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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri




Poetry in The Time of Exile

Dr. Shashi Shaikhar Toshkhani
Poetry in The Time of ExileWell known Kashmiri poet Arjan Dev Majboor now living as a displaced person in Jammu's Udhampur town, is making ‘Waves' literally for Waves is the title he has given to the recently published collection of his selected Kashmiri poems translated into English by Arvind Gigoo. The idea perhaps is, to present the best of his work to an audience not acquainted with Kashmiri. But whether a slender volume like this-of just 58 pages and contain­ing 24 poems only - can provide an adequate insight into the dimensions of creativity of a poet who has been writing for the last 50 years and has produced five volumes of poetry is rather doubtful.
Arjan Dev Majboor is an important name in contemporary Kashmiri poetry, not only because he has had a rather long innings as a poet, but also because he was part of a circle to which poets like Dina Nath Nadim, Rehman Rahi and Amin Kamil belonged and with them had a role in launching the progressive moment in the post-independence era. Believing literature to be a potent instrument to fight what they called "the imperialist forces" - a term that had a special connotation in the context of the political situation prevailing in Kashmir - the progressives wrote much that was propaganda and slogan mongering in the beginning, but with their sharp sense of realism and a proclivity for experimentation, they definitely helped in bringing about a change in the sensibility and idiom of Kashmiri poetry which had got bogged down in the "gal-o-bulbul" imagery. And when the progressive movement started disintegrating in the late fifties Nadim, Rahi and Kamil set out to explore new paths for themselves. Majboor did not lag for behind. Keeping track of the new literary developments, he too started experimenting quite mean­ingfully, with new forms and themes, and in the process succeeded in establishing a distinct idiom of his own. Ironi­cally, however, four day wonders like Noor Mohammad Roshan hogged more limelight than poets like Majboor-not for academic or literary but political reasons. He remained constantly creative and is so to this day, even though Islamic terrorism has shattered the whole world around him.
One can not be sure whether Waves reflects all these shifts and developments in Majboor's poetry, but the image that this collection presents is of a poet deeply disturbed and distressed by the violence and terror that have ferociously mauled human values and the uninhibited sway of hate-breading ideologies that have put the future of the entire mankind in jeopardy - his own people being the worst victims of horrendous onslaughts. But what is typical of Majboor is his deep faith in the essential goodness of man, which he believes will eventually prevail. Existentialist problems also sur­face in these poems, though occasionally, and then there is that element of romanticism that cannot hold itself back. But what strikes one most is his optimism which not even the given circum­stances of his and his people's forced exile have subdued. Per­haps, it is the nostalgia for his lost paradisal homeland that keep his creative juices flowing.
In poems like The Topsy-Turvy Tree, Majboor does, however, seem to be upset by the reversal of values that is creating an upheaval in the present day world. Warning of the apocalyptic events that could follow, leading to an inexorable end of everything, he says:
There will be no forests
eagles won't fly.
they will walk,
love will wither,
compassion will burn
and man
with the snake
will enter the cave
But in another poem. The Coming Millennium, he replaces these forebodings of doom with a vision of hope and peace. He dreams of a new world taking its birth amidst the present chaos, with Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning. guiding man's destiny and giving a call for reshaping and purifying everything in a dawn of new wisdom:
Purity will reign.
darkness will vanish
and fear will go.
Love will prevail
peace will flower!
Yet the thought from w -hick this optimism springs leas a deeper core:
The solitude of beauty
the search for a ray
in darkness.

It appears that though Man Dev Majboor has shed much of the ideological baggage he carried over from the days of "progressivism", his imagination is still animated by utopian dreams.
In the poem Chiselled Words, the poet seems to be facing a crisis of expression. Old words have lost their meaning in the changed context of things, and new words are needed to deal with the new reality, he feels:
Give me words
the miracle of words
give me the springs of love
the gray dawn
basketfuls of flowers
the dancing shy moon
fragrant colourful dusk.
They will wash the pale earth
light will cover the world.
But perhaps the poems that have the power to touch us and engross us most are those that reveal Majboor's passionate attachment to the land of his birth. The fragrance of Kashmir's soil wafts through these poems giving them their peculiar flavour. It is the trauma and tragedy of uprootment from this soil - a fate that the poet shares with lakhs of his other displaced and dispossessed brethren-that find most poignant expression in poems like Wilderness, A Funeral, Mind, The Dance is On, Restless, Prison and To the Swan, which resonate with nostalgia. They reflect his intense desire that the meaning of his existence should survive through memory in the nightmarish wil­derness of exile:
I am stranded in wilderness
waiting for the tree
the water
the light

"Wet memories" of his ravaged home "transfix" the poet's heart and leave him crippled and helpless:
That city is a litter of
broken bricks
burnt houses
and choked gutters
Their present,
our past
and your future
fall to pieces before the gun

Banished from his home, Majboor feels that he and his people are languishing as prisoners, their heritage destroyed and their past brunt. Yet there is hope in the core of this sadness and sorrow:
Heritage has gone astray
past has burnt.
Blossoms have bloomed
even in the dry sand
To the Swan
is a long narrative poem written after the manner of Kalidas' Meghadootam which Majboor happens to have translated into Kashmiri. Baring his heart before the swan. the vehicle of Saraswati, the goddess of Wisdom, he speaks of Kashmir, its past glories, its culture, the myriad hues of its stunningly beautiful landscapes and the soul benumbing sense of having lost it all even as death and destruction stalk the paradisal valley where once "hermits meditated". Pining for it, he wants the ordeal through which he and his people are passing to end.
"Piety will swill stones", he hopes as "the soul of the valley is pure"-a rather very naive summing up when the destiny of a whole people struggling for survival is at stake.
We can not say how reliable is evidence of the translation in helping us to form an opinion about the poems in­cluded in the selection. There is no introduction by the poet nor any translator's note to guide the reader about the basis of this selection. Nor do we know whether the selection was done by the poet or the translator. However, Arvind Gigoo is himself a poet and a very competent translator, and the general tone and feel of his translations is good. What he has done in Waves is to recre­ate a new poem in English out of the materials of the Kashmiri originals, generally using the devise of paraphrasing, to bring out the quintessential meaning. And it is in this attempt of carrying across cultures that his English sometimes fails to take on the nu­ances of the original. At such places what slips away in the trans­lation is the very Kashmiriness of the context. This is what has happened, for instance, in the poems The Bronze Hand. The Painting and Chiselled Words - all of which have been taken from the collection Paad Samayik (The Footprints of Time). In The Bronze Hand, "the lovely luminous hands" ("khoshivuny shangarafy atha") of the original, have become the Bronze Hand and the lines "atha kastam divta sunday yus gomut ruzith dyana mauz/nata Gautam Buddh anugrab mudra darith" (the hands of some god lost in meditations or of Gautam Buddha in a posture bestowing grace) have been translated as "or a hermit's meditating upon the word or Buddha's when he spoke of fire. Simi­larly, in The Coming Millenium, Saraswati's vehicle, "the white winged swan" has been translated as "the white winged horse", which just does not get with the original. Surely, the translator should have taken more care, for such things are bound to confuse the reader who has read the work at firsthand.

Arjan Dev Majboor



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