Resistance Poetry, 2020
The mornings of the unfortunate,
don’t dawn on the horizon.
The dazzling horizon of morning
lies right here, where we stand.
The tree of sorrow has bloomed
here and turned to the blossom of the sky.
The sorrow gifted by this night
has turned into surest belief
in the morning. The belief that is more generous
than sorrow. The morning which is more supreme
than the night.
-Faiz Ahmed Faiz
After great pain, a formal feeling comes, said Emily Dickinson. Agha Shahid Ali, who made writing poetry fashionable again in Kashmir, and drew from her writing, would undoubtedly agree now more than ever when Kashmir transitions slowly but now surely into the stage of settler colonialism. The domicile laws introduced recently have hastened the process set into motion by events of August 5, 2019, when the symbolic autonomy accorded to the erstwhile state of Jammu Kashmir was abolished by an act of Indian parliament, and the state partitioned and downgraded into a Union Territory. The bitter summer of last year paved the way for a harsh winter, the severest in decades, and as spring glides in under yet another curfew, as the deadly COVID-19 virus provides the state with the pretext to torment the subjugated population, yet more. As a friend half-humouredly said yesterday, Kitna Yaad Rakha Jaayega? (How much can we remember?), referring to the popular Amir Azeez poem of protest: Sab Yaad Rakha Jaayega (Everything will be remembered). This is not a new question, and the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish answered it best by suggesting that poetry is a tool of the defeated, rather than of the victors. On the ground, as the land/nation that once belonged to the defeated yields gradually to settler colonialism, the lost nation must be reclaimed and resettled in the poetic imagination. The act of writing is, therefore, an act of resistance primarily not in a confrontational function but a commemorative function.
In his book ‘Of Gardens and Graves’, Suvir Kaul argues that the performative elements of a poem emphasise the emotional and psychological intensities side-lined in the affectively neutral tones of news reportage, policy documents, or standard historiography. Even as loss is a consistent and constant presence in Kashmir, it is equally valid that the routines of reclaiming, resistance and dissent exceed simplistic mourning, and find representation in poetic imagination which subverts “the statist strategies of dehumanisation, victimisation and pathologisation of the resistors” as Uzma Falak puts it. Poetry provides, therefore, a more privileged, and compelling way to analyse Kashmiri subjectivities. It permits a wide and dynamic range of possibilities that exceed the state narratives to determine the intelligibility of the Kashmiri subject in relation to the outside world precisely the territory of India while foregrounding the formulations of risk and vulnerability imposed on it.
When the call for this issue went out, it was precisely to make visible these routines of erasure and vulnerability, especially post abrogation of Article 370. It has been variously argued that the anxiety around the erasure and popular opinion against it is an endorsement of the people’s acceptance of the Indian state and its constitution. This is a myopic reading of the situation as it does not take into account that the abrogation stokes anxieties around deeply entrenched and ritualised systems of disenfranchisement drawn by the Indian state to ‘punish’ the population for seeking the right to self-determination. These anxieties can be gauged in the selection of poems in this issue. The ‘I’ the poetic self emerges not as a static, linear and coherent self but fluid, diffused and excessive. It is irremediably trapped in the disjunction between the present and the past. This excess that spills the subject beyond the present can never be assimilated or represented fully; it exists only as a reflection, a mirroring of the original state, which is always absent. This excessive self can only exist, therefore, in an extra-lingual, semiotic memory that subverts chronologies of meaning, and thus disrupts the reading experience used to investing and deriving meanings. This disruption is precisely its resistance – in its formal structures after the great pain of deprivation and disenfranchisement, it eludes the hegemonic and singular imaginaries that the state seeks to impose. Rather, poetry becomes a mnemonic marker of collective trauma, metaphor an instrument that maps the affective experience. In the face of ‘totalitarian colonialism’, poetry by and from Kashmir evokes polyphonic resonances to counter the loss, and secure the history (at risk of) effaced. Language is now not just merely a medium to express the Kashmiri experience; rather, it is the Kashmiri experience.