I Will Not Forget You


I will not forget you in my prayers, brother

Nor shall I forget ever your mother, the way

She carried her wounded heart on her worn black stole

and beseeched the heavens not to fall today.

That wound shall remain and may not let heal her soul

Till that dawn of dawns ushers in, bringing glad tidings

Of her dear one and takes the ache away.


I will not forget that dawn in my prayers

The dawn that is a dream held in tears,

For which I have pledged to bow my head

Before a tapering minaret that wears

an ancient look and seems to hold up

the heavens, ever cloudy and red.


I will not forget your sisters in my prayers

Who weaved a piercing melancholy in layers

The henna faded on their hands

While you vanished to distant timeless lands

And the song at your funeral in their heart

shaheedo shaheedo treish ma lajyio

Yiman khoon zakhman ye beniiha lagyio (1)


I will not ever, ever forget you in my prayers

Not your parched lips, your blood and tears

That call for your mother, too far to hear.

Only she was holding her anxious heart at the doorway,

To fold you forever in her calm embrace.

No one told her that your clothes were drenched in blood.

All they told her was: he cried, “Muajay, Muajay … katti chhakh Muajay” (2)

And a faint smile clung tenaciously to his face.

(1) O martyr, my martyr are you thirsty
Your sister feels the pain of your wounds
(2) O mother, O mother… where are you O mother

First published in Reading Hour magazine (Jan-Feb. 2012 Issue)


Idea of a Nation

“What I propose to do today” so begins Ernest Renan in his 1882 lecture at Sorbonne, “is to analyze with you an idea which, though seemingly clear, lends itself to the most dangerous misunderstandings.” This idea of nation or nationalism to which Renan emphatically reminded his audience of ‘dangerous misunderstandings’, continues to be a hard topic for assessment and explanation. People have this general tendency to take the nation-state as something evolutionary political formation, and regard empires ‘as anomalies’. However, when we look at the general history it becomes quite clear that people have largely lived in empires, “with the nation-state the exception rather than the rule”. So what really triggered this certain shift from large empires (Hapsburg, Romanov, Ottoman etc.) to new entities now called as nation-states (France, Germany etc.)? And what factors influenced the course of their formation?
The debate on the idea of nation or nationalism has meandered through different intellectual spheres, from Giambatista Vico’s subjectivisation of the nations (Vico saw nation as a part of human history as opposed to the divine history) to the German Romantic notions as expressed by Herder ( his concept of Volk culture was the earliest accentuation of ethnic national identity ) or Meinecke ( who borrowed from Herder and gave a new concept of Kulturnation – “an extended family with one national characteristic”); From Fichte’s concept of a “natural law of divine development” or Hegel, Burke and Maistre’s emphasis on religiously and communally based norms – what Hegel called Sittlichkeit – as an essential element of national identity to the modernist concept of the “imagined communities”, the idea persists with its profound complexities and continues to be a subject of immense intellectual debate.
To answer our question we have to look at the factors that were responsible for the emergence of the phenomenon of nationalism, which according to sociologist Ernest Gellner “invents nations where they do not exist” (1964:168). Arguing under the modernist framework Gellner emphasizes on the ‘invented-ness’ of a nation which was possible by the imposition of a ‘common high culture’ on a number of different local folk cultures. This ‘invented-ness’ of the nation is thoroughly dealt with by Benedict Anderson in his seminal work Imagined Communities. For Anderson the rise of the ‘print-capitalism’, at the dawn of the 17th century, made possible for ‘rapidly growing number of people to think about themselves, and relate to others, in profoundly new ways’. The great communities of the past (Christendom, Islamic Ummah or Middle Kingdom), according to Anderson, imagined themselves ‘largely through the medium of sacred language and written script’. These communities ‘conceived of themselves as cosmically, through the medium of sacred language, linked to a super terrestrial order of power’. However, with the advent of the modern ‘print capitalism’ there occurred a rapid vernacularization of languages which, consequently, were elevated to ‘the status of languages-of-power’ and became a sort of competitors with Latin, and thus became a deciding factor for the decline of this sacred language – Latin – and ultimately ‘fragmented, pluralized, and territorialized’ the sacred communities. Moreover, their ‘unselfconscious coherence’ diminished gradually with the exploration of the non-European world. This discovery ‘abruptly widened the cultural and geographical horizon and hence also men’s conception of possible forms of human life.’ For Gellner, nationalism was instigated by industrialization – a determining feature of modernity. The transition from the pre-modern (agro-literate) to the modern period (the industrial era) was an outcome of rapid economic progress. Industrial society, in order to sustain itself, depends on perpetual growth and this can be achieved by perennial shift in the occupational structure. The changing nature of work demanded cultural homogeneity and in order to achieve that state emphasized on the development of education which defined the status of the individual. Therefore a major populace of the society was politicized, which ultimately gave rise to the phenomenon of nationalism – which was largely an interest of elite or people of ‘high culture’. In the period of industrialization a ‘high culture pervades the whole society, defines it, and needs to be sustained by the polity’. Hence history acts as a pivot around which the nationalist discourse is weaved; it is interpreted and remembered in a particular way so that “there is a uniform and unitary memory amongst the people of the nation”. This ‘unitary memory’ is indispensable for the formation of a ‘unitary consciousness’. Thus, time has a great significance which makes an important tool for nationalists for the promotion of nationalism. The memory of the past and aspirations for the future are entwined with a homogeneous ‘high culture’ which creates a concrete social bond within a population. As Tom Nairn writes:
“All cultures have been obsessed by the dead and placed them in another world. Nationalism re-houses them in this world. Through its agency the past ceases being ‘immemorial’: it gets memorialized into time present, and so acquires a future. For the first time it is meaningfully projected on to the screen of futurity”.
Thus, the dead are memorialized through monuments, cenotaphs and ‘tombs of Unknown soldiers’. National identity is cultivated through collective memory that helps in defining the national character and provides a main link to cultural pasts. For French, 1789 is the defining moment of their history, and thus it is a unitary ‘collective memory’; the memory of this selective past (French Revolution) makes it instant; therefore an identity is created which leads to the imagining of the nation. So we can say only after politics became an aspect of the larger society that nationalism was introduced, and this occurred with modernity. With the growth of capital industry there emerged a new middle class that became a predominant actor in the socio-political arena and consequently changed its nature.
Eventually, with politics becoming ‘non-elite, then a majority, concern’, these majorities could aspire for the common goals. This subjective transition in group imagination from considering themselves as community to a politically-aware and self-conscious society brought a structural change – the movement from ‘Gameinschaft’ (community) to ‘Gesellschaft’ (society). Gellner is of the view that it is in this ‘Gesellschaft’ (modernity) that nation-state and activities of nationalism were possible.
Primodalists on the other hand saw nation not simply a construct of modernity but as an entity that has formed through natural evolution from ethnic communities of the pre-modern period. The major advocates of this theory are Clifford Geertz, Walker Connor and John Hutchinson. According to these theorists culture is a ‘continuum transmitting ethnic groupings in history into the nations of modernity, and will continue in some form into the future’. Anthony D. Smith in his book The Ethnic Origins of Nations argues that the ‘unitary concept’ of a ‘natural nation’ is their ethnic make up. He identifies ‘three revolutions’ through which nationalism emerged. These are the transition from feudalism to capitalism; the ‘revolution in the control of administration’; and the cultural and educational revolution. The characteristics of nations and their nationalisms, however, exist in elements prior to these revolutions that are located in a group’s ethnie – embedded in the culture. Preserving the ethnie thus becomes an utmost importance if the goal of nation-state is approached via ethnicity. Germany during 1930’s and the Balkans in the last decade exhibited this extreme tendency by homogenizing culture with ethnicity, culminating into Holocaust in Germany or ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Johann Gottlieb Fichte in his Addresses to the German Nation (1806) had accentuated this notion of the German nation-state quite emphatically:
“Thus was the German nation placed-sufficiently united within itself by a common language and a common way of thinking, and sharply enough severed from the other peoples-in the middle of Europe, as a wall to divide races not akin ….”


Published in Greater Kashmir (March 25, 2009) 

Kashmir Conflict and Academic Discourses

Recently I was reading a journal article “Federalism and the Indian Experience with Nation Building: An Appraisal” written by a Kashmiri academician Prof. Noor Ahmad Baba in South Asian Survey (2011). His central idea is that unity in a federal system can be achieved only through affective and political integration not through misconceived legal integration. Thus, he sees Kashmir Conflict as an outcome of problematic post-colonial over-centralizing Indian political system that infringed upon the autonomous ethno-regional status of Kashmiris. Well, does this analysis seem familiar to you? Yes, indeed it is. Because what Prof. Baba is driving at in his article is now a well-worn theme on Kashmir conflict and he is merely trying to sell old wine in a new bottle.
In fact, most of the academic works on Kashmir conflict somewhat carry the similar theme: denial of democracy to Kashmiris created the Kashmir conflict. For example, Sumit Ganguly (1996) would say Kashmir represents “both the mobilization success and, simultaneously, the institutional failure of Indian democracy” (pp. 76-107). His basic argument is like this: the armed militancy in Kashmir occurred because institutional structure of post-colonial India did not accommodate Kashmir’s political demands as they, with gradual modernization and increasing literacy, became politically more assertive. He is drawing from Samuel Huntington’s thesis that the absence of strong political institutions together with rapid economic growth far from contributing to democracy can lead to political instability. In other words modernization created new avenues of social and economic mobility and bolstered demands for political participation. When educated and politically conscious mass of people (thanks to growth of mass media also) emerged, gradually they began to seek their political rights. But as their political demands were not accommodated within an institutional framework it culminated in political violence in 1989.
Then we have Sumantra Bose (1997) arguing more or less in similar vein. His argument is that Kashmir’s strong urge for secession is a result of “…Indian states’ consistent policy of denying democracy” to the people of Kashmir (p. 19). The similar arguments come from other authors who lay blame at Indian states’ interventionist role in Kashmiri politics (dismissal of an elected Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah in 1985, his party National Conference’s Accord with Congress and rigged elections, especially in 1987) as responsible for giving birth to armed militancy in Kashmir in 1989 (Bhattacharjea, 1994; Hewitt, 1995).
Reeta Chowdhari Tremblay (1997), looks at economic dimension of the conflict, arguing that “shrinking career opportunities for the urban middle class combined with closed avenues for the expression of their political dissent” was the main motivating factors for secessionist movement. (p. 495).
All these are very fine points. But they hardly explain why would people get ready to die because they were not allowed to express their political aspirations through institutionalized medium? Why call to arms so suddenly resonated strongly across the people of Kashmir? And importantly, why would people demand “azadi” (independence) or merger with Pakistan when all the fight was about genuine elections?
Then, to address these questions, do we need to look beyond paradigms that dominate the academic discourse on Kashmir conflict? The answer is yes.
What we have been reading and hearing all along (mainly through the nexus of academia-media-political rhetoric) is state versions of India and Pakistan, referring to conspiracies and circumstances of partition, reducing the Kashmir conflict to a property dispute or blame games of who is responsible for militancy in Kashmir. Behind these dominant state-patronized themes Kashmir’s autonomous political agency gets blurred. It is this independent political agency of Kashmiri nation that is at stake and it is the responsibility of Kashmiri academics and scholars to present the Kashmir case from Kashmiri perspective, as and when it evolved from twentieth century through present dynamic times. What we need is radical break from the dominant discourses on Kashmir Conflict.
The denial-of-democracy and other arguments of above mentioned authors have come under serious academic scrutiny to the point of engendering a discursive break.
Let us take the Pakhtoon raid theory first. Australian scholar Christopher Snedden in his book Kashmir: The Unwritten History (2013) busted the long discussed theory around the circumstances of Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India. Snedden through primary sources establishes that there were three main reasons for Jammu and Kashmir’s dispute. First, a Muslim Uprising in Poonch region started by ex-British India servicemen from that area against the Maharaja. Second, the large scale massacre of Jammu Muslims, especially targeting people of eastern Jammu. And finally, the formation of Azad Kashmir provisional government on 24 October 1947. This significant research on the beginnings of the Kashmir Conflict shedS light on important historical events that had remained obscured under dominant discourses. It busted the biggest myth that Pakhtoon raid on October 22, 1947 was the sole reason that forced Maharaja to accede to India.
Now let us come to the recent events in Kashmiri political history. The 1989 armed uprising has drawn attention of academics and media alike. But here too we see a dominant discourse being perpetuated to undermine the Kashmiri version of the most significant and determining political event. The 1989 armed uprising is attributed to failure of democracy in Kashmir. But this discourse is also countered by the major protagonists of the 1987.
For example, the Chief of Hizbul Mujhadeen, Syed Salahuddin in an interview with Greater Kashmir (published on April 14, 2008) somehow cleared the notion about 1987 elections (whose rigging is seen as a main reason for the start of armed militancy in Kashmir). I would quote his reply in full here:
“It is absolutely wrong that I picked up arms because the elections were rigged. Muftis are giving the election results a wrong twist. I was a freedom fighter long before I fought elections. I have inherited this from my forebears. My brother, Sayed Ghulam Muhammad, was the district president of Plebiscite Front in Budgam. My grandfather, Haji Ghulam Mohiuddin, was tortured by a very infamous police officer; his mouth stuffed with hot potatoes, kicked and beaten, because he used to observe Indian Independence Day as a ‘black day.’ We fought elections so that we could pass resolution in the assembly for freedom of Kashmir. India knew that. That is why they rigged the elections. People remember that when I was campaigning for the elections, I used to begin my speech with ay mard-e-mujahid jaag zara. Fighting elections were a means to educate masses about the freedom struggle. We wanted endorsement of public sentiment in the assembly. Otherwise who would have voted for my person, I was nobody. But people voted for the sentiment. Even the relatives of my opponent Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah voted for me. And those who were campaigning for elections became top resistance leaders. We were ideologically driven by the struggle for freedom.
There was a case against me in which the then SSP had said that I was not campaigning for elections but for freedom.”
If the Muslim United Front (MUF) had won the elections, we would have tabled a resolution for right of self-determination. India would have dissolved the assembly and that would have triggered the freedom struggle. Majority of the MUF members were in favour of such a resolution. The MUF was anti-India by its very nature and essence. We were going to use elections to get to the goal, but that didn’t mature.”
Similarly another protagonist of 1987 Abdul Aziz, popularly known as Genaral Mosa (presently the President of Tehreek-i-Kashmir) shared similar thoughts in an interview with Rising Kashmir in December 2013: “it was not just in 1989 that guns came here. They have come here since 1947. Youth did not go to Pakistan in 1989. Prior to that, outfits were working underground. There were Al-Fata and Student Federation operating. In 1965 and 1975, guns and grenades were recovered here. So those routes have never stopped and shall never close. Kashmir’s struggle for freedom was a process laden with phases and 1989 was one of the chapters.”
These two protagonists of 1989 emphasize on that fact that prior to 1987 elections there existed an active political movement (Plebiscite Front, Al Fatah etc) against Indian rule. The dominant discourse about 1989 armed uprising is either the denial-of-democracy or the Pakistan-sponsored “terrorism” or “proxy war” in Kashmir.
What is lost in these discourses is the subject of Kashmiri nationalism. In fact, there is hardly any systemic study done on the subject of Kashmiri nationalism so far, despite its political significance.
Although Sumantra Bose (1997) and Rekha Chowdhary Tremblay (1997) do talk about Kashmiri nationalism in their works but their treatment of this subject is informed by what John Cockell calls as “precast statist parameters of inquiry” (Cockell, 2000, p. 325) that reduces Kashmiri self-determination movement as a political mobilization responding to existing unaccommodating institutional channels. The problem with such line of inquiry is that it “effectively denies the Kashmiri community any autonomous political agency outside of that defined by these institutions” (ibid).
In his analysis of Kashmiri nationalist movement, John G. Cockell (2000) defines it as “subaltern insurgent consciousness…informed by the collective ethnic awareness of subjective community and autonomous political agency” (p. 340). His argument is that in post-colonial condition Kashmiris carved out a separate political space (Plebiscite Front, J&K Youth League, Muslim United Front, All Parties Hurriyat Conference) to replace the state-controlled institutions that denied their autonomous political agency (p. 332-33).
Cockell’s analysis of Kashmiri nationalism is a significant departure from Tremblay’s assessment. While Cockell recognizes “the autonomous origins and ideology” of the Kashmiri identity (p. 326), Trembley perceives it as a “construct” shaped in post-colonial “nation-building” process involving legal and constitutional apparatuses, like Article 370 and State Subject law that created a sense of separate identity among Kashmiris (p. 486-87). Trembley is reluctant to see Kashmiri self-determination movement as a genuine political expression of Kashmiri national identity outside of post-colonial institutional framework.
That is why Cockell’s analysis is significant as it is unconventional. But there lies a problem in his analysis too and that is he does not problematize the element of “Kashmiriyat” which forms an important part of his thesis. Chitralekha Zutshi (2003) in her historical study of the concept calls Kashmiriyat a “homogenizing discourse…a neat way to propagate the idea of a peaceful coexistence of religious communities while obscuring the question of economic, material and social differences between them.” (p. 329). However, despite this problem Cockell provides a fresh outlook and enhances our understanding of the Kashmir conflict as his insights mark a change in the dominant discourse that undermines Kashmir’s independent political agency.
Significantly, 2008 and 2010 civil uprisings changed the way Kashmir conflict was perceived. These two uprisings spawned numerous writings (Until My Freedom Has Come; Kashmir: A Case for Freedom; Of Occupation and Resistance etc.) but what is different about them is their treatment of the subject. These new writings employ subjective elements to present Kashmir as a conflict involving real humans living under hard circumstances and not merely a territorial dispute between the two nation-states armed with all kinds of weapons. These new writings are bold, informed, and assertive.
In summary, what we have so far as academic scholarship on Kashmir Conflict is ridden with bias and politics of selectivity. Of late, the new entries into the field have opened up ways to explore the conflict anew and counter the dominant discourses whipped up by a strong nexus of academia-media-political rhetoric. What we need is academic focus, informal coordination, personal commitments and collective imagination.

Published in Greater Kashmir (January 16, 2014)


The Nights of Tales (A poem)

Let’s listen tonight once again

to songs and stories
And reclaim

what was once evening pleasures
in the winter chill,

and abode fairies
Of distant lands and palaces

of shimmering treasures

Those distant lands where mysterious tales
Of strange elves,

winged horses 

and sorceresses
Amazed us in our cuddled zone

In the ship of fantasy we sailed
In the ocean of wisdom and truth 
Let the star spangled night

Cover us like a soulful blanket
while the old man in gray woolen Pheran
summons all the good demons and fairies
And make them sing and dance

over wavy steepes and vast praraires,
Let him fill the cups of innocence 
by  recalling the dead words from their slumbrous past 

In Memory of the Dead (A poem)

Now when you have left and they say your time had come
So what to grieve when you just danced a natural rhythm?
Why she has this picture of yours locked carefully in her drawer?
To nurture the pain like an eternal possession!
I must put it on a wall of my forlorn house so that she can kill you,
Looking at your sprouting whiskers and a faint smile in the morning
But your memories, still stalks and haunts her sleep like a street dog;
And remind her of those dreadful midnight knocks?
Everyday your mother stare at my silver coated bronze platter.
Does it remind her of you and your curious habit of eating?
Or does it remind her that day when you couldn’t even finish his meals?
Everyday I feel like I will throw it away down in Jhelum;
To get your memories forever washed out of her mind
But she never told me that it reminds her of you;
She just stares at it like a composed child;
Her eyes calm like the antique steeple of Jama Masjid.

Door to be Opened (A poem)

How long shall be the door guarded?
How long Truth not be regarded?
The moment should arrive, and believe, surely it will,
When the true light of being is embraced,
When the whole image of life is thoroughly traced
And the wheel of vagueness made to stay still,
To unveil the disquieting pearls of our holiest depths
That remains buried under the pedantic layers
Of unruffled custom of ignorance that severs
The holy path to the stream of self-discovery,
Where from the spirit of being is set free.
When that moment of moments do arrive, ultimately;
The blurry screen of immense powers won’t stand
The convulsive impulses of broken hearts,
Who will unleash on the floor of dust what it refuses to see.

“I Shall Live by Forgetting Myself” (A Poem)

This burden that I inherited from my life,
A life in which nothing has ever stayed,
I shall carry along the pathways of mortal existence
And “I shall live by forgetting myself”,
Dancing endlessly to the tunes of that divine flute;
That with its spirited music weaves and unweaves all that exists.
There won’t remain the flute, or its life-weaving music. For they never exist.
But He shall remain in all that remains and not remains.

How many times have I assigned myself the tasks, never to complete them?
I was always like that, unpredictable, like the summer storm,

which though in its reserve carry the fury, unleash only humble dreams.

There you can see scattered around my room my curiosities

(some half-read, some not touched even),

anxiously waiting to be given their due.
But I have always disliked formalities.
When was the last time I completed a task? I don’t remember one.
How tasks should be completed. Only in their doing are they complete.

Last evening Rilke, Borges and something passed my eyes.

I embraced them with serene courtesy. They shared my anxieties. I felt like living.
Just now when I recall that meeting, life weighs heavy on me.
Because I have once again assigned a difficult task for my self;
And I know “I shall live by forgetting myself”.