A Kashmiri Aesthete on Twitter Lite

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Lala Ded, Habba Khatoon and Patriarchy

By Makhdoom Mohi ud Din

TWITTER and its smaller sibling afford chances to put aphorisms, axioms, couplets, verses and puns in public domain leaving you guessing for import. A versifier who has deftly avoided her straight face in her profile on Twitter Lite, a male preserve, challenges patriarchy on it tangentially without triggering malevolent vehemence. She has not any regular column of trolls, stalking which otherwise go into hot pursuit of gendered voices. An innocuous tweet more than a week before set off a reaction, though mild, where local twitterati tried to disabuse her of ‘feminism’ or any pretence of it. She decided to ignore the reaction and prevented herself from rushing into realm of eternal masculinity where matters could get complicated for her. Was she challenging male cultural hegemony by a simple tweet?

The tweet and its reaction show how we are hardwired into physical, psychological and intellectual confinement of the women. We force them to accept mediocrity and are deeply anxious and insecure about their creativity. ‘… her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not knowing how to fly’ Simone De Beauvoir wrote in The Second Sex. Does her presence in the spaces of social media lays bare the ‘con trick of blaming women for not being in accord with men’s fantasies’. Social media spans seem to proffer spaces for making women themselves anew. We resort to cultural sleights of hand to gaslight them, even when they are not subversive or make any breach of rules of containment. Some recent interviews of some accomplished women of our valley have shown their parents inclination to regret their daughters are not boys. The social and political traumas of our embattled zone is making their subjectivity and autonomy even more precarious. The long history of patriarchy has stripped them of their economic rights and there are determined efforts to deny them public spaces. It is not difficult to map out gendered spaces of social media but to effect the exclusion of the female voices even by the methods of abuse and the intimidation is not helping. They are determined to stake their positions, which are socially, politically and economically relevant to them. The virtuality of the space is helpful, even if we are not ready to jettison long held social and cultural constructs of gender. It has blurred traditional lines between, ‘women with essentialised traits of emotionality and irrationality and men of self control and superior capacity for the reason’. The refusal to break the persistence of masculine and feminine constructs is not exclusive to Kashmir only.

The cases of history though for and few between afford a redeemer and a consolation. Lala Ded and Habba Khatoon, two daughters of Vitasta, essence and images of spiritual and creative steered their social and supernatural world. The invocation of two poetesses of past account for as the aesthete on the Twitter Lite is a lady. She slips into conspicuity of Twitter Lite with a verse, muse, couplet, a radical quote or an inconvenient truth. Lala Ded was a complex genius. She continues to unravel, inspire, intrigue and relate to us. Even in the phases of secular pre-eminence and rationality, she shows there is no dichotomy between critical intelligence and a quest for sacred. She endures, trouncing ravages of time and human amnesia; her legacy makes its ebbs and flows. Sir Richard Carnac Temple, who did the transliteration of Lala’s poems more than a century ago paid his tributes. He admits debatably to inaccessibility to grasp of Lala Ded and keen consciousness of incomprehensibility:

Lala thy ways could never be mine.

Man’s ways are ever bred in his bones.

Thou didst learn only ways of thine.

Since I learnt other, shall I throw stones?

Lala stands out an epiphany when uncertain times and self doubts are nagging us:

Resilience: to stand in the path of lightening

Resilience: to walk when darkness falls at noon.

Resilience: to grind yourself fine in the turning mill.

Resilience will come to you.

(Translation Ranjit Hoskote)

In the modern times, Karen Arm strong, a world renowned author on religious studies has shown the results of unshackling from hidebound traditions. She left a Catholic convent in 1960s, awakened; she made a spiritual journey few could parallel and is respected across the world for her compassionate teachings and erudition. Lala Ded left her marriage, her house and set out on a journey fraught with suffering and agony. She remained undeterred by stigma and censure, which had a full force of social sanction. Her ‘heterodoxy’ continued unremittingly and she had will to take the consequences:

They lash me with insults, serenade me with curses.

Their barking means nothing to me.

Even if they came with soul-flowers to offer.

I couldn’t care less. Untouched I moved on.

(Translation Ranjit Hoskote)

Zoonie, a peasants daughter with a passion for poetry and flair for music from Tsandhara Pampore became a queen. She was not powerful as Sughanda and Dida, two tenth century queens who ascended the throne as regents. Habba Khatoon is recorded to have encouraged women to dress and decorate themselves as they wished. She revived Circassian tradition of tattooing face and hand with special dyes and powders. Habba Khatoon gives expression to transcending spatial and social confinement:

I thought I was indulging in play and lost myself.

Oh for the day, that is dying.

At home, I was secluded unknown.

When I left home my fame spread far and wide.

The pious laid all their merit at my feet.

Oh for the day, that is dying.

(Source: Tariq Ali – The Clash Of Fundamentalisms)

Yusuf Shah, Habba Khatoon’s husband and chek ruler was arrested and exiled by Akbar the Great. Habba Khatoon was forced to leave the palace. She wandered from village to village and died in the shrouds of anonymity. Her songs gave expression to the desolation of her place and its people:

Who told him where I lived?

Who has he left in such anguish?

I hapless one, am filled with longing for him.

He glanced at me through my window,

He who is as lovely as my ear-rings;

He has made my heart restless:

I, hapless, one am filled with longing for him.

(Source: Tariq Ali – The Clash Of Fundamentalisms)

  • The author can be reached on mmuddin2804@gmail.com

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