Voices from the region found ample expression at the globally
WRiTING from the North were heard with rapt attention at the recent DSC Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF).
The voices of pain, agony and untold suffering from the Valley reverberated at The Baithak when Kashmiri poetry pierced through the hearts of the audience. The effect was profound, given the fact that 90 per cent of the audience did not understand Kashmiri language. This was not Agha Shahid Ali, being recited in English, it was the power of lyrics that brought tears to the eyes when Naseem Shafaie recited ‘The heart is the resting place of mourning ’ in Kashmiri. Having published two collections of poetry, Derche Machrith (Open Windows) and Na Thsay Na Aks (Neither Shadow Nor Copy), which was selected for the prestigious Tagore award, sponsored jointly by the Sahitya Akademi and Samsung International of South Korea, Naseem’s poems have been translated into English, Telegu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu and several other languages.
Nasser insisted on writing in the Kashmiri language, instead of Urdu or English. For, she sees herself as a part of the great legacy initiated by women poets of the valley like Laldein (14th century) and Habba Khatoon, who, like her, were coming to terms with the pain and the business of living against all odds. Her translator, Prof Neerja Mattoo, who read out English translations of her poetry, also happens to be her teacher.
This strange relationship of two Kashmiri women — from opposite sides of the divide the valley has been made to undergo — and of a teacher-turned-admirer and translator bringing them to a shared platform to express the loss of a world they had known, was presented through poetry. The pain of living in exile, within one’s own country, metaphorically, and the guilt and shame of losing Kashmiri Pandits was expressed in her verses with deep intensity. Naseem’s journalist husband was attacked by the militants, while her Kashmiri Pandit friends in Delhi looked after her teenaged son. "The incident changed the whole course of my life and the way I look at the world," she said.
At another session poet Gulzar had sensitivity pouring through lyrics. For those who were sceptical of the Kindle e-reader eating up the book, there were words from Gulzar, which not only offered solace, but also added the fragrance of love to the rather intellectually dominated literature festival. As he read out a poem of his, it cleared all doubts.`A0In his characteristic style, he said: "English is an Indian language," and switching to Urdu, he went on, "But my expression is not apt till I put it in my own language. At this moment, a poem connects very beautifully with the situation. I read out to you the relation with books." And he went on to recite: Kitaaben jhankti hein band almaari ke sheeshon se, badi hasrat se taktin hein, maheenon ab mulaqaten nahi hoti, Jo shaamen unki sohbat me hoti theen, Ab aksar guzar jaati hein computer ke pardon par... Wo sara ilm to milta rahega, Magar wo jo kitabon me mila karte thhe sookhey phool ke pattey...
The recitals moved the audience to a rapturous applause. In two other sessions, ‘Bhasha Swar’ and ‘Neglected Poems’, Gulzar once again conquered the audience with his amazing recital of verses. Gulzar was one of the most sought-after celebrities at the JLF.
Even the Sufi poetry from Punjab was recited by Madan Gopal Singh, with a written presentation by Christopher Shackle on the experience of translating the kaafis of the poet. Shackle has been asked to do a volume on the poetry of Bulleh Shah for the Murthy Classical Library of Indian Literature.`A0
In the session titled ‘Two Pages From History’, diplomat-turned-writer Navtej Sarna talked of his experience of translating the Zafarnama into English for a larger audience. Zafarnama is a collection of letters written by Guru Gobind Singh (1705) to Aurangzeb, as an indictment of morality, chiding the Mughal ruler for the breach of trust after he breached the pact. The letters were written in Persian in verse. It is part of the Dasam Granth composed by Guru Gobind Singh.
"Translating it opened multiple layers before me. Several transcribers of the text, who transcribed it into Gurmukhi, also changed the grammar, nuances and factual connotations, largely making it acceptable to a certain reality," he said. Sarna chose to translate it for Penguin (which is bringing it out in March), for he thinks this is one of the shortest, most succinct, powerful and profound text." Vishvjit Singh, a former Rajya Sabha member, shared his experience of translating Kissa Shah Mohammad, a 19th-century poet who chronicled the Anglo-Sikh wars of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army.
Celebrating the popularity of the culture from the North, especially Punjab, these sessions also raised questions about the dilution that comes with popularity and the globalisation of a culture. Perhaps, that should make one look back at history to find a footing.