BOOK REVIEW ; Between summer scars and eternal peace



A proper approach to Javaid Iqbal Bhat’s poetry is to read it as a subtle poetic critique of suppression, brutality and injury inflicted by the continuous cycle of violence in Kashmir. The speaker imagines that funeral takes place in Kashmir every other day and each summer is as “colourless as mourning”. The collection of his poems, with a foreword by Anjali Gera Roy, Professor IIT Kharagpur, offers an opportunity to visit his particularities. Javid’s poems entitled Scars of Summer, a compilation of 71 poems which seems to me one of the great lyric collections in the English language.

Born and brought up in South Kashmir, Anantnag. Javaid Iqbal Bhat, with a doctorate from Ohio University, USA, is a weekly columnist for Greater Kashmir, Srinagar and Daily Times, Pakistan. Besides that he is working as an Assistant Professor in South Campus, University of Kashmir.

Reading the volume straight through, it is a pleasure to discover and re-discover Javaid’s odd metaphors and lyrical sounds in poems that oscillate between pangs, graveyard to brutal killings. The evening is quiet as corpse “impatience is not good for death. Give them time to calm you properly.” In one poem. In another, the note of the cordiality of death “Nothing yet had grown on the last eleven/Without iris Kashmiriana and the bumble-bee; Fresh tears would moisten them to life/ Sombre dusk stay witness to four more grave-friends./ Fifteen graves of teens and preteens/ United by adolescent blood/ And those honey-colored bullets/ Which rested their hereditary restlessness.” He envisages the “American Moon” a ray of hope that will take him away from the painful state of affairs back home in one poem and remarks: “Flight from Delhi to New York/ —My first— / We are next to each other / A friend I made on board./ After a long night / We are there / My childhood dream / America —the terra firma of dreams.”  In another, he questions “Whose corpse, is it? Half curved / Bound in pallid fabric / On my shoulder.”

Javaid’s Poems are filled with episodes of death and sordid tales of Kashmir where the toddlers are lowered in the dark alley of the grave before they could see a blissful vernal spring and enjoy with their chums. But, he is afraid of soldiers toting guns, patrolling the deserted streets of Kashmir and expresses apprehension by writing “who will be hit by the next second on which road in which village”

The poet laments the premature death of his close associate Adnan Beg in sojourn land to find correspondence – metaphors, likeness – against the eternal peace that such correspondence always fall short in some sense (because the reality is reality and cannot be altered by the poet’s imagination). It is a familiar theme. But, Javaid renews it by allowing competition between wish and the hope to emerge as a part of poem’s structure. Take the phrase “I wish to consider / Death does not lead to mere arctic Silence / and indifferent nothingness of existence.” By breaking between “artic silence” and “nothingness of existence” the poet sets up the rival claims.

Perhaps the highest praise that one could give to Javaid Iqbal, is that he knows when to quit. That may seem like an odd compliment – after all, the problem with most contemporary poems isn’t that they go too far, but that they never go anywhere at all. In the type of poetry Javaid writes, consider the end of “Two Second Sound”  “Five months have passed / Deep gaze lands on them / In a day and dream / Alone and in crowd.”

The author feels aloof in a crowded place and deep anguish as his mind is somewhere else and body somewhere on the Halloween party. The poet writes “My party / Is made of the malevolent —Sprawling olive green camps— Darkening my cloudy dreams. / Wine of pink blood / Costumes of emerald green / Dance In my pellet party. / My mind is in mourning / Heart is in sorrow / —Home is under siege— / Joy in elation has vanished. / You go, my friends. / Enjoy. /  Frolic. / —Loose in happiness— / Mix it not with mourning”

As in many poems here, the idea is to capture the perception of native place from the author’s point of view just before it yields to analysis – a kind of musical rest on the page. Javaid Iqbal is strongly influenced by the historical unfinished status of Kashmir, and one of the benefits of that influence is his willingness to let the small moment speak for themselves. To be sure, this can sometimes result in lines that don’t do much and notes ‘This is what Kashmir / Acceded to in 1947. / A soft shining alluring serpent / —during the day and in files— / With night it morphs into /A slithering sharky insect monster.” And criticizes the ruler who has plunged the state into deep political morass and laments “Coil is wound / Round soft tender necks / Laying the small pleading figures/ At the altar of the serpent”

The poet links ongoing territorial dispute to the life in exile and comments “The exile is a country, / A leafless country, / Thin shadows on Earth, sapped of moisture. Ends / Exile draws me / Without any process of joyful effort / Only silence her friend / Come, Mercy!! Take me home./  Pellet shower / Horror isn’t what it used to be. “

The poems revolve around the suppression of the indigenous people where authorities stoop too low to impair the vision of peaceful agitators who took streets in Kashmir to demand their rights. In a democratic setting, it is common for students to take to streets and demand things which are essential for the society. And, the state police use humane methods to scatter protesters and allow them to lead the protests to a certain level and stop them from disrupting the peaceful environment and dispersing them beyond that certain point. In Kashmir, pellets are showered upon unarmed protestors which give birth to a new phenomenon of violence perpetuated by the despotic regime disguised as democratic.

The act of using violence was once the brainchild of medieval era rivals where people often fight to settle the issue of succession to the throne, the unassailable authority would behead or hang the defeated contender to ultimate savagery – gouge the eyes of trounced out of the sockets and spare him ‘alive’ in prison. The same horrors revisit Kashmir where uncivilised means of curbing peaceful agitators on the streets of Kashmir were tormented by inflicting blindness.

The author writes in the poem Year of Dead Eyes “Eye lids of the right eye / Clasped out to / Expose an eye / A matted bruised mass. / Two gloved hands / Picked up the shining instruments / With little movements / Bulged the cornea out.” In another stanza, “The tattered eye, like a spongy fruit / Lay inches out as / The ophthalmologist sighed /“Too young!””

And in the last poem poet laments “Slowly raising her head / She darted the darkness / With a ball bearing / To make the night blind.”

Javaid may have collected poems in fascicles to develop a particular theme. In some, a theme is clearly apparent. Fascicles fourteen seems to deal with young people and life in Kashmir and excessive use of force by the soldiers. A number of poems in fascicles about twenty deal with life in exile, in others, a theme is less apparent.

This collection of poems, published by Jay Kay books, will be of interest to the scholars and students, as well as the general readers. As it is a true account of the author’s expression and views on Kashmir.

The reviewer Altaf Bashir can be mailed at” 


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