Fleshing out a Kashmiri narrative

  • Murtaza Fazily
  • Publish Date: Jan 15 2018 2:37AM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Jan 15 2018 2:37AM
Fleshing out a Kashmiri narrative

                                                    Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/KI

More Kashmiris are writing in English and it is beginning to make an impact, in case of a few at a global level


Conflict has certainly remained a catalyst to nurture the Literature of any place. Be the contemporary uncertainty in Middle East or vagaries of the First and Second World War, it has always provided a narrative for the storytellers to write about the socio political discourses of the era and the time through their fiction and nonfiction works. Although the journey of English literature in Kashmir has mainly influenced by the major conflict of Kashmir but now writers and academicians are touching the other layers of this bigger conflict. 

Author of the book ‘Hijras of Kashmir’, Aijaz Ahmed believes that the larger conflict of Kashmir has overshadowed and side lined other issues of our society. 

“I see that the political conflict has   somehow overshadowed our other social conflicts.  My book’ Hijras of Kashmir’, is an academic research on the social ordeal that the transgenders in Kashmir live with, but I would say it is a conscious attempt to touch other important social conflicts of Kashmir which nobody wants to talk about”.  

Talking about the  feedback to his book he said. 

 “Although I do not consider my book as a literary work as it is an  academic research   documenting transgenders of Kashmir I am happy after the release of this book  a discourse is taking place in our society about the  transgenders which earlier was not visible,” Aijaz  explained. 

Political commentator and Journalist from Kashmir Gowhar Geelani, believes Resistance writing is not a new concept in Kashmiri literature. 

“Resistance writing is not a new thing In Kashmir.  Be it Mughal era or Dogras or the present political situation, conflict and oppression has lingered. Writers  like Mehjoor, Amin Kamil, Abdul Ahad Azaad, Akhter Mohiudin and Rahman Rahi have articulated our troubled situation in their works. Although we can say that their works were mostly in Kashmiri and Urdu so the readership was limited. However, we cannot say that the level of such literature is not extraordinary as these are the finest works of literature and are assets of our literary history”. 

 The present English literary writing has some variety in it. 

The English literary movement of Kashmir is still in works.  Majority of the current Kashmiri English writers see Agha Shahid Ali as their inspiration.

When asked about the current English writing in Kashmir, Shahnaz Bashir, the author of Half Mother and Scattered Souls’ says the conflict is its primary theme. 

“If Kashmiri youths’ writings are indifferent to conflict it will be a dangerous phenomenon. It is abnormal to not write about the situation one lives through” he says.

“It may be called a new age literary movement in Kashmir but it was not planned but determined. It is a coincidence that I and Waheed or Basharat appeared on the scene first. It could have been anybody for that matter. We are all delivered from a pipeline of tragedies, strife, and experience and of what shaped our lives. If the realism of conflict does not become the dominant theme, thread, and colour of the initial literary work of a youth writer in Kashmir then is all but fake literature, a literature based on lie. Almost all of Mantoo’s literature is based on the partition of subcontinent. Coetzee’s books trace the Apartheid problems all over. Tolstoy wrote about Hadji Murad. Toni Morison evinced American racism”.

Gowhar Geelani echoes the same thing but he differs on few issues. 

“The  writing of these authors was coincidental with the political situation of Kashmir  and this was the reason these books were received well. However, I reject the notion that if someone does not write about conflict it is a fake writing. For example if a Kashmiri Pandit is writing about the vagaries of living in exile or an author writes about the Environmental issue in Ladakh how can I suggest his writing is fake. One thing that this movement has told the world is that Kashmiris can tell their own stories, which unfortunately in past was done by parachuted authors from India, Pakistan and other foreign countries. The problem with them was that they came with their own political notions and an objective representation of Kashmiri society was least expected from them”.  Gowhar said.

Dr Mir Khalid, author of Jaffna Street has a different take. “Kashmiri writing in English is yet to attain the literary heights where writers from the vale would be seen to contend for places on what the academics call ‘non-English writers writing in English’ which has seen the likes of Ondaatje, Vikram Seth, Ben Okri and Ishiguro as its lead proponents. There is a lot of self congratulation driven by insularity and a certain provincial conceit. Its also very smug to assume that English writing in the vale is a byproduct of the conflict. It may have been a spur. But it was the 1970s and 1980s student generation especially In Srinagar, this cohort was very different than previous ones: very urbane, very well read with eclectic literary and philosophical influences who created a certain atmosphere for the genext to explore English language and its idiom as forms of self expression. They had none of the insularity one encounters in the student community with regards to its literary influences. I have no qualms in saying this that my own literary forays had the high literary standards of  these seniors on the back of my mind and this apprehension whether I would be able to measure up to their standards. But it will need some serious effort for the vale genext to produce English writing of an international standard: a change of literary culture, influences and a crystal clear grasp of English language idiom that one finds sorely missing from the current writing forays”

One of the young authors among this league is Moosa Saleem, author of the book ‘When things went South’. His book was also released in the 2017 . Talking about the need of writing about other than conflict, he said.

“From the time I took the pen, whether it was for writing stories, screenplays or lyrics, I really wanted young Kashmiri writers to write about something that is not about conflict. We want to extend our horizon and explore more genres and see beyond conflict”. Moosa said.

Rehaan Rashid the young author of the new book ‘Positivity- Failure Fears You’ hails from Kishtawar and believes that the resistance in Kashmiri literature started by Aga Shahid Ali decades back has influenced and inspired scores of people in Valley and outside. 

 Rehaan says his book is the outcome of the hard work of more than three years.

“I was about to complete my first novel in 2015 but could not come to a good end. In the meanwhile, James Foster a renowned poet messaged me on social networking site Instagram as I used to tag him in my poetic works. He suggested me to compile it. Accepting his suggestion I stopped writing novel and started compiling my English and Urdu poetry, translated the later into English and pitched it to many publishers and finally my book was published”. Rehan Rasheed said

Fahem Bhat, 19, from Rainawari who is in news for his recently released novel ‘Wandering for Love’ shared his experiences.

““Writing was never a passion as I wanted to be a software Engineer but some incidents happened in my life which changed my perception about life and I started to understand the hidden meanings of it. The motivation was due to some inner conflicts that I had undergone in past. Once I had a habit to maintain my diary. My friend read it once and laughed at me by saying what sort of writing is this. I was sixteen at that time and he suggested me some good English authors to read. Slowly reading became my habit and later obsession and gradually it inspired me to write my first novel”.

Fahem’s novel’s plot is based in Massachusetts America, and is the story of boy who falls in love and the rejection leads him to find the true meanings of life.

Apart from self-publishing, social media has played a vital role in the recognition and promotion of these young authors. Like Rehan and Fahem many new writers are trying to tell their stories.Ganderbal youth Yasir Reyaz who is doing a Btech in IT, initiated the work to compile works of poets on Instagram and titled it  “Heartfelt Whispers”.

“It was initiative to provide a platform for the budding writers who are struggling hard to get there work published”, Yaser Reyaz said.

“The book is a collection of poems by more than 12 authors  including me but the whole compilation work was mine. Writers from Bengal, New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh were part of this project” he further added.

Javid Parsa, the young entrepreneur and owner of Parsa’s is overwhelmed with the works of these writers. Javid was also a part of the promotion of this literary journey.  In 2017, Javid organised more than seven book release events at his restaurant for books like Scattered Souls of Shahnaz Bashir ‘Scattered Souls’, Moosa Salem’s ‘When Things Went South’ , Fahem  Bhat’s ‘Wandering for Love’ and Rehaan Rasheed’s ‘Positivity: Failure fears you’. 

Javid believes it is a movement in making and has influenced many young writers.

“Although the political conflict has affected us tremendously but I am happy to see that now youngsters are writing about other than conflict too. When I was of 20, I never knew we can write also and the credit goes to the few writers who started telling stories in English to the whole world. Their work revolves around Resistance and conflict but it motivated the youth to tell their stories. In the present scenario, we have youth who write about conflict as well as the other important issues of the society too. So we should motivate these young writers to write more and more,” Javid Parsa said.