We live in difficult times, amid strife and war and daily struggles for existence. Over the past few months, there have been bursts of trouble in many places of the country, from Manipur in the northeast to Chhattisgarh in central India.
But the news emanating from Kashmir has been of grave concern, with the State slowly descending into chaos and uncertainty. There seems to be a complete breakdown of trust between the administration and the people, and the healing touch appears to be missing.
In that bleak backdrop, will a book of poems by noted Kashmiri poet and writer Ayaz Rasool Nazki help? The epigraph—While I sang the songs of light, they blinded all my eyes—sets the tone for this collection, his first in English. Holding up a mirror to the harsh realities of the present in a place that is called paradise on earth, he moans: They came/ and put the landscape on fire/ the tulips/ of multitude of colours/ a thousand hues/ and then they withered/ ash to ash/ colour to colourless .
But soon enough, shaking off his melancholy, the poet writes:I will sing light/ in this dark night/ words of rays/ will pierce the air/ and sentences/ will light up the sky . In his poetry, Nazki represents Kashmir, “its ethos, its pain, its past, present and future”. So, we have ‘Uptown Kashmir’ and ‘Downtown Kashmir’, two short poems that describe the contrasting ways of life between the past and present in Kashmir. In ‘Uptown Kashmir’, there are Glass windows/ for the blind/ high ceilings for the dwarf/ wide roads for closed minds/ huge mansions for small men ; in ‘Downtown Kashmir’, They had/ latticed windows/ they had/ vision/ they had/ low ceilings/ they had heart/ they had narrow lanes/ they had open minds .
There’s a prayer too for children: this generation/ and the next and the next/ let them have their childhood/ oh Lord! As he writes in the preface: “The despair, hopelessness and violence that have afflicted Kashmir naturally inform all our creative endeavours... There must be a world beyond and in spite of Kashmir but our blinded and blindfolded eyes cannot see it.”
If this is Nazki’s endeavour to “sing” the joys of Kashmir, he succeeds despite the “veil of pain”, reminding us of Shelley’s poignant line: Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought .
Songs of Light; Ayaz Rasool Nazki, Writers Workshop, ₹200.