I must go back briefly to a place I have loved to tell you those you will efface I have loved [i]
Exactly ten years after he left us, Aga Shahid Ali returned to his Kashmir. A couple of days earlier, many parts of the valley were blessed with the season’s first snowfall, signalling an end to Harud, the autumn season in Kashmir, and ushering in Wande, the winter. The sky over Srinagar was overcast too, as it has been for the past few days, maybe because this year Moharram has been particularly demanding, with mourners not being allowed to mourn because “the processions might be used by separatists to whip up anti-India sentiments”. The reason for the ban is announced from the same bureaucratic offices which, during the summer, employ the entire state machinery to ensure that people from the plains can climb up the mountains into a cave where Amarnath wants to spend some private time with Parvati so that he can explain to her the mysteries of immortality (Which must include, one would like to presume, the secrets of the longevity of a fragile mountain ecology.) Some like to define this variance in state policy and practice as “secularism”. The connection between the tyranny of Karbala and the present-day Kashmir is firmly established, once again. Continue reading Shahid in Srinagar: Arif Ayaz Parrey→
“Kashmir will haunt India the way Algeria haunts France.”
I remember that from ten years ago, on one of those early e-groups, the provocation almost buried in the dense threads that made up conversation there. “It will haunt Indian intellectuals”, the young Kashmiri correspondent had promised darkly, “in the way Algeria continues to haunt the French”. From its first pages, as the eponymous young narrator of The Collaborator walks us into the heart of his terrors, and introduces us to his hell, Mirza Waheed’s novel gives notice that the long overdue time of that haunting may be upon us.
The book is set somewhere in the mountains of Kashmir, but not the unchanging, pastoral idyll of Bollywood cinema, of Gulmarg’s meadow and Pahalgam’s river; nor the ordered beauty of the Mughal imagination, of Shalimar and Nishat bagh. Instead it’s located in the present, in its “militarized wilderness”, in Nowgam, a “new village” settled in the violent aftermath of 1947. The mortal cut of the partition of Kashmir between India and Pakistan put a sudden end to the nomadic life of this community of Gujjar pastoralists, and Nowgam has grown in the way scarred tissue forms over wounds. Almost half a century later, sandwiched between the belligerence of those two nations, in the shadow of Koh-i-gham, the mountain of sorrow, the sound of heavy artillery fire being exchanged across these rugged peaks has become routine.