A moon in your name

On Kashmir, poetry and hierarchies of resistance

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WHEN I CONSCIOUSLYimagine poetry, I see: a small room in which my grandfather from behind a cloud of smoke projects verse after verse, turning to poet after poet, he holds an eternal cigarette like a pen, as if writing poetry in smoke. Poetry is now a fragrant, translucent haze, and the haze a sound of metrical words. Contrary to ‘real’ memories which tend to fade, this image of poetry becomes more detailed with time, but no less ambiguous. My grandfather, who is no more, recites again and again, sometimes my own verses. As I forget his face, the smoke becomes thicker, the smell starker, the echo louder: 

دِلوں کے نغمے سُنا  رہے  ہیں
شموں سے شمّیں جلا  رہے ہیں

Sing melodies of the heart, lighting 
candles with candles.

Poetry is, itself, resistance to the occupation of language. The building blocks of poetry, metaphors, are born out of a constant discomfort. They fight restlessly to move beyond the confines of language. But, what happens when poetry and the poet are both under siege—poetry under the siege of language, and poet under the siege of the state? 

There is one way out of these layered-sieges: imagination. Just like the flight of imagination provides a way for poetry to, momentarily, escape the occupation of language, it is a pathway for the occupied to imagine an alternate time. Imagination is a means of defeating the occupation. 

شام ِزنداں سے ہميں کچھ نہيں گِلا علؔم  
چاند بر نہيں مگر چاند کا خيال تھا

‘Alam’, we bear no grievance toward prison evenings:
though not the moon, there loomed the thought of the moon.

Noted Mexican writer and critic Octavio Paz argued that there is a tension between language and eroticism. How could a set of sounds encapsulate a notoriously “fleeting sensation”? Poetry, he declared, was the bridge that facilitates this tension, configuring the sensuality of a fleeting moment into a metaphor. Poetry’s role, to me, is similar: to configure erotic sensation through imagining an alternate time that lives somewhere far away.

The imagining of an alternate time is an erotic act of resistance. It provides for the shards of a fragmented self the illusion of a union. A fragmented self can never revert to the prior complete state; however, the pieces of the self, yearning to unite with other pieces, derive pleasure from imagining an alternate time when the scattered-self will reunite. This alternate time may or may not arrive; as a subject of imagination it hangs between possibility and impossibility, making it hazier, more erotic. The conventional lover and beloved of the Indo-Persian literary tradition are constantly separated; the magnitude of this separation is a testimony to the intensity of love. And so, in keeping with the conventional mise en scene of the ghazal, I hope to articulate a separation from an alternate time. 

چاند تیرے نام کا

چاند نِکلیگا ہر اک بام پر تِرے ہی نام کا
اِن رات کے سایئوں سے بہت دور بہت دور
رنگ بدلیگا اے جان بے رنگ شام کا

اور رات کے سُرمے کو سنواریگا ابد تک
ٹھہرا ہوا وہ اشک ِوفا تیرے نام کا
پِھر کیوں مِرے ہم دم جُدای سے ڈریں ہم
اس رات چلو رات بھر کو بات کریں ہم
اُن پُرکشِش یادوں کو چلو یاد کریں ہم
اِک شوق کی آتِش تو فروزاں ہی کر چليں
اِک خواب سا سينے ميں منوّر تو کريں ہم

پِھر نور سے پھوٹیگا اُس فردا کا اُجالا
جس کے لبوں پہ نام ہے تیرے ہی نام کا
رنگ بدلیگا کبھی بے رنگ شام کا
چاند نِکلیگا اے جان  تِرے ہی نام کا

A Moon in Your Name

A moon will peep over
every parapet
And moonlight everywhere will speak
your name:
Far from the reach of night’s
long shadows
An infusion of colour will swell our darkling world

The tears I have shed in your
name
Will kindle night’s black kohl
for eons: Memories will tease us into quiet intimacies;
Why, then, beloved, should we
fear separation?
Tonight is the night we will talk all night long.

Look, the glow of hope
becomes a conflagration:
Our dream lights up the corners of our hearts
That dawn which cannot stop whispering your name
Turns incandescent
in the blaze of our hearts.

An infusion of colour will swell
our darkling world.
A moon will peep over every
parapet, And moonlight everywhere will
speak your name.

Abdul Manan recites A Moon in Your Name

Consumed by an occupation of the state, my fragmented self, lays in pieces in Kashmir, Geneva, Easton, some in Philadelphia, and some in places I do not remember. Faced with a siege that draws closer and closer to my jugular, poetry is an attempt to continue. The need to imagine an alternate time emerges from a deep anxiety of discontinuing in the face of an occupation — in my case, at the hands of Indian State. 

تنہا نہیں ہے تو جان ِجاں

تنہا نہیں ہے تو جان ِجاں تِرے ساتھ شب کا قرار ہے
تِرے گیسوؤں کے فراق میں کئ انجُموں کی قطار ہے
کئ ابر ہیں سرِآسماں کئ دشت زیرِ نقاب ہیں
کئ کافلے ہیں تھکے تھکے ہر سمت غم کے سراب ہیں
کُچھ بستیاں ہیں حسن کی جاں ہجر کے بیمار ہیں
کئ بے وفا ہیں چھُپے ہوے کئ دوستوں کے مزار ہیں
تِری انگلیوں پہ چلے فضا نقشِ پا میں بسے صبا
تنہا نہیں ہے تو جان ِجاں تِرے ساتھ شب کا قرار ہے
تِرے  گیسوؤں کے فراق میں کئ انجُموں کی قطار ہے

اسی روشنی میں ہے زندگی ذرا زندگی سے نظر مِلا
ذرابات کر کُچھ گُنگُنامرے دوست میرے قریب آ
تنہا نہیں ہے تو جان ِجاں تِرے ساتھ شب کا قرار ہے
تِرے گیسوؤں کے فراق میں کئ انجُموں کی قطار ہے

کئ انجُموں کی قطار ہے

You are not alone, my dear

You are not alone, my dear: with you walks the peace of midnight
And nestled in the parting of your hair are strings of starlight

Clouds cluster overhead; deserts lurk behind veils;
Tired caravans trudge towards mirages of pain;
Friends lie in graves while faithless ones hide:
But beauty finds a home even in those afflicted by exile.

Your fingertips unravel even this dark time

Dawn settles in your footprints everywhere you stride

You are not alone, my dear: with you walks the peace of midnight
And nestled in the parting of your hair are strings of starlight.

This light is the light that bursts with life:
Come, beloved, let us lock eyes with life:
Say something, or hum a tune, my dear,
Come now to me, my friend, come near.

You are not alone, my dear: with you walks the peace of midnight
And nestled in the parting of your hair are strings of starlight.

Abdul Manan recites You Are Not Alone, My Dear

How do occupations end? Fanon tells us that decolonisation is a necessarily violent process. Can the poet alone bring about an end to occupation? Is the poet, or the writer, the sole agent of resistance? Poetry alone does not — it cannot — end occupations, but by refusing to be confined within prescribed borders, however, it lays the foundation of the occupation’s defeat, and hopefully its end.

In my encounter with media channels in India and even in circles across North America and Europe, there is a certain anxiety to produce a moral hierarchy of resistance, one that implicitly sets out to produce a normative model — suggesting that there are ‘proper’ and ‘improper’ ways of resisting. 

People resist the way they see fit. Some choose to break the occupation through poetry, some through civil disobedience and some through armed means — some even do all three. We should let no moral hierarchy dictate which iteration is more ‘desirable’ and which is not. Who benefits from maintaining these hierarchies? The models of resistance that impose on the occupied a burden of propriety warrant thorough reconsideration. Any resistance charts its own courses of imagination, and means of actions. While we may engage in a discussion about the effectiveness of these different courses, we cannot deem any of them as immoral.

Poetry, or any imaginative endeavour, in occupation is akin to a return. For our exiled imaginations, there is no actual return, except little moments of symbolic return. Even though we cannot rejoin the fragmented pieces of the self, we can hold on to them, listen to their wails and hope that they find refuge in our displaced words.

کسی  اھلِ حکم کے حرف سے  ہے  مُستقِل  بہتر
ہمارے  درد  کا اس دور میں  بھی  بے  زباں  ہونا

Rather than borrow the alphabet from people in power,
we prefer our pain even now remain speechless.

ABDUL MANANis a PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, where he works on Indo-Persian literary and religious modernities. He writes under the takhallusalam‘ which means flag or a banner.

Two poems, A Moon in Your Name and You are Not Alone, My Dear, are translated by PARTHA P. CHAKRABARTY, an independent journalist, writer and book reviewer.

MIR SUHAILis a cartoonist from Kashmir, whose work has been featured on national and international platforms. He splits his time between New York City and Srinagar. 

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