On a Lit Note: Hilal Mir

Guest post by HILAL MIR

I woke up this morning in an utterly confused state of mind. During the night I dreamt about having the tour of the Harud Literary Festival. My first astonishment came while in a queue outside the venue. Like the French streaming Parisian streets in teary-eyed joy at the sight of American liberators after having secreted themselves in root cellars for months from the sniffing gaze of Nazi jackboots, I felt similar joy at observing Indian soldiers not hurling ritual abuses from vehicle rooftops while asserting the right to overtake from any side and any crevice on the busy Panthachowk intersection.

The venue, Delhi Public School, is stone’s throw away from the intersection and within the earshot of any moist abuse hurled from those ubiquitous army trucks. Kashmiris finally had a dry day.

Not unexpectedly, I heard no gunfire from the army’s nearby firing range. The precaution had been taken probably to avert an embarrassing situation that might arise if a stray bullet or cartridge lands on some page of Chetan Bhagat’s Bata-priced Rs 99 masterpiece and startles an uninitiated lady from the calmer plains of India out of her wits.

Enter Naseem Shefai, as tall and dignified and pretty as Susan Sontag. The silent mover, if not the shaker, behind the festival , Shefai has been dismissed as a versifier of mediocre melodramatic open verse in the male dominated poetry circles. But she writes beautiful poetry. Some of her creations make you cry, some turn you nostalgic and some want to make you fall in love again. What is she doing sharing the state with, of all people, Chetan Bhagat? I have been told that most Kashmiri litterateurs, if ignored by the Cultural Academy and the Sahitya Academy of our colonial masters for long, feel the same way as jilted lovers do. Chetan, whose books sell by kilos, can liaise with institutions far more powerful than those outmoded academies of socialist India and get you published—by kilos. As Turgenev has said, a forest is not made of one tree. New loves are always around the corner. Alas! Only if they were chaperoned by someone better than Chetan Bhagat. And those whose love goes unrequited are found petitioning lascivious directors of Doordarshan Kendra, Srinagar for doles like spent and aged hookers.

Zareef Ahmad Zareef, who can flip-flop between the sublime and the kitsch with an actor’s ease, had the audience in splits. Did Chetan Bhagat understand any of his words? No one in contemporary Kashmir can use Kashmiri language with such fluidity to satirise, lampoon and amuse like Zareef does. I remembered him saying once that one must be realistic in choosing one’s goals. He said “you cannot open a barber shop in an all-Sikh village and at the same time pray to God to foster your trade”. Here was one of our greatest poets peddling his razor-sharp verse in the same village, with Shoba De looking at him flirtatiously.

Kashmir really is a strange place. One speaker was hulking figure, whose claim to literary fame is thousands of publications (I repeat, thousands) which include earth-shattering, half-column newspaper news reports that are rehashed agency reports put together by anonymous interns who get their salaries from People’s Democratic Party!! You can put many more exclamation marks after my measly two. This apotheosis of plagiarised mediocrity said something which registered in my mind only as the jingle-jangle of a rusting bell. Scribes like him follow one golden rule of reporting from Kashmir: balance a shitload of statist crap with another shitload of statist crap and crib in private that they cannot write about shitload of non-statist crap. Or, not write about any shitload at all. It pays every which way.

Next, his eminence Chetan Bhagat ascended the podium.  You are not serious about hearing what he said? Are you?

About the next writer, I have vague, dreamy impressions. I once heard a very wise Molvi explain the etymology of the word, munafiq, a religious hypocrite. He said the word was derived from Arabic root, nafaq, which referred to a desert animal whose burrow has two openings. Depending upon which side the advantage or danger is, he can make appearance from any of the opening. This writer, who is “from Kashmir”, tries hard to appear same on both sides of Jawahar Tunnel . But as the animal’s nature goes, using both the options is a congenital necessity even though he doesn’t meet Aditya Raj Kaul and Basharat Peer with the same countenance he has on. No two holes are alike, morphologically. Across the tunnel it is a different world.

Intermission. Something did land on Chetan Bhagat’s bestseller meanwhile. I don’t know what. Bird dropping , perhaps. Go and find out yourself.

The wisest of them all, our great Dr Faustus walked to the stage, head slightly bowed when he passed by, who else, Chetan Bhagat. He only seems to be capable of making Kashmiri language an agency of national awakening. Even in the presence of Shoba De and the plagiarised mediocrity, his words have lost none of their amazing power to stir your soul. When he finished he announced that he can’t sit through the entire session as he had to attend a function organised by the lascivious director of DD Srinagar (Journalistic grapevine has it that all DD Srinagar directors are lascivious. Their account is credible because nearly all journalists in Kashmir are TV producers too) As Rahi Sahib began to leave, a suited, MBA-type Public Relations guy from the event management company, no Mephistopheles of course, came up to him and handed him an envelope that might contain five or ten thousand rupee notes with a smiling Gandhi. At that time I wished the earth open its bowels and I could dive in and be buried alive.

After two days of literary exchange that was flashed across the world by the media, authorities imposed curfew because the demand for a literary festival every week resonated from every hamlet and street in the valley. The people confined to their homes shouted the demand from their houses, like those shrieking Algerians in the Casbeh: “we want Lit Fest”. Azadi got buried. This sudden turnaround rekindled the interest of the world media. For the first time India allowed foreign journalists into Kashmir freely, assuming Kashmiris have finally been transformed by a literary event. But imagine the embarrassment when astute journalists were told by one Fayaz Ahmad Magray in Trehgam, “During these two days Indian soldiers behaved like sissies serving cocktails at a party. What a relief. Can’t we have a literary festival for perpetuity in our place?”

From Kafila archives:

15 thoughts on “On a Lit Note: Hilal Mir”

  1. hilal mirsaheb, this is beautifully written piece. may your dreams come true. i have myself had the privilege of spending time with zareefsaheb,who narrated to me this humourous proverb: “when someone asked nund rishi “don hinz chi kya khabar” (how are your legs doing?), he replied saying “treum chum seeth” (I have a third one with me now), comparing this to my situation last year in june, when the stone pelting was at its peak and i was moving with my walking stick. he is a wonderful person and i would have liked to hear more from his book tarangini at the harud festival.i hope it will not remain a dream.

  2. Grossly offensive to compare the Indian security forces, or link them, in any way, to the Nazis in France. Nazis were conquerors, expansionists and race supremacists. India is merely trying to maintain the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, with all its religions and non-religions, as part of its democratic, pluralistic, federal system.

  3. I am wondering if we should not add to this debate the question of support and sponsorship of literary festivals. Over the last decade and more, large corporate houses have emerged as the biggest sponsors of cultural events in India. The Jaipur Literary Festival enjoys the support of the DSC group, which is an insfrastructural major that has emerged as a major player in road construction in the country since the last seven years. The proposed and abandoned festival in Kashmir would also have been endorsed by this group whose confident energy has succeeded in bringing to India some of the strongest literary voices of our times, and domesticating them. Wole Soyinka, J M Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk and many others who have come to Jaipur appeared content with the fifteen to thirty minutes that were granted to them to tell the world their stories of angst and resistance.

    Given the aggressive will to consume almost anything that has become the mark of the culturally optimistic and expressive Indian upper middle and middle classes, everything becomes part of a menu list that they can randomly choose from: whether it is the Salwa Judum’s depredations in Chattisgarh or the elegant testimonies to suffering that have emerged from west Asia or from dalit and adivasi writers in this country. The good faith that all of us have in decorous and rational cultural conversations sustains this will to consumption while the greed and power of corporate majors underwrites it. Meanwhile, a new generation of extremely competent event managers soothe nerves, convert real capital into cultural worth and convince writers that the festival space is actually open and demotic.

    For all the interpretative gestures we make to complicate the relationship between politics and aesthetics, between patronage and the arts, the accounts committees that run art and culture shows meanwhile manage a quiet smile or smirk in between, depending on whether they are liberally or otherwise inclined.

    In all of this several other ways of doing culture, of having conversations that are afoot in all our variously coloured vernacular cultures, the efforts of groups to arrange events that do not require the endorsement of big brands and the will to keep the word alive in contexts that do not allow it to even breathe are happily forgotten even as they go about their daily business. Who now remembers the happy festival of documentary films organised by a group of civic minded film makers and viewers on the Coramandel Coast? If we are not keen on the uniform greyness of state-sponsored events must we offer hyped plaudits to those that beckon to us in a haze of media glitz and glory?

    Lest it is not evident, we might also want to chew on the fact that many of those endorsing the cause of free speech are probably quietly dismantling the conditions of existence that make this possible – through the building of roads through dense forest habitats where some of our poorest yet most resisting citizens live; and are willing to destroy the basis of livelihood for thousands of fisherfolk that are being pushed away to make room for expressways and highways along the coast. In the midst of the rubble, we are called to celebrate the cause of literature and the arts.

  4. ANY “support and sponsership of literary festivals” is surely better than for example support and sponsership for religious fundamentalism. your writing is great, but i can only ask simple and strghtforward questions. no hidden agendas, no conspiracies. i am not an intellectually versed being, so why has harud festival been so criticised? asha

      1. From Hilal of course. He is the darling of the oppressed for he carries the weapons of the weak. Touche

  5. if the festival organizers wanted to showcase Kashmiri voices, why not bring them to the Jaipur festival? What’s preventing them from bringing Anjum Zamrud Habib to Jaipur? That would ensure them a wider hearing than in an army-restricted location in Srinagar?
    can anyone ask them and can we hope for a reasonable reply?
    or is the truth too painfully obvious, that the Kashmir festival was just another occasion to colonize emerging Kashmiri voices rather than to provide them a platform?

    1. shubhmathurji, dont speak on behalf of ALL kashmiris in such an arrogant manner “colonizing emerging kashmiri voices”. we dont need such “sympathies”

We look forward to your comments. Comments are subject to moderation as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s