Ours is a somber story. More than history, the literature tells the story of nations. Has our literature told our story- should I commend or decry our men of letters for having told or not told our story. Like a drone, these questions few days back pestered me at a book release function. These questions pestered me like a drone a few days back at a book release function. Seeing a galaxy of poets and writers in the glittering hall of Allama Iqbal Library Kashmir University named after great fifteenth century historian and historiographer Ibn Khaldun, images of Palestine poet Mehmood Darwish and novelist Najib Mahfouz started pacing before my eyes like images from the latest Hollywood movie Beauty and the Beast. And poetry of Mehmood Darwish resounded from every perforation of the hall:
He who writes his story
Inherits the land of that Story
The verses from “Bitaqit Hawia” (“identity card”} about which Edward Said wrote, “If there is there anything written by a Palestinian that can be called a national poem, it is this poem’ reverberated from all sides.
Record on top of the first page:
I do not hate man
Nor do I encroach
But If I become hungry
The usurper’s flesh will be my food
Beware- beware- of my hunger
and my anger!
“My memory” as our beloved poet Shahid says “keeps getting in the way of your history”. It has not been very barren, caught up in the web of terrifying oppression our poets and men of letters have risen to the occasion and used satire as their weapon to fight against the usurpers. Satire, since antiquity has been recognized as an important art form. “It has endured throughout as western history as a form of cultural critique. In the words of Jonathan Swift, the role of a satirist has been “to mend the World as far as they are able," ‘correct vices and reinstate virtues. Literature is brimful with works of great satirist that forced their societies to introspect and to look into fads, fancies, follies and foibles.
“Take Jonathan Swift’s “A Model Proposal” or Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.” ‘These two works unrepentantly illuminate the ills of their respective societies.’ Patriotic and satirical poetry has had role in nation’s freedom struggles. Notwithstanding satire usually being witty, it has generated powerful literary movements against brutal rulers and colonizers. Through cleverly crafted criticism, satirist have infused spirit of freedom in people and geared them up by drawing caricatures of the tormentors.
In our own situation, the troubadours have played an immense role in infusing a new spirit in people. The institution of troubadour might have been there for centuries but during fifties, it had emerged as a well-established institution of political satire. In situations, when press was muzzled, people were gagged, intimidation and terror had become second nature of men in power and fascism was manifest in its ugliest form troubadour through his satire strengthened peoples belief in their goals.
It has not only been the minstrels’ and the troubadour that through impromptu satirical poetry castigated the alien rulers, their cohorts and collaborators but even great poets used satire to humble tyrant rulers. Literary history of our land is full of poets that have lived up to self-esteem. In his book “Persian poetry in Kashmir 1339-1846,” G.L. Tikku writes that Kashmiri poets deplored any compromise even for fulfilling physical needs. He illustrates his point by quoting Nadim Kashmir and Ghani Kashmiri. In the grand gallery of Kashmir poets, Hamiduallh Shahabadi, (1783-1848), who lived during Afghan and Sikh rule stands out as a great satirist, ‘who through his deeply satirical poetry convey his rancor at the poor state of Kashmir. In the words of Chitralekha Zutshi, “Far from retreating into oblivion in the twenty seven years of Sikh rule, Kashmiri voice articulated a sense of belonging for their land, a land that now required the loyalty of its inhabitants to rise from the depths of its suffering and tribulations.”
She recognized, Hamiduallh who through his epic satirical works, Babujnama and Napursana Nama condemned the rulers and people for allowing the beautiful valley to slide into chaos and ugliness as an important voice of Kashmir. Mirza Muhammad Mehdi, who used pen name Mujrim like Hamidullah describes in his Dewan, the administrative chaos for which he holds sycophants of Sikh government mainly responsible. In exposing them, he indulges in public satire, lampoons, and castigates Maharaja Sher Singh and his courtiers. He even describes them as scourge of God.
“Although his expression was is not as bald as we come across in Bebujnama, writes R.K. Parmu, “It is quite piercing and stiff.” Not only during Sikh and Dogra rule have poets used satire as a weapon to dwarf the tyrants and called upon people to rise to the occasion, shed their lethargy and fight the autocrats and despots but even later they have been highly caustic towards men in authority. Ghulam Ahmed Mahjoor’s Azadi is a classical example:
“There is restlessness in every heart,
But no one dares speak out-
Afraid that with their free expression
Freedom may be annoyed.”
There can be no denying after Abdul Ahad Azad and Ghulam Ahmed Mahjoor we have not produced poets and writers in the vein of Darwish and Mahfouz but our literary landscape has not been fully sterile. In a race for rewards and awards from the power that be writers like Akhtar Mohiudin did not swim with the tide but stand out as peoples writers.
The satirical poetical collection Tarangaree, by Zareef Ahmed that was released on the occasion also stand as an important work that not enables the society to see its pox-marked face in a mirror but also very subtly exposes duplicity of the leaders and brings out sufferings of the people. Like a cork borer through his satire, he wriggles out laughter from every one irrespective of their understanding of poetry and its nuances and makes the wise and stupid to introspect.
(Adopted from presentation made on the release of Tarangaree, a book by Zareef Ahmad Zareef. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)