Faith, Kashmir and Modern Poetry
Reflections on Rahi as a Poet of Silence
Muhammad Maroof Shah
May 23 2018 11:31PM | Updated Date: May 23 2018 11:31PM
In Kashmir we have enough pain and beauty for one million documentaries. But we have chosen, generally speaking, not to speak on almost everything Kashmiri. There is very little of Kashmir, especially its glorious empire of Mind and Spirit – on the youtube. There is no Kashmiri cinema for reasons we know. Silence is sometimes imposed and often chosen. It is no wonder that our best known living poet Rahman Rahi would also be a victim of this chosen silence. Our talented film makers have largely ignored Rahi and Rahi in turn has cared little to break his silence and till date there is much of him and about him that is either obscure or silenced. Bilal Jan’s recently released documentary by The Poet of Silence and scripted by Shafi Shoaq (arguably best qualified encyclopaedic scholar who could write on Rahi and an institution in himself who has gifted us Dictionary of Kashmiri language, standard work on Kashmiri Grammar and coauthored most read history of Kashmiri literature besides a dozen or so other works) about life and work of Rahman Rahi is a welcome step to partly fill the vacuum.
The documentary introduces Rahi’s life and work, revisits important questions and controversies about him and shows how eloquent is Rahi in his silence. It especially illuminates the problem of Rahi as a resistance poet. Rahi has been much praised but little read. Understanding Rahi is one of the keys to understanding Kashmir in all its richness, diversity, mystery, complexity and tragic beauty. Rahi resists our interpretations because he – his art – is life in its primordial and sublime modes that resist our conceptual apparatus.
People often read Rahi the man and then seek to approach his work. Nothing could be more misleading. Great art never corrupts; it is, like the dawn, stainless. Great artists are worthy examples not in their lives but in their works. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi has provided a long list of failings of great artists – including such figures as Goethe, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy – in their personal lives. Generality of great philosophers or intellectuals of modern times similarly fail the test. It is only the prophets who don’t disappoint us when we examine their personal lives. Artists are human, all too human. Their work and not their life should be our primary focus. Rahi has no claim to sainthood or martyrdom but his work can inspire generations for bearing witness to human state and defying the status quo – existential and political.
What better gift to culture than the gift of words/images that is Rahi? What better statement of resistance than choosing to be a poet in an age of ruins, to pass by in silence and not consider to curse an obscene arrangement and what more delightful apology to make in one’s defense than “Maefi Nama”? What better tribute to Kashmir and Kashmiri genius than in the pages of Rahi where its language (in the beginning of Under the Dark Downpour), its pluralism and culture of knowledge and its aesthetic and mystic-romantic sensibility (for instance, in his Ad ni mae roodum panes tam) are celebrated in a manner that would continue to resound for ages. In any serious discussion on contemporary Kashmir facing crisis upon crisis – of faith, of reason, of identity – we can bank upon Rahi’s verse to express the darkness and pave way for rebirth.
Rahi has been both hailed and reviled for extra-artistic or ideological reasons that don’t help us illuminate the phenomenon that is his work. One can’t afford not to fall in love with much of his work. Life is too complex and mysterious and contradictory to allow neat and clear binaries and judgments. Rahi is a phenomenon and like life, his work resists – and should resist – easy decoding. The tendency to interpret as distinguished from aesthetic enjoyment or contemplation is what great poetry calls into question. One image that describes Rahi’s life and universe – his mystery, his longing, his Question, his silence – is Iqbal’s Lala’ay Sehra. Rahi’s work describes human condition as perpetual travel to a destination not clear and our task as struggle to be ourselves, to unfold and to take one’s share of “ silence and heart‐glow, rapture and grace.”
The fact that Rahi speaks in the first person in the documentary on his intellectual development, religious beliefs and literary career, and comments on certain important developments political and literary and attempts an apology for choosing not to write on certain themes or in certain style that would invite censure by the State is significant for Rahi criticism. The documentary touches only tangentially many important aspects of Rahi’s life and work and leaves us gasping for more such works that are more comprehensive. The title is not fully justified by the script as silence as a central theme in Rahi doesn’t receive due attention. Rahi remains little explored by his contemporaries in Kashmir, even by the elite literary audience. Very little of quality criticism has been written on his works. His critical works have also suffered oblivion with time. He has remained, for the most part, obscure or inflected in an idiom that would fail to gain recognition for variety of reasons. And he has not been immune to controversies and some serious critiques from his contemporaries. And increasing pressure on Kashmiri language probably means uncertainty about his reception and legacy in future in native tongue. I wish to refer to few problems Rahi engages with before concluding.
Rahi says that he can’t say whether the world is stranger for him or he belongs to it. Absurdity of a universe stripped of God haunts him. Death and transience of things he can’t consent to on any terms. He is all protest against the disparity between man’s dreams and seemingly sordid reality. Lacking faith in immortality he seeks substitutes in the fragmented images of the Absolute in the world of art and life. He has largely succeeded, in Nietzschean style, by virtue of art, to live with certain semblance of meaning for almost a century.
Rahi’s choice of silence or obscure tone in the face of unspeakable crimes remains disturbing for his Kashmiri audience and few of his resistance verses and apologies – “Rahi, the air too is spy, keep mum” “What do we do when there is no freedom to speak/what if no one has tolerance to hear” as quoted in the documentary notwithstanding, the following question, as phrased by Sartre whom Rahi admires, retains its validity if transposed to Kashmiri context:
“If a writer has chosen to be silent on one aspect of the world, we have the right to ask him: Why have you spoken of this rather than that? And since you speak in order to make a change, since there is no other way you can speak, why do you want to change this rather than that? Why do you want to alter the way in which postage stamps are made rather than the way in which Jews are treated in an anti-Semitic country? And the other way around. He must therefore always answer the following questions: What do you want to change? Why this rather than that?”`
Rahi’s vision of life stated in breathtaking imagery in his works and, as an illustration, crisply presented in a poem “Zindagi,” retains its perennial human, all too human, appeal. Some verses from the poem:
“A child wonderstruck
At the first lesson in school,
From a multifarious
In Python’s mouth
Ruby flashes forth flames,
It is a bubble rising from the bosom
Of the dumb ecstatic lover of dreams.
The illusory goal,
Dark jungle of evening,
Steps into nowhere,
This is the dilemma, this the agony of life.
Without, a vivifying jungle
Within, a volcano
Life is a dream of the ascetic,
Mad after nymphs