‘Writing is Resistance’

  • Faiza Nasir
  • Publish Date: Jul 23 2017 9:04PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Jul 25 2017 9:07PM
‘Writing is Resistance’

In conversation with the author Shahnaz Bashir

 

Lately, Kashmir has witnessed a spurt in writing in English. Basharat Peer, Nitasha Kaul, Mirza Waheed, Essar Batool and other writers have, through their fiction and non-fiction works, sought to challenge the Indian state’s narrative on Kashmir and, especially, the conflict. Speaking with Kashmir Ink, Shahnaz Bashir, whose debut novel Half Mother won the Muse India Young Writer Award in 2015, discusses the importance of writing in conflict and the representation of the Kashmir conflict by non-Kashmiri. 

Excerpts:

 

There has lately been a resurgence in writing in Kashmir. What do you attribute it to?

The Libyan writer Hisham Matar once said that when conflict is at its peak somewhere, there are not enough possibilities for artists, writers to write or express that situation. Art and writing needs some leisure, so there has to be a recess. That is why I think the 1990s in Kashmir were extremely troubled and one could not think about writing at leisure, at peace. Moreover, we did not have online media then as we have now. So, it was a bit difficult to reach many readers. Despite that, people kept writing, they wrote in Urdu and Kashmiri. Later, many youth went out of Kashmir to study, exposing themselves to other societies, and they also found opportunities to get published. That’s why it came late. But it was there all the time; we cannot say it wasn’t there at all. Everything takes time. I would have been writing anyway, even if there was no political conflict. I think when you write serious literature, that itself is resistance. If somebody tells me that you only have to write about resistance, that it has to be only resistance literature, I would resist that proposition too. Because I think writing inherently, naturally is resistance. When you are writing some serious stuff, you are actually resisting certain notions, certain conformism which any society can be replete with.

 

How important is it for a writer to challenge the narratives constructed by the state?

It is not only a question of importance, but a question of duty. When you live in a strife-torn place and your writing does not have those political contours, you are issuing a political statement that you are indifferent to the situation. That means it is your politics and you have chosen to be silent. That’s why I think it is the duty of a writer even if the writer has many other concerns. Moreover, it also depends on how much overwhelmed you are by a situation like ours. My first two books are about the 90s and maybe it will fade into current times. This is because when I started, all this had seeped into me; I had to get it out. So even if there is a change in terms of what people write, we will always be writing about what has happened in Kashmir. Because if we ignore that, not only will it look fake, it will also be a political statement of indifference on one’s part.

 

There is a body of work, fiction and non-fiction, on Kashmir by writers who are not from Kashmir. Are you satisfied with how they represent the Kashmir conflict?

There are many well meaning people in India who write about Kashmir, on Kashmir and for Kashmir. We have people like Gautam Navlakha, Arundhati Roy and many others. However, there is an intriguing problem with having a non-Kashmiri sympathiser, whether an artist or a writer. I was just going through Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. She has openly and boldly talked about Kashmir in her non-fiction throughout the last 20 years. But if I may speak about the literary merit of this novel, it is a condensed fictionalised version of everything she has talked abou in her non-fiction over the last 20 years. Second thing is that the connection between the characters in the novel, like a dissolute Indian falling in love with a Kashmiri  insurgent is imaginatively absurd and out of place in a cultural context as insular as Kashmir. It is very unlikely. It is strange that though the story is in favour of Kashmir, the connection it makes between Kashmir and a woman in Delhi seeks to forge the fate and destiny of Kashmir with the mainland. That is very important to note. The problem here is the other representing the self. It is an example of how much or to what measured extent a non-Kashmiri can be morally, artistically, diplomatically, academically or in any other way supportive of Kashmir’s struggles. And how such support becomes dangerous for a Kashmiri when it strangely, though sympathetically, tries to bind Kashmir’s destiny with the mainland.

 

The themes in the works by Kashmiri writers usually centre on the conflict. Is it emancipating or limiting?

I think it is both. Hardly any publisher would be interested in writing on Kashmir unless it is about the conflict. That does not mean Kashmiris should stop writing. I am talking about the publishing world out there which is very commercial. There exists this nexus between publishers and writers with regard to what is being promoted as literature. I believe the primary role of literature is to provoke and reform rather than entertain, but the whole publishing commerce is based on the entertainment value. Now there are certain themes that unfortunately appeal to people like conflict, gender discrimination, wars, and other things. So in that way, because you have to write in English language and you have an international publisher and therefore an international audience, there is an edge. But it is also very limiting because literature is a metaphor for what you actually want to say, what actually happens. So if the reality is always subsumed in conflict, your literature would reflect it. But if you are writing only about conflict, you tend to be called a resistance writer. Writing also needs its own freedom, it resists if it is trapped in only one kind of theme. At the same time, if you try to write about something else and try to present it in a way that there is no conflict then it looks like a fake story, a political statement on your part that you are deliberately ignoring the conflict. Even if the story you are telling is divorced from conflict, somewhere it has to touch upon something related to the conflict.

 

How is the conflict portrayed in the works by writers from Kashmir? Is there something lacking?

This is how I feel about it: If I am writing three hundred pages about a character’s suffering and two hundred pages look like I am just trying to experiment with the aesthetics of language rather than focussing on the story, then there is a problem. I do not approve of literature that is written for the sake of aesthetics alone. There has to be a fine balance between aesthetics and the political side of the story.