Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In Water

by Amin Kamil

You’re fraught with words, better go sit in water;
For they swell with meaning and glow more in water.

Look for the heart in the chest and roast it on embers
Look for the blood in the liver and drink it in water.

Tomorrow Kashmir will stretch in the sun like a desert,
The day after Ladakh and Leh will float in water.

Under the hollow banks frightened waves take refuge;
Lord Jaldev is born with fire in water.

At mid day, even the sun gets soaked in sweat;
At the end, even the moon catches fire in water.

Even in excitement, sometimes, people set towns on fire;
Even for fun, sometimes, people pour poison in water.

The lost cow is looking for the elevensome, would someone tell her?
Five drowned in dry land, six are aflame in water.

The peddler of ghazals, this Kamil, makes fiery calls
But the fatefrost people are coldly sleeping in water.

Translated from the Kashmiri by Muneebur Rahman

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

She Has Written…

by Shahnaz Rasheed

She has written: The henna is afresh on my hands,
But the water has dried in your eyes.

She has written: Whoever told it, told a lie --
The roses are scorched on the roads.

She has written: What’s befallen shouldn’t be written;
But all this happened in your grief.

She has written: I asked for your love -- a clear mirror.
I didn’t ask for the gems of Yemen.

She has written: Should I tell them we died in dreaming?
Perchance they decide to ask a question.

She has written: Why are you sad at the sight of the mansions?
Refrain from thinking on the matters of Fate.

She has written: Our case files will be reopened at last;
Finally our issues will also be raised.

She has written: Now only the scars will remain.
Surely our wounds will be cured.

Translated by Muneebur Rahman

Shahnaz Rashid is a promising young poet of Kashmiri who became known in the last few years. A very talented poet with a masterly grasp on linguistic expression, Rashid recently published his fisrt collection of peoms Dod Khatith Guldanan Manz (Pain Behind Flower Vases). The collection earned him much acclaim from all the established writers. Rashid is now considered as yet another powerful voice of ghazal among the budding writers. Kashmir has yet to see a promising poet in nazam form among the younger poets. Ghazal has completely outshined the prestigeous poetic form of nazam which gained momentum in the 1960s and in the 1970s.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sign of Love

by Faiyaz Dilbar

For a few months in the early 1990s, we rented an extremely cramped and dark studio in Delhi’s Patpar Ganj. It was an obvious sign of our lack of resources, want, and helplessness. One late evening, our neighbor Prof. Majumdar sounded an angry knock on our door, and screamed, “Mr. Faiyaz there’s a phone call for you!” Then he turned to himself, “Stupid people – they should know when it’s appropriate to call on a neighbor’s PP number?”

Shamelessly, I ignored uncle Majumdar’s comment and entered his living room with a fake smile on my face. I picked up the receiver. “Hello… This is Veer – Veer Koul,” a strange voice declared on the other end. It did not ring a bell, so I asked, “Veer Koul, who?”

“Sir, I am Shubanji’s younger brother.” As he explained, I bit my tongue in embarrassment. Veer Koul, in fact, was Shubanji’s younger brother. Shubanji had a special place in our circle of friends. He had sipped coffee with us at every table of Srinagar Coffee House, discussed Ali Mohammad Lone’s popular radio drama ‘Rise, O My Heart’s Pain’, debated G M Shah’s political wisdom, savored grilled mutton chops at Bohri Kadal’s Dastari, smacked harisa* at Ali Kadal’s Ama Lala. The very life of our Rang Munch dramatic club, Shubanji was a gifted actor and an important part of Kashmir Theatre Movement.

By temperament and physical appearance, Shuban Koul was a handsome young man. He was tall with a strong built. He had a high, sharp Aryan nose. A trimmed, elegant beard embellished his face like a Mughal miniature. A streak of smile permanently sat on his lips. One morning while we were in the Coffee House we heard that Shubanji had been admitted in the Soura Medical Hospital. It made us laugh for we took it as a new mischievous trick of his. We rushed to the hospital and found him exuberantly smiling on his bed. The moment he saw us, his smile turned into a loud laughter. Before we could say anything, he shouted, “You devils, I know what you have in mind.”

“You son of a bitch, what’s this all about?” I almost exploded. He laughed louder than before and began to use his favorite vocabulary. A few days later, he was discharged. But a couple of weeks later, he was again admitted in the hospital. Then we heard that Shubanji had passed away. Both of his kidneys had failed.

You may not like it, but to tell you the truth I hated him. I felt disgust towards him. He should not have left us the way he did. He tricked us. I did not attend his funeral nor did I see his family. I did not see how he was cremated. I did not see if he wore the streak of smile on his face when he left us.

Years after, we were at a wedding when we heard that Bhabi has been admitted to the Sadar Hospital. She was in need of blood and her group was B positive. Let me explain: Bhabi was Shubanji’s mother. Her kids, their friends, neighbors, acquaintances, even her husband would call her by that name. My blood group is B positive so I rushed to the hospital and donated some blood. Later I went to see her in the patient ward. As soon as I entered she turned her back towards me and muttered, “The old saying isn’t wrong. When a friend’s mother died, there was a throng of people, but when the friend died, there was none.” Right then she was told that I had donated blood for her. She slowly turned her face back towards me, held my hand and shed tears like a hailstorm. She said, “You know I’ll recover now. I will heal now for I’ll have your blood in my veins.” By the grace of God, Bhabi recovered and engaged in life’s business as usual. Meanwhile I left Kashmir and settled in Delhi. Some years later, pandits migrated from Kashmir and dispersed in all directions. I too lost contact with Shubanji’s family. Now all of a sudden I had received a call from Shubanji’s younger brother.

“Where did you get my number?” I asked.
“Someone gave it to me,” Veer Koul replied hurriedly.
“How’s Bhabi?” As I uttered these words, Veer Koul’s voice became somber.
“That’s the reason for my call. Bhabi passed away, just 30 minutes ago. But she will be cremated tomorrow. We live in Shahpur Jat village. Here’s the address…Please come as early as you can and if possible bring along any people you know.”

I headed to the village before the night fell. Veer Koul was sitting head-in-knees, all alone beside his mother’s corpse in a rented room in the residence of rude and arrogant milkmen. Toward Bhabi’s head, there was a grease-covered, flickering oil lamp. I sat myself at Veer’s right. With tearful eyes, he cast a meaningful look and then pulled out an old cassette player from a shelf. All night we listened to Master Zinda Koul’s mystic poem at Bhabi’s corpse.

My Creator had given me a sign of love
I couldn’t keep it; I lost it for the lack of capacity.

In the morning, a few people showed up. Shubanji’s sister who arrived from Ahmadabad grabbed my shirt’s collar and demanded, “We must have a Kashmiri cremator for Bhabi’s last rites.”

Soon I was asking every pandit in Delhi’s lavish Pamposh Colony if they knew any Kashmiri cremator. None said they knew one. Instead, I found them asking me questions. Some looked at me with suspicion wondering why a Kashmiri Muslim looked for a pandit cremator. Some of them would imagine an ISI stamp on my forehead. Finally, I reached a cremator in the Masjid Moth neighborhood. The cremator further seemed to complicate my mission. Looking at me from head to toe, he brought about Shankar Acharya-like expressions on his face and said, “Your generation is devoid of faith, tradition, and rituals. Otherwise what’s in there? All you need is some samagrah and reading of a few shalokas. How nice if you could perform these rituals yourself now.”

I was speechless and blushing all the way to my ear-lobes. With a numb tongue I said, “Sir, I am a Muslim.”

As if struck by lightening, he dropped his bag from his shoulder that was perhaps full of Sanskrit books. He suddenly began to offer excuses for his unavailability. “My body isn’t well. My blood pressure is high…. I am feeble and old…” I would have dragged him along or left his place without him, hadn’t his daughter intervened. She took him inside and after some whispering between the two, he came out ready to accompany me.

Around afternoon, we brought Bhabi to the Safdarjung cremation grounds. During the rituals at the pyre, the cremator boasted, “Kashmiri Brahmins belong to a high caste. It’s not for everyone to perform their last rites. You may have watched me on TV, I cremated Rajiv Gandhi.” While the cremator repeated these words, the flames rose higher and higher. Somewhere in my heart I wished Shubanji were alive to witness this all by his own eyes!

Translated from the Kashmiri by Muneebur Rahman

* an extra thick Kashmiri recipe made from meat, rice, lentils and other ingredients cooked nightlong by professional cooks for a rich morning breakfast.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Shabnam's "Manbaani", a Collection of Poems

Man Baani is Shabnam Ashai's first and robust collection of poems that, I believe, is impressive on two counts. One, she has not taken the path of the traditional Urdu poet of either sex who writes ghazals with traditional meanings, words and imagery. The lover and the lover's world view in traditional poetry has remained unchanged for centuries. The nazam, however, did try to change that scenario but on the whole remained under the influence of the same traditional imagery and meanings. But Shabnam is without doubt one of those new poets who have tried to completely break away from the traditional mode of expression. The second distinction is her intense and focused stance as a feminine voice expressing with powerful language her discontent with the male dominated relationships. She uses fearless but at the same time elegant language.

Her poems in this collection, a continuum of soliloquies, is witness to her talent -- the powerful expression of intricate feelings of relationships in a fresh, thoughtful and reflective langauge. It's a saga of being. It's a woman's reflection on relationships. It's not a confrontation but a narrative full of questions without whose answers it's endlessly reinventing itself poem after poem.

Some of Shabnam's poems have been translated into Kashmiri and I expect some written originally in Kashmiri too. Shabnam's Kashmiri translations will appear in the forthcoming issue of Neab.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Faiyaz Dilbar -- an impressive talent

It started with my request that I put before Faiyaz Dilbar to write a small memoir about one of our painter friends, Shora Bashir. The piece he wrote was great. I had long realized that Faiyaz had annecdotes to tell in a very impressive literary style. I was always encouraging him in my conversations to begin putting down these stories on paper. As a result he wrote two beautiful short stories which are appearing in Neab 20 and Neab 21. Then I began publishing an online news site in Kashmiri which gave me another opportunity to persuade him to write these stories in a regular column. He agreed and the pieces are being published regularly. You can read these beautiful pieces of fact and fiction -- an intelligent documentation of culture, tradition and people in koshurakhbar.

Faiyaz Dilbar has already won acclaims for his first collection of poems -- harnis taapas andar -- he published a year ago.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Koshur Akhbar -- a Kashmiri newspaper

I began an experiment in Kashmiri journalism in March 2006 when I began publishing a daily online newspaper in that language -- the first of its kind. The main purpose was to provide yet another opportunity for the lovers of the Kashmiri language to increase their literacy in it. Kashmiris generally fear reading their own language; however, I've always maintained that if you know the persio-arabic script and can read Urdu, nothing can stop you from reading Kashmiri too. It's just a matter of practice. I hope this news site will provide an opportunity for daily practice for those who wish to be able to read and eventually write in their own native tongue. Additionally, you get the news and great literary pieces written in Kashmiri. The site is beautifully designed and presented and as a matter of fact is not behind any such website in the regional languages of the sub-continent.

I hope people will find this news site and visit it frequently and invite their friends too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Slow and Steady Shafi Shauq

Shafi Shauq, one of the few outstanding poets of the newer generation today, began writing seriously in the early seventies. However, his real talent started showing its gems only during the eighties. His silent progress, as it was, gradually culminated in his collection of poems yaad aasmaanan hinz published this year. A distinct voice in both ghazal and nazam, Shafi Shauq is calculated and meticulous in his use of language, rythm, image and thought. His collection of poems is an elegant presentation of his poetry written over a period of more than 30 years. His poems appeared recently in volume 18 of Neab.