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Book Review: Leaves from Kashmir by Saba Shafi

By Najmul Hoda

leaves from kashmirTitle: Leaves from Kashmir
Author: Saba Shafi
Publisher: Partridge India
Pages: 148
Price: Rs 350 (Paperback)

Serendipity. I chanced upon it. Don’t judge a book by its cover. An old maxim. Looks are deceptive. Another truism. But then, physiognomy is a science and “lifafa dekh kar hum khat ka mazmooń jaan lete haiń” is an art. So, make an exception this time, for the validation of a rule consists in the exceptions it allows. The blazing bloom on its cover—-the incarnadine glory of the fire of forest—is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg of the beauty that lies underneath. The words leap out from embers like the tongues of fire to create a conflagration where flames sway, swirl and pirouette like a mystic in ecstasy. (The stylised and choreographed whirl of the faux dervish would be a poor parallel.)

This is the best prose—if the unmetered poetry can be called that—you could have ever read. This will be the biggest regret you will carry if you die without reading this. And having died without reading this may be the only thing that will stand between you and salvation. It will be a life wasted. God will not condone this omission.

The words fall from heaven. Though carried on the wings of angels they cascade on consciousness with a force which numbs the senses and awakens the soul. They pleasure, they provoke, they incite, they excite, they titillate, they irritate. All. But they are no balm if you are looking for one to soothe your gashing wound. They singe, sear and scorch. They are like Nietzsche’s rumbling rambles announcing the death of God. But they are also like the dizzying whirl of Rumi’s masnavi—the susurrating sigh of separation. Here Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness races towards the ocean of superconsciousness. Her words flutter by like a butterfly, spreading colours; but come back humming to sting like a bee. If a Himalayan river, flowing downstream, with all its frightening ferocity, could be caught, captured and congealed in words, it would take the shape of this book. It offers blinding insights and delirious delights. It’s frightening. It’s enlightening. Readers of the world, rejoice. Rise and welcome. Here comes your Virginia Wolfe, Sylvia Plath, Arundhati Roy and Susan Sontag rolled into one, with a dash of Marquez, Rushdie and Rumi thrown in too. She is Saba Shafi, the new archangel of epiphany. Listen to her conversations across the chasm.

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‘Stones’ and ‘A nonsense elegy’: Two poems by Shahnaz Bashir

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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.

Stones

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.

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Why do we need more narratives from Kashmir

By Suhail Ahmad

In a recently held interaction session organized by Rising Kashmir, academic and author, Dr Nitasha Kaul emphasized on the need of having more and more stories and narratives coming from Kashmir in order to clear the picture of the conflict zone which has been shrouded in the haze of multiple narratives. Fortunately, over the years, a number of young Kashmiri authors have attempted to reflect the true human story of Kashmir, challenging the State-centric discourse.

Walk into a bookstore, and you are drawn to a stack of titles on Kashmir conflict. Though non-Kashmiri writers have authored most of these books, there has been a refreshing change with the residents providing a local perspective of the intractable conflict. Now you can find the likes of Basharat Peer, Mirza Waheed and Shahnaz Bashir alongside Victoria Schofield, Sumantra Bose, Sumit Ganguly and M J Akbar.

The local narrative is important given the prevailing climate of opinion in India about Kashmir. The debate about Kashmir has been conducted primarily by sensational journalism in India. The negative image of Kashmiris among the Indian people receive daily reinforcement from the news media. As a result, to the average Indian newspaper reader, Kashmiris and secessionists have become almost interchangeable terms. In the absence of any contact with real Kashmiris in daily life, many have accepted this kind of image as a substitute. Read more

Source: Rising Kashmir


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Shahnaz Bashir

By Aminah Sheikh

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Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

My basic instinct is to write. Of course, a cause, money, adulation and fame are what writers write for but they can’t happen without the instinct. The vent that I need to articulate the deepest levels of my consciousness drives me to write. When not writing, I sing; I sing well.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My most recent book is Scattered Souls. It is a collection of 13 interlinked stories which makes it a novel as well. The connections between the stories have been determined by the interdependent diversity in suffering that run through disparate, scattered individuals as a thread, enabling each character a full role in relation to the other. But that is not how it was planned. It emerged while writing them.

The conflict situation in Kashmir is extraordinary. The stories try to evince what ordinary means to a people living (read suffering) in an extraordinary situation.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Primarily, I’m fond of experimenting with diverse formats. I also like to punctuate the narration with real elements like a letter, an ad, a song, a poem, a list, a symbol and so on. I don’t like tight climax-plots but loose-ended plots to my stories with a multi-plot embedded throughout. I like a matter-of-fact, poetic, stream-of-consciousness, compact narration generally and above all. My stories would stand alone as well as converge, with certain elements, into each other. I am fond of nouns and verbs mostly, in verbing of nouns and adjectives as tiny metaphors. I don’t approve of fiction which is written only to explore the possibilities of language not ideas. I don’t like too much of aesthetic that fails to torture the language and holds it back from telling the latent truth.

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New Release: ‘Lost in Terror’ by Nayeema Mahjoor

Lost in Terror.indd

Published by Penguin Random House India, October 2016, 288 pages paperback
INR 299

About the book:

Cast in the background of the uprising against the armed forces in Kashmir in the late 1980s, Lost in Terror is the tale of a young, educated, career conscious woman who finds herself sucked into a maelstrom of death and destruction. She also cherishes the dream of Azadi and plays strong to face the wrath of Indian soldiers. But when she finds her husband’s discreet links with gunmen obsessed with the dream of Azadi, she becomes fragile and begins to lose her hold on her home, her relationships and Azadi itself.

When her dreams for a perfect family and a thriving career are turned upside down and her life comes to a standstill due to the turmoil around her, fate offers her a leap of faith—but will she take it?

About the author:

Nayeema Mahjoor is a leading journalist and fiction writer of Kashmir. She has previously worked as news editor (Urdu) at BBC World Service in London for two decades, and travelled from South Asia to the Middle East to Europe in search of big issues facing people, particularly women. Her unique style of short-story-writing has earned her fame in literary circles and been translated in other languages. Her novel Dahshatzadi was published in India and Pakistan a few years ago.


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Kashmiri literature and some of its great moments

Kashmir is a land blessed with incomparable beauty and cursed with seemingly interminable turmoil. Both these things usually create a very fertile ground for powerful literature. Furthermore, Kashmir possesses a rich literary heritage that goes back many centuries. There is a vast literature in Sanskrit that was produced in Kashmir, including possibly the best and most scientific work of history that ancient India saw, Kalahana’s Rajatarangini. But great literature in the valley wasn’t limited to ancient period or even Sanskrit. As the Kashmiri language grew and evolved, a new and beautiful literature flowered. This literature was initially nourished by the two great streams of spirituality that flowed in Kashmir, Shaivism and Sufism.

In the 14th century, a great Shaivite mystic poetess, Lalleshwari, rose to prominence by writing verse in Kashmiri language known as Vakhs, devoted to Lord Shiva but also questioning certain dogmas related to religion. Read more


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Kashmiri author postpones wedding to participate in lit fest

The extent people go for their love for words. An example is Farooq Shaheen who postponed his wedding to be part of the Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF).

The Kashmiri author says, “After graduating, I had declared to a friend that marriage is not for me and that I am going to dedicate myself to writing. He told me about a girl he knew, and that if I ever set my eyes on her, I would instantly change my mind. That’s exactly what happened. I fell in love at first sight. She eventually reciprocated,” says Shaheen. A wedding date was fixed for September 28. Continue reading