Shahnaz Bashir was born and brought up in Kashmir. His widely reviewed and critically lauded debut novel The Half Mother won the Muse India Young Writer Award 2015. His short fiction, memoir essays, poetry and reportage have been widely published and anthologised.
Shahnaz teaches narrative journalism and conflict reporting at the Central University of Kashmir, Srinagar. He is a university gold medalist in journalism and was also awarded the prestigious Shamim Ahmad Shamim Memorial Kashmir Times Award 2007. His second book Scattered Souls, a collection of interlinked stories, has just been published by Fourth Estate HarperCollins. He is currently working on his third book.
Shahnaz Bashir’s two evocative poems on Kashmir’s present where stones write the elegy of loss and newspapers announce news of more massacres yet speak of an undying hope.
Dusty, calloused hands of hope write
Heavy, hard sentences of stones
And throw them
Word by word,
On the streets and lanes and by-lanes of a paper.
They fall off the paper and heap up—powdered words:
Detritus of truth, the alphabets of stones.
Strewn at crossroads and near spiked iron barricades
That guard the barbarians of the strife-torn city
Who are even afraid of the stones of tombstones,
Yet order gouging out of eyes of dreams
To deconstruct the stones.
In the darkness the guardians of dead conscience
Search for clues of pens—nab nibs,
Soiled with motes of words,
Battered words that distort even the stones.
Trailing after the lost voice of the fugitive ink,
Spirit of the bullets breaks where
They shatter the hearts of stones.
From each hand that has thrown words,
Come the cries of wounded stones:
Tears of stones, blood of stones.
They throw them stone by stone,
In the memory of stones.
And from each eye that sheds stones,
And each lip that croons,“stones,”
Come these amorphous words.
Each stone is a word, petrified,
In each hand that smells of freedom.
A nonsense elegy
On a sad morning in a happy weather,
In a picture, a soldier is beating a young boy
With the butt of his rifle after his cane on his youthful back
Has crashed into splinters and flinders.
I urgently pop the seventh pill from the strip
Of Tablet Indifference, lying on the coffee table,
On which I toss the oddly folded The Daily Mourner
After being bored by the frightening headlines,
Which in the garb of elegant fonts promise more massacres,
Vow that the news would not fill the page
Lest scribbled with details of blood.
The TV in the other room has begun its own heavy breakfast
Of anger splattered on burnt toasts of hopelessness.
On each channel I see men and women munching hard
On their own lies dipped in the teacups of sophistry.
Why shouldn’t we tell them all at once that we are becoming fit
For the next summer of mourning,
Rehearsing the lyrics of death already
And placing orders for new lightweight coffins,
Thinking of verses to carve on gravestones.
It’s like a game of whist in which fate shuffles
The cards of life and death
For the gamble of it-could-be-me or it-could-be-you
Or the one who will be the first to go to the window
To have a look at the scene on the street, and would fall
For the lightweight coffins, engraved tombstones,
A green velvet pall elegantly embroidered
In golden Arabesque calligraphy.
Or, who knows, in clean mink blankets along with hospital stretchers.
However, long, a poem laments on the times of massacres
And on threats of carpet bombings, it’s an elegiac nonsense.
Throw your pens, guns and stones, their mainstream of mass murder
Has freedom for everyone.
We don’t feel, bleed, understand, we don’t know the past,
We don’t know how does it feel like being raped by a soldier,
Whose morale must always be massaged with the oil of nationalism,
Extracted, distilled from tears of the women in Kunan-Poshpora.
Nothing ever happened to us, to our old, women, children
All you tell us is true, how are we to know?
Who are we to know? We are oblivious,
We don’t pain, need, aspire, we don’t know about future
We don’t know how does it feel like being…