Review: The Chill in the Bones

Written by Wani Nazir
Poetry, 2022, Book Street Publications, ISBN:978-93-91317-50-8, Pages 126, price INR. 200
Reviewer Ayaz Rasool Nazki

Kashmiri poets and writers never shied away from languages that were essentially foreign; the languages other than the native language – Kashmiri. At least two streams of intellectual expression have always existed, one in the local Kashmiri and another in a chosen language that had its roots outside the mountain-walled valley. The intellect of Kashmiris excelled in Sanskrit and scores of poets and scholars can be named whose outstanding contribution to Sanskrit literature, language, aesthetics, and many other areas remain unparalleled. Likewise, our rendezvous with Persian produced some of the best literature through centuries during not so distant a past. Persian yielded ground to Urdu around the beginning of the twentieth century and Kashmiri genius responded to this change in equal measure and continued the tradition of producing some fine works, both in poetry and prose.

Although the English language had recorded its presence in Kashmir almost simultaneously with Urdu, it had to wait for quite a few decades to receive the attention of Kashmir’s literati. After a few feeble attempts to adopt English as the vehicle of artistic expression, it was left to Aga Shahid Ali, the Kashmiri-American poet to seriously engage with English as the language for documenting the tempests and tribulations that broke out in the ocean of his soul. Aga Shahid became a lighthouse for many young men and women and inspired by him, they took to writing poetry in English. While a good number of new poets essentially began echoing Shahid, many have since moved on in search of finding their own voices.
Wani Nazir has been writing English poetry for some time now. His first collection of English poetry was ‘…and the silence whispered’. He has regularly been featured in some of the most prestigious journals of literature.

His latest offering to lady muse is titled ‘The Chill in the Bones’. It is a bouquet of 80 poems, with as many fragrances emanating from it. His poems rise up from the pages on which they are written as whiffs of silences and spread around and envelop the reader in agony or ecstasy.

The eyes of the Jhelum
Jet out a deluge of tears
Streaming pain and suffering
Down her crinkled cheeks.
(from Seasons of Kashmir)

Almost every Kashmiri writing in any language is occupied by the conflict and understandably so. When conflict pervades the air and with no end in sight to resultant human misery and tragedy, no pen can escape blood in the inkpot. No heart can sing a merry song when suffering gets under society’s skin. Wani Nazir can also not stand aloof while watching the landscape of fire. But his is a different voice. While it laments the tragedy, it maintains the artistic subtlety, the unsaid hangs around many of his poems. Unsaid is many times better than what is said aloud. In many poems, Wani Nazir excels in this.

In the soil of its darkness
Grows a crop of vulpine ghosts,
All on prowl to gulp down
Even the last crumbs of light
Only to see the darkness echo
In the hollowness of my self!
(from Secret)

Outwardly chaos seeps inside and this ‘hollowness of self’ becomes a metaphor for a new version of sensibility which turns out to be Wani’s very own voice.

It has been since then
When I strain to fill the paper
With the breath of my heart,
My canvas grows into
A luxuriant wood of vague longings.
(from Harvest)

His poems are housed in his surrounding landscape. The landscape which is not of his making. He draws his ‘city’. A city that he was born into. The city that has metamorphosed into paper, folded again and again into pain.

Fold the paper again and again
Leave it to dry
Under torrid pain
(from Drawing the City)

Pain is one constant in Wani’s soliloquies. It appears again and again. It seems to have become a metaphor for existence. His pen holds grief for ink and spills it onto the pages but one redeeming factor from this melancholy emerges at last when the poet imagines light after a long spell of darkness. Wani sings about Kashmir’s seasons, the change which is always reassuring. No autumn lasts forever and no winter is eternal. As they say in Kashmir, the proverbial ‘wande chali sheen gali beyi yiye bahar’ (Winter shall pass, snow melt and spring return).

Who will fancy
That the spring breath
The coming year shall bring
The whole flawed beauty together
In the form of fresh roses?

Beauty resurrects every time
It is buried
Under the thick layer of oblivion!
(from Resurrection)

Wani has in a couple of poems dealing with the creative experience, the stages a poet undergoes before and during the birth of a poem. Every poet has his own experience of conceiving, carrying and finally delivering a well-gestated poem.
The tip with labor does pain,
And with the first shriek
A poem glides out
(from Poetic Ordeal)
But it is easier said than done. Only an artist, a creator of beauty and art knows the trials and travails one undergoes during the process.
There are oceans between what one may desire to write and what actually one writes. Words are like butterflies and bees dancing and humming around you but the moment you stretch your hands to catch them, they fly away. This hide and seek is the backbone of poetic creation.

Murky moonlight has grown back
Into crevices of night
And I,in a remote cranny,
Break syllables with the shafts
Of my chest
Looking for a poem
Under the debris of words
Where none can erase us
(from The Poem I Desire)

The Chill in the Bones is a very important addition to the English writing from Kashmir and a reaffirmation of Kashmir’s poetic genius.

Ayaz Rasool Nazki is a multilingual poet, scholar, translator, researcher, columnist; a man of all seasons with diverse interests in painting, photography, calligraphy, cultural history, and manuscript studies, His dominant passion has been creatively engaging with the questions of identity, memory, and aspirations in South Asia’s most sensitive and turbulent zone—Kashmir.


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