The Downtown Boy He’s been an embodiment of resilience

Everyone in Kashmir has a story to tell.   The octogenarian has a tale to tell – he has seen towering South Asian leaders at their eloquent best addressing hundreds of thousands in the Muslim Park and in our own Red Square. The septuagenarian has his stories to tell about the royal river procession and Russian Communist leaders in majestic boats rowed through the Jhelum. And their rehashing the ‘dominant discourse’ and giving it proletarian flavor.   That born ‘at the stroke of midnight hour, when world was sleeping and India awoke to freedom’ and when South-Asian Muslims after gusty storms like weaverbirds were dexterously making a home out of straw, has his narrative to share. Moreover, the Young man bubbling with fervor and boiling with fury has his own sordid tales to tell. Most of these tales will be never told but buried with their possessors.  No chronicler sitting amidst army of books in his closet, with blinds drawn on windows will ever tell these stories.

Inspired by   Nirad C. Chaudhuri’s   first book in English, ”The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian,” many times, I thought of writing an autobiography – and telling my tale. It has been my dream to tell story of Kashmir like him from ‘fiercely independent view point’. And with ‘stubborn honesty’ make others feel living a life as led by me and my peers with all our agonies and ecstasies. Like him as a ‘man of culture’, I wanted to beat them at their own game and write the people’s narrative.

I am not a political leader – towering or dwarf,  popular or self-appointed, a ‘lion’ like the ‘Lion of the Desert’ or a paper tiger –  I am a Downtown Boy brought up in alleys, lanes and by lanes that  continue to be mute witness to the greatest events in the history of Kashmir – and writing its own narrative even today. Nevertheless, who would be interested in the life of an ordinary downtown boy? – projected as a defiance incarnate. To pin him down the vocabulary has been corrupted. In our modern lexicon the word ‘downtown’ has been denuded of the sheen with which it was born at place of its origin, New York, where it was referred to ‘as ‘city’s core and central business district usually in geographical, commercial and community sense.’

To tailor it to the requirements of the ‘dominant’ discourse’, it is portrayed as ‘the most wretched and disreputable part’ of the thousand year old city, harbor of muggers, an insalubrious abode of “that Sheikh Sin, the Thief of Thieves”- in famous short story with Kashmir in backdrop, “The Prophets Hair”.  Now this part of the city is no more counted as “a storybook unfolding like an epic- a saga brimming with tales of chivalry, bravery and courage in which every word is breathing with life, telling chivalrous stories of resistance against the desperadoes and the marauders that dared to crossover the impregnable mountains guarding the land from millenniums.

My story is the story of any other downtown boy – an embodiment of resilience. The downtown boy has been the protagonist of all the resistance movements. In 1865, merciless soldiers drowned him in a tributary of the river Jhelum at Zaldagar, Nawab Bazar for raising voice against the brutal tax system before the laborers at Chicago rose in revolt. In 1924 revolt against communal and discriminatory wage system and corruption, he made his presence felt as ‘King’.   In July 1931, he was at the scene of carnage outside Srinagar Central Jail, suffering bullets, butts and batons, when the newly catapulted leaders to the centre stage of Kashmir politics were having siesta. The courageous downtown boy, gasping for breaths, whispered in the ear of the leaders:

 “I ask nothing more
Than to die in my country
To dissolve and merge with the grass,
To give life to a flower
That a child of my country will pick,
All I ask
Is to remain in the bosom of my country
As soil,
Grass,
A flower.” (Fadwa  Tuqan).

I am witness to an era. So have been all my peers and siblings. I have seen the towering leaders at the peak of their popularity roaring like lions at the Martyrs Graveyard, pledging that they would never betray the scarlet blood of the young buried under the chiseled tombstones. I have seen them cheating the trust of the people and betraying their cause, yet claiming that they had not changed the goal but the track from meter gauge to broad gauge. I have seen the erudite leaders slickly entrancing the intelligent and making them sing their songs. I have seen Marx with his Das Kapital hanged in broad day light by Doctor Faustus of the day for power. I have seen lascivious and lewd ruling the roost. Ours has not been a story of betrayals but also of sacrifices. In our part of the city, most of the political workers were selflessness incarnate. Living famished life political workers like Ghulam Ahmed Mir, Dalal, Hassan Zargar, Hassan Tainsaz, Rehman Darzai and Naba Tanga stuck to their cause like a rock. These people provide warp and woof for the biography of downtown boy.   

  
Every downtown boy has been a Spartacus in his own right. Unmindful of consequence, the unlettered Shafi Sheikh, Mana Khor, Ahad Sheikh, Rashid Gani and many others challenged the mighty in heavy boots. Every downtown boy in true sense has been Hamza of modern Arab poet Fawad Tuqan who died at the age of 82 and was described by Guardian as one who forcefully expressed a nation’s sense of loss and defiance.

Like Hamaz the downtown boys have been telling poets of the land:
 ‘…….our land has a throbbing heart,
it doesn’t cease to beat, and it endures
the unendurable. It keeps the secrets
of hills and wombs. This land sprouting
with spikes and palms is also the land
that gives birth to ………”

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)