By Lina Krishnan
Last week, two books arrived by post. To get any real mail in the long disused letterbox is rare, to get it from Kashmir feels like a minor miracle. And then, these are books of poetry. I read, and read, over the next few days.
Manshoor Nazki, a young thinker from Srinagar, kept his melancholy lines hidden away for a long time. Behind the Walls pours out the angst and confusion of existing in a space where holding yourself back has become a way of life and the isolation is anything but temporary. Nor do Kashmiris have the privilege of knowing that their lockdown is anything like the rest of the region or the world is experiencing or for a common cause; it’s restricted to them and that, if anything, only accentuates the loneliness. As he puts it
Our lives are spent inside this box
Of stones and walls of grey
Be glad at least you’ll feel at home
As you’re lowered into your grave
There is also the helpless rage about the alien just beyond.
They look like us but we’re not the same
We didn’t know that the borders were drawn
The rivers were bent and forests were claimed
Like any people under siege, they too have devised their own methods to keep their culture untarnished.
If we remember the words that we wrote
The lines we hid in those ancient tales
We’ve turned this earth, its trees and stones
Our bleeding hands have spelled out their names
Although these two books of verse come to me from members of the same family, the two poets are temperamentally very different, going by their thoughts.
In complete contrast, in Tree without a Nest, Ayaz Rasool Nazki enters the stage with characteristic zest. Throwing all hand wringing over the pandemic aside, he declares
I breathe oxygen stored in old cupboards bequeathed to me by my ancestors
The same sense of lineage, you see, but an energetic spirit pervades these poems. He is not unaware of the realities; in fact he says in a language soaked in the urdu metaphors of aag ka dariya
Paper oars are up in smoke
And a fire rages in front of you
But he’s got a determination not to buckle under, to accept the sorrow imposed on him, and it comes through in these words.
even then I will not write blood
even now I will not sing fire
even then I will write rose
even now I will sing of nectar
It makes you think of the verdant valleys and the rose gardens of Kashmir as they were, as they will remain, in our collective imagination.
Lina Krishnan is a poet and artist in Pondicherry