AM
Duplicating oriental biases

The interview of the author Khalid Mir by Gowhar Geelani in the last issue of Ink was puzzling on more than one account. The author appeared to be in a tearing hurry to dismantle the literary traditions of Kashmir, and lament its absence. To compound it further, he offered the delights of western canon to the aspiring writer claiming to have drawn inspiration from them, and therefore introducing literary non-fiction on the Kashmiri writing scene. Further, he dismissed the new writing emerging from Kashmir terming it as corrosive and sloppy. I take umbrage at all three charges.

First, the literary tradition of Kashmir is not a rich one but also diverse. Kashmir has produced literary writing of the highest order in Kashmiri, and Urdu. Perhaps the author is unacquainted with the poetry of masters like Azad, Mehjoor, Rasa Javidani, Rehman Rahi and Naseem Shifai or prose of the likes of Akhter Mohiudin. English writing already had a diverse and well developed model of writing to articulate its subjectivity. Perhaps, the author would be well advised to undertake a serious analysis of Kashmiri writing before claiming a lack of ‘over-arching’ literary figure. He appears to make the same mistake of a neo-oriental pandering to the post-colonial bazaar by laying out recognition by western academy and its oriental offshoots as criterions of excellence. This conveniently overlooks the politics of industry of translation that allows circulation of texts in the knowledge economy. As Aijaz Ahmed once noted, “the enormous industry of translation that circulates texts among advanced capitalist countries grinds erratically and slowly when it comes to translation from Asian and African languages”. Rather than encouraging the translation, trans-creation, circulation and appropriation of this tradition, Khalid sought to completely dismiss it as of little value. It merely duplicates the oriental biases.

Second, the establishment of western canon as the ultimate model of literary consumption implies adopting the same universalistic and timeless attributes offered by liberal-humanist model. Such a model of imposing merely seeks to collude the local and immediate in favour of a larger meta-narrative that erases and elides local histories. It is to presume literature is self-circulatory and self-sufficient independent of contexts and authorial biases that determine it. In the post post-colonial age, the non-western world has been at pains to prove that such self-containment is a myth. Shakespeare, for example, was informed by imperialist politics, and thus establishing him as the norm is only to validate those politics that history has proved to be abhorrent and corrosive in the real sense. Any serious student of post-colonialism will assert to the validity of my claim.

Third, the blunt dismissal of local authors is mere self-congratulatory entitlement. I have talked elsewhere that literature of resistance, which informs our idiom, cannot and does not subscribe to criterions of excellence established by the academy. Its immediacy and plainness is a rebuttal of the canonic writing that offers no room for the aesthetic of struggle and anti-imperialism. Clearly, the author is out of consonance with the idiom of protest and minority literature even though ironically his book is an account of the same struggle. Perhaps, the author would be well advised to reexamine his politics.


Huzaifa Pandit