Coffee and Fiction – II


What will you enjoy of this city:

When words get hunted into extinction?

When the lyre is slain as an abomination.

When poems flee from persecution?

When melody is executed by poison?

When a famine devours all conversation.

When nothing remains save ruins and destruction?

Who will you stone then? You will recoil in horror

When the mirror serves you, your own reflection.

-Ahmed Faraz

(translated by Huzaifa Pandit)

IN the previous installment of this article, I talked about the necessity of countering the fiction perpetuated by the state through the now defunct project of creating coffee table books that highlight development, and the role played by realistic fiction in countering and archiving local realities. In this installment, I intend to focus on non-realistic fiction in context of Kashmir, even as the paradigm is far outscored by the realistic fiction. However, a few tentative steps have been taken in this direction e.g. Feroz Rather’s ‘Night of the Broken Glass’. But it merits the question: of the total oeuvre of fiction produced from Kashmir, why has most literature been realistic fiction. The answer simply is that it is far easier to reproduce and write the experiential rather than the imaginary. Imagination itself is determined and conditioned by reality perceived by senses. One can’t after all conjure a rabbit out of thin air like a conjurer. Tricks and creativity do intersect at a certain point, but not at producing something out of nothing. The seeds of creation are inevitably drawn from the world surrounding the author. The author takes this raw material, and by dint of craft and imagination defamiliarising and fictionalizing the events to create a narrative. The degree, order and styles followed by the author in applying the creative process to this raw material determines whether the work follows the realistic or nonrealistic style.

The question of relationship between reality and non-realistic literature settled, it is time to examine the function and role performed by non-realistic literature in the literary pantheon of Kashmir. Like realistic literature, the primary concern of this literature is the myriad faceted subjugation. It seeks to present it as a metaphor rather than as a statement. The advantage of this approach is that it allows a more accurate manifestation of the tendency of oppression to obfuscate and complicate, the way a metaphor does by introducing an extra object and layer of meaning that complicates the object of comparison. A common mistaken view of subjugation, is viewing it as an instrument of oppression imposed upon the people, and sustained only by repressive state apparatuses. Nothing could be farther from truth. Subjugation interferes with and constructs the selfhood of the subjugated people, and creates contaminated subjectivities that acquiesce in the exercise of power over them.

It is precisely in this complex synthesis and this perpetual dialectic alluded to that non-realistic literature hopes to explore, for therein lie the seeds of excess that factity is unable to represent and accommodate. There is a constant tension between defiance and collusion while the actual operation of transformation remains hidden. Metaphor emerges, therefore, as an effective tool to highlight the invisible operations of power, as it effectively manifests the tensions of oppressed subjectivity. Moreover, freed from the confines of unity of time and space, criterion essential for production of realistic literature, nonrealistic fiction moves into the liberated sphere of the third space.

The third space, as understood by theorists of space, rejects the traditional binary between space and time, where space is constant, fixed and undialectical while time is viewed as the opposite as dynamic, dialectic and therefore the dimension in which social theorization is experienced and revealed. This further rebuffs the binary of material which can be defined, mapped and subject to analysis, and representation of this material space through mental and linguistic constructs, and instead proposes a space that combines both the mental and material dimensions of spatiality. In turn, this creates a space that incorporates both the dimensions and presents a new model of spatiality. The first space represents the concrete material world and its physical reality, while the second space represents the imaginative representations of this spatiality i.e. it is a symbolic exposition that defines and orders the material reality. The third space rejects this spatial binary instead opts for a space conceived of both material and perceived space but exceeds them is scope, meaning and substance. Nonrealistic fiction operates precisely in this sphere to point out that for all its heady and aphrodisiac delights, power can extract a cruel price as the oppressor finds to his chagrin. It relies primarily on nightmare or a world view that resembles a nightmare since that manifests at one level the punishing anxiety of contamination and vulnerability that haunts the occupier, as it seeks to dismiss the occupied and avoid any interaction. Second, nightmares demonstrate to the occupier the propensity of Time to effect mortality, vulnerability, mutability, and the fear of this mutability which is embedded in our primeval consciousness. Such fiction produces a haunting – a fleeting yet impossible to ignore misgiving that the fear will mutate and wear off, and the powerless will strike back and consume the state. Such fiction then employs not only language for testimony but offers language as testimony – its disjointedness and the violence of naming and coherence as markers of the violence of routine.

Moreover, by focusing on its fictionality, it compels the reader to shed off her garb of neutrality and acknowledge that she is implicated in the creation of the fantastical world. The reader’s choice to suspend disbelief even in the face of a fantastical world highlights the impossibility of making choices under subjugation as the subject is doomed to choose – to choose to survive and struggle in the face of an unrelenting shadow that shades each aspect of life. Her choice to reciprocate and invest meanings in a world that exceeds confines of normativity, plausibility and probability only highlight that she cannot help but choose to be implicated and participate in choices and plots created by an external force that they aid, nurture and perpetuate through their actions. In simpler words, oppression produces an unsettling paradox – the subjugated subject seeks both to distance from and participate in the perpetuation of subjugation. Truth, therefore, becomes a contested category – a hysteric anarchy of contradictions. It effectively highlights that any text to testify must forcibly fuse the two selves – the affected self and the detached self that observes to create literary allegories of dissent, exclusion, taboo and loss. By fusing the two selves, it opens up a cleavage in the text that refuses to be healed, and so mirrors the original nature of trauma which revisits the original traumatic moment to grasp the true and complete meaning of the event, only to suffer failure. The nonrealistic texts in their multitude of forms, fractures, allusions and contexts, therefore, foreground the failure to mean, rather than meanings and therefore highlight the limits of meaning. In turn this limitation of meaning highlights the impossibility to speak in a state of oppression. As Shahid’s translation of Faiz sums up:

Faiz, what you’d gone to say, ready to offer everything,

even your life —

those healing words remained unspoken after all else had

been said.

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Huzaifa Pandit

Huzaifa Pandit is the author of the recently published ‘Green is the Colour of Memory’, which won the first edition of Rhythm Divine Poets Chapbook Contest 2017. He holds a PhD on poetry of resistance from the University of Kashmir.

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