On Reading‘Waiting’ Edward Said's words have everlasting lessons for us




Some years back in this column, when I wrote there is no Edward Said on our side to tell our tale   with all its objectivity to the world it hurt ego of some “intellectual” friends.  Sitting on higher pedestals, floating on the crests of authority they believed that I was belittling their standing as “intellectual Jupiters”. The intention was never to demolish the castles of make-believe but to emphasize the need for telling our tale to the world more effectively and efficiently.
Since then scenario has change a bit, to an extent a couple of Kashmiri writers have made their presence felt in important academic, literary and journalist circles in the world  and there is a promise in the air that few more are on their way to the world of books at the international level. The day does not seem to be far away when our writers, for the similarity of the two tales – one said and one yet to be told in its fullness,  will tell their tale Said’s way to the world.

I think, it is for the similarity in the two tales that I often find Said’s writings relevant to our situation. Few days back, a news item in this newspaper about Pakistan High Commission inviting some important Kashmir leaders from two factions of the Hurriyat Conference and JKLF to New Delhi for talks with the visiting Pakistan Foreign Secretary.
Ostensibly, there was nothing new in the invitation; for almost two decades, the    ritual   has been   religiously going on. In fact, history testifies that even Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and his lieutenants during their Plebiscite Front days have also been visiting the Embassy in New Delhi. But, this time it was grapevine about these talks that roused the curiosity and reminded me  of  two essays, ‘Waiting’ and ‘Where Do We go from Here?’, from Edward Said’s  collection of essays ‘The End of Peace Process-Oslo and After. He had seen ‘no point in being too enthusiastic about the narrow results of these talks, which he believed clearly mapped out.’ For long, this also has been holding true about India-Pakistan talks on Kashmir.

The word of mouth rife within   the Hurriyat circles   suggested that the leadership was in know that the visiting envoy was going to inform them about his government’s decision of putting the Kashmir on the back burner and ‘seeking their cooperation for the same.’  Through Statements issued before the meeting, the conglomerates had made their apprehensions about the talks public.

Some opinion makers, columnists and social activists within Pakistan known for their predilections like former APHC Chairman Mr. Bhat have been delegitimizing the  UN resolutions on Kashmir   and building opinion against the ‘dispute’ through various mediums including print and electronic medias. The question is who these opinion makers are and if they articulate, the views of the PPP led government or people of the country.  

If one looks at the list of nineteen journalists that have been “bribed” by businessman Malik Riaz and have received “record payments”, luxury cars and property at least ten amongst them have been in forefront in ‘delegitimizing’ Kashmir problem. Senior journalists like Najam Sethi and Hassan Nisar have been vociferously asking the   governments that Kashmir was no more beleaguered country’s cup of tea and forget it  forever.  These journalists are critical of the founding fathers of Pakistan for their Kashmir policy.  Moreover, very subtly they have been opposing the very idea of their own country. Number of video clippings on you tube suggest this- true after the exposure of “salability” of top ranking journalists with ‘Geo taking prize with largest numbers’ and list including what a website described as “nationalists” , “liberals” and “fundos”, people of Hassan Nisar’s tribe have lost their estimation in the public eye. Some websites have been alleging that the foreign   top Pakistani journalists and social activists are on the payrolls of foreign governments. Who knows how many more skeletons are going to tumble down from the cupboard of Pakistan media. Some time back in it’s ‘the Alyona Show the Russian Television hosting   Anushay Hossan, a Bangladesh author, commentator, writer and activist based in Washington came up with a story that President Obama had “pledged” fifty million US Dollars for Pakistan media to ‘change mindset of people of the country.’

It may be questionable, if media barons and ‘motivated’ journalists would be able to mobilizing the public opinion their way but in the building scenario, I see talking about  Edward Said’s two essays  relevant to our situation.

In his essay ‘Waiting’, he talks of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot,  talking about   all sorts of interpretations that have been adduced to the play  he writes, “but  the main thing for me is that it is all about  waiting, about unending expectations, about the moment  that comes before something which itself never comes but  which in the process reduces everyone to frozen state of clown –like, pathetic banality in which only  limited motion is possible in virtually the same place.”  Said, referring to the various interpretations illustrates his point of view by quoting from Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians” and Noble laureate South African novelist J.M. Coetzee novel  also called “Waiting for the Barbarians”. The Waiting for Barbarians has a bearing on our situation. Discussing the dynamics of ‘waiting’  and its implications  he writes in such a situation ‘every citizen is in fact encouraged to flatter or somehow placate  the ruler no matter what disasters he flounders in and out of, most intellectuals and journalists accept the principle of self-censorship except at moments when regime goes too far in totally unacceptable restrictions.’ In such ‘ruinous’ situation he sees the only way to combat failures is in ‘developing a counter-hegemony against ruling hegemonic powers,’ a Gramsci concept.

It is not Edward Said’s essays, ‘Waiting’ and ‘where do we go from here’only in which he says  that, ‘the main thing is that a set of unbendable and un-negotiable principle should be articulated to which negotiators must be held,’ that are relevant to us.  In fact, of most of his writings   have lessons for enabling us to come out of the quagmire.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)