Asif Tariq Bhat is a poet & novelist. Currently pursuing a master’s degree in Kashmiri literature from the Central University Of Kashmir, Arif has recently penned his first novel in the Kashmiri language titKhwaban Khayalan Manz.” Here he is in conversation with Kashmir Lit’s Sadam Hussain
Q: Why did you choose Kashmiri as your medium of expression?
I will answer this question the same way many regional authors have answered it. It seems like the most intuitive yet, obvious decision. Kashmir is my home. From the very beginning, I have been fond of my culture, traditions, and particularly my language. There is a sense of belongingness that I derive from Kashmiri. It is seminal to my identity. Why shouldn’t I try to preserve my identity and my culture? Kashmiri is the language I think in and hence, my expression is most honest and organic in it. These days, it has become my responsibility towards my language. Losing Kashmiri would mean that countless stories will remain unwritten.
Q: How tough it was to find a publisher?
There are not many reputable publishing houses in Kashmir, which makes it difficult to get any literary works to the market. For my novel, I went to a well-known Kashmiri publishing house and I was given a hard time. “We don’t publish Kashmiri books”, I was told. Although eventually Ali Mohammad and Sons ended up publishing my book, it was disheartening to find the publications being averse to the idea of publishing original Kashmiri works. It just shows the disinterest people have in our language and hence, putting forth the notion of only English/Urdu literature being worth publishing. This has put indigenous literature under threat.
Q: In your writing journey who’ve been your chief influences?
I was not great at my studies. I wrote my first Nazm when I was in the 6th grade. Writing that poem was a transcending experience for me and was something that I was extremely proud of. Reluctant to show the poem to my teacher given the usual disdain towards Kashmiri at my school, I mustered up some courage to do it regardless. My first poem was torn to bits by my teacher and I was expelled. Despite this, there was a silver lining. I was accepted to a neighboring school where the headmaster really helped in paving the path of my literary journey. Something as small as publishing my poem in the school magazine (the same poem which was torn in my previous school) made me more confident about my work. He also introduced me to the works of Zareef Ahmad Zareef and helped me comprehend the technicalities of Kashmiri literary tradition. Additionally, Saadat Hassan Manto is another figure whose work has shaped my understanding of literature.
Q: The motifs in the novel have a religious connotation. What was the aim of it?
You see, when we discuss a certain region or location, whether it be a state or a country, we consider its culture and beliefs as a whole. Similar to how it was with my book when it comes to Kashmir, Islam is the primary religion practiced there. All the names of the people, locations, events, etc. therefore just came readily to me. I grew up listening to epic stories from the Muslim tradition where religious motifs like heaven, hell, etc. were heavily used. Hence, my attempt at storytelling draws immensely from the stories that I listen to as a child.
Q: Explain the notion of the outcast in your book?
Nobody is an outcast prior to their birth, you are born and you get outcasted. There are certain factors, notions, myths, and set standards, that make you so. The novel deals with the story of Arham (the protagonist), an outcast in his society merely because of societal superstitions. Arham is forced to live as an outcast in his community which struggles to sustain itself. Everybody is Arham, everybody is an outcast, I don’t limit the notion of an outcast to be just someone who is a subaltern or poor. Owing to the societal ascription of the outcast tag, individuals formerly considered a healthy part of society can be deemed as outcasts but as constituents of society. A student who is not as good at studies is an outcast, and a boy who has feminine traits is an outcast. Ironically in the place we live in anyone who thinks is an outcast. Let me talk about myself, I’m an outcast just because of my aversion to cutting my hair. There is an unsaid internalized mindset that characterizes things/people as outcasts. Although, I have not thought about it much a lot of this internalized mindset is something that is imposed in Kashmir.
Q: Does Muqadas represent a worldly destination or an idea of space in mind?
Muqadas is a place that everybody craves. Muqadas is an extended metaphor. I’ve displayed my Muqadas as visions of a place and not a real spatial entity. Everybody has their own idea of Muqadas. I wished to construct my notion of Muqadas to be an aspirational state that anyone could relate to, it can be one’s belief in heaven, one’s belief in living a free life. We all are on the same journey, all I can do is wish my luck to everyone on this journey of self.
Q: What is the relevance of Arham’s journey?
Arham’s journeys are a statement on the soul as well as the self. Through his journey, he is able to grow and build. This novel is a bildungsroman of sorts because the audience witnesses the buildup of a meek character who thought of himself as an outcast to someone at peace with himself. He comes close to self-realization through this journey. What is important for a living entity is the realization of one’s existence. The audience reading about Arham’s journey is on their own journey to attain selfhood.
Q: What do you think can be done to revive the Kashmiri language?
I feel disillusioned while answering this question. We are to be blamed for this. Nobody would have predicted that this question would come up ten or twenty years ago. Anyway, as they say, charity begins at home. To revive the Kashmiri language we have to start from the very roots of our nation- our children. Children imitate whatever they witness. It’s simple, parents should use their mother tongue in front of their children. There is a weird sense of inferiority complex that we need to overcome for our language to sustain. With the coming of the internet, access to the language can be made simpler. Although Kashmiri already is a subject in schools, it is like what they say in Kashmiri, “pashe pyath sheen walun”. Only the bare minimum has been done while people still look down on the language. For Kashmiri to sustain people first need to get rid of this attitude.
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