The recent controversial changes in land laws of Jammu and Kashmir have once again raised the questions of threat to land and identity. This anxiety has been a dominant theme in Resistance poetry across the world through generations
ONE of the long standing disputes in the world – the Kashmir issue has primarily been a question of contestation over land and belonging. The recent order of the center to open up the sale of land in Kashmir strikes at the heart of this very question, and the question of dismemberment. It is imperative to understand, therefore, how poetry resists dismemberment.
Dismemberment of land brought about by subjugation also brings in a dismemberment of subjectivity. By identifying with the people who suffer this dismemberment, resistance poetry notes how subjugation is articulated on the ground. Accordingly, responding to it informs the new literary and cultural agendas of the poets of the resistance movements and liberation organizations. Faiz articulates this crisis in his poem ‘Clues of Blood (lahoo ka nishaan)’:
Destitute blood wept for recognition
No one inclined to lend it an ear.
Who would have lent it any attention?
There was no plaintiff who could demand his due.
No evidence existed.
Although the poem alludes to subjugation of the destitute in Pakistan, yet the universal relevance of the poem lies in the erasure of traumatized memory being a universal feature of imperialism. Thus, resistance movements have realized the need to rally against this dismemberment. While the resistance movements are organized political and guerilla movements for exercise of political choice; liberating culture from appropriation and establishing an autonomous culture free from domination and hegemonies of elites is equally important. However, this recovery must be carefully delineated, else a simple inversion runs the risk of remaining complicit with the colonial representations and articulating undifferentiated identities e.g. Kashmiriyat which erases the historical fissures and fractures between Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits while positing a culture posited as binary opposite of the culture of ‘radicalism’ that led to ‘expelling’ of KPs. The subjugated subject is product of what Benita Perry calls multiple constitutions, of the contradictions and over determinations of postcolonial ideological positions – having written of these as always negotiated and negotiable – and of ethnic and cultural difference as sites of articulation. Any singular conceptualizations of a national subject, culture or identity is bound to be reductive. Yet, this doesn’t necessarily imply that movements of resistance should abandon attempts to retrieve a national culture, even as a pre-colonial ethnic identity can only be an approximation at best and at worse a fabrication. Paradoxical as it may be, yet as Hall points out, the belief in such a cultural identity is quite crucial to aspirations of decolonization. He argues: the conception of ‘cultural identity’ in terms of one shared culture, a sort of collective “one true self …which people with a shared history and ancestry hold in common continues to be a very powerful and creative force in emergent forms of representation amongst hitherto marginalized peoples . . . We should not underestimate or neglect . . . the importance of the act of imaginative rediscovery which this conception of a rediscovered essential identity entails.”
This is precisely the contradiction that Barbara Harlow, the first theorist of Resistance Literature, refers to when she asserts that resistance literatures are marked by articulating the contradictions of the larger movements. This accords it a moral superiority to narratives of subjugation, which insist on their authenticity, singularity and infallibility.
The poetry of the South African poet Mongane Serote is one such example of this informed rediscovery. He published his book, ‘The Night Keeps Winking’ in 1982 during his stay in Botswana as a refugee from South Africa, the country of his birth. As a black man, he suffered homelessness, exile and imprisonment at the hands of the white racist regime, which pushed him to participate in the Black Consciousness Movement. He also worked towards establishing the South African Black Theatre with the cultural committee of the South African Students Organization (SASO). He often invokes the past as an instrument for mobilizing the subjugated masses. In his poem, ‘Time has run out’, he employs the night and the moon as motifs to recreate the tragic history of the past:
The bright eye of the night keeps whispering and whispering
once long ago
it hid the
it hid the spear
it hid the lethal hand which fought and threw spears
against the night of guns and canons
remember the ship in the 16th century
remember the Portuguese
remember the arrow
the night saw it all.
The poem employs the personified night to utilize its “bright eye” - the moon, to illuminate the glorious history of Africa’s struggle against colonization, when the ancestors “threw spears” at the “night of guns and canons” – the advent of white colonization. By invoking the past, Serote traces the resilience of people and their unshakeable resolve to engage in a war against white imperialism, therefore placing the current apartheid segregation as the latest manifestation of the same war.
Similarly, poetry from Kashmir demonstrates this trend in equal measure. The poetry of Ashaq Hussain Parray emerges as an example. In a poem titled ‘Home’ he writes:
Home is the sky hanging above us
where we fly our prayers before
we expose our thoughts and heartbeat
for regular security check-ups
lest we plant the seeds of love and dreams
and plead guilty of a conspiracy.
Home is a suspended hand of the clock
gifted by my first love in high school
that has given up the race for existence
and adopted wilful ignorance of the time
unless the soldiers knock down its walls
for the last supper on its dead parts.
The poem relies on the iteration of ‘home’ to provide a chronicle of the tragedy and trauma of lived experience that constitutes home. Home is reimagined not as a geographical space but as paradoxical moments – transitory yet frozen. While in the first stanza, home is the limitless sky of faith and possibility in escape, in the second stanza home is a static and frozen phantom of time represented by the stationary clock that reminds ala Miss Havisham of Great Expectations. In the first stanza, the seeds of love and dreams are forbidden since the crop they grow will be feasted upon by the soldiers. Alluding to the last supper of Christ, the poem reimagines home as articulated by vectors of death, martyrdom, betrayal and disappointment. The poem emerges as an extended mediation on the experience of being Kashmiri in the present, where Kashmir is at cross roads of disparate and unsettled histories. The poem reminds the subjugator that the poetics of memory speaks as a disjointed, and fractured voice that transcends the barricades of time and space of a coherent world held together by schisms and silences, and unfolds in a world of multiplicity and possibility.
Resistance movements are thus, engaged in the process of this recovery of a ‘national culture’ that serves to reinforce the difference between the subjugator and the subjugated. However, the poets, sympathizers and partisans of organizations engaged in this task of recovery don’t restrict themselves to just the local arena, but demonstrate in their poems a larger cosmopolitan sensibility. They recognize a larger network of solidarity, which recognizes the other movements of self-determination as ideological allies. It is a testimony to the “possibility that the identity struggle of one community can serve as a model for other resistance struggles, since the self-definition articulated by, say, the black or the Jew in defiance of received representations can be communicated to different situations of contest against the authority of the dominant by marginals, exiles and subjugated populations.” . Thus Chile’s Neruda wrote in praise of Augusto Sandino of Nicargua whose organization FSLN (The Sandista National Liberation Front) found n 1961 removed the Somoza regime from power in July 1979. The Somoza regime was actively backed by America as it looked to exploit the country’s natural resources. Neruda writes:
Sandino took off the boots,
Plunged into the quivering swamps
Wore the wet ribbon
Of freedom in the jungle
And bullet by bullet he answered
Sandino hanged the intruders
The wall street heroes
Were devoured by the swamp
A thunderbolt struck them down
More than one machete followed them
A noose awakened them
Like a serpent in the night.
The poem eulogizes the protagonist Sardino as embodying the principles of justice in himself, and ensuring effective retaliation for the injustices meted out to the people. He is depicted as a true native - at home in the swamp and night, daring, swift and a conscience keeper of the ‘more than one machete’, a true leader who rallied the masses against the ‘civilizers’. In a similar vein, Jose Craverinha of Mozambique –supporter of FRELIMO (the Mozambique Liberation Front) writes about Nelson Mandela who fought against the racist apartheid regime in his poem “Since my friend Nelson Mandela went to live on Robben Island”:
Since the tribunal when my friend Nelson Mandela
Sentenced Mr John Vorster to everlasting prison
And decided to live with a few people
On a tranquil island
It was shame that four million
Were detained in South Africa.
Inverting the notion of imprisonment, the poem depicts the racist and apartheid population as imprisoned within their own prejudices, and the prison of burden of injustice. Mandela, on the other hand, is depicted as the judge who pronounces the sentence, and thus alludes to the superiority of his character, and sacrifice. His imprisonment is transformed then from a harsh solitary confinement to a tranquil island, thus alluding to his heroic character.
This facet of resistance poetry is imminent in poetry from Kashmir too. In a poem titled ‘Imagining Palestine in Kashmir’ for example, Omair Bhat writes:
I always imagined a conversation with you,
or someone, from the promised land,
dressed in paisleys of the language of Darwish,
Kanafani and Tuqan (Arabic, oh, the arabic, the language
of water, the language of resistance.)
Someone like you, in war, someone
alone, terribly alone,
somewhere, digging madness of the wounds of revolutions,
planting gardens of words in detonated bombshells.
Weaving allusions from Agha Shahid Ali, who translated Darwish, the poem emerges as a palimpsest that fuses the Kashmiri and the Palestinian self in its tribute. Palestine emerges as an alter-ego of Kashmir, in that both speak the language of resistance lonely and isolated in an increasingly disenchanted and uninterested world, seeking to evoke a poetics of resistance. The poem seeks to ‘plant gardens of words in detonated bombshells’ realizing that resistance has become existential, calling for a more sophisticated form of resistance, than merely against subjugation, and by celebrating grief, alerts us to the danger of time’s relentless sowing of the seeds of ruin, and to the basic lack of guarantees of any Palestinian and Kashmiri survival at all.
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