Celebrate Your Shahids

Fayaz Ahmad Dar

I was so pleased recently when an undergraduate student at a US University commented on a couplet I mentioned fromFarewell, one of the poems in The Country Without A Post Office. She immediately recognized that the verses were by Agha Shahid Ali. It was such a great pleasure to see that young peopleread and are inspired by a Kashmiri poet. And I thought, shouldn’t it be normal business for us to at least introduce Kashmiri students to his work and life.

The poetry of Agha Shahid Ali won him many admirers and accolades the world over. His love of Kashmir and his portrayal of what has been going on here is as great a service as a son can render to his soil.Such great use of metaphors – his poems capture the pain and restlessness of Kashmir in the most beautiful way. It is a shame that the academic setup in Kashmir hasn’t recognized its own son for sheer academic and intellectual achievement, if not for anything else. I wonderwhat preventspeople at the helm of our boundary-walled institutions from honoring our role models like Shahid! Is it incompetence? Faithlessness? Or influence of corrupt power?

A few weeks ago, I read an article questioning what have Kashmiris done to lay claim to talent – trying to make the point that we have so few role models. It may be true but do we know the ones we have? Do we recognize them? Do we respect them? I don’t thinkit is talent that we lack. It is the uninspiring system that doesn’t nurture talent. You can’t expect to win a race when to prepare for it you hardly have space to limp. If we dream of Kashmiris as achievers, we have to have an environment that inspires. And if we want to inspire ourselves, we have to find ways to reclaim, recognize and respect our heroes. Our role models. Our talent.

One of the questions is, will the present corrupt and militarized setup allow that? No it won’t. It will try everything in its power to dissuade us from doing it. But then, the choice is still ours. We have also learnt to hide our own insincerity, incompetence and selfishness behind this system handing it more control and making it even more powerful. I am not talking about the choice of a common man or a young student who is in a very vulnerable position. I am talking about the choices made by people who have some sort of institutional protection and are much less vulnerable liketeachers and administrators at universities, colleges and other institutions.

Will the University of Kashmir face pressure if it wanted to host an event in honor of Agha Shahid Ali, on his tenth death anniversary, for example? Yes. What if the University did not cave-in?What if it stood up for its purpose and went ahead with the event? Possible? Yes. And how satisfying will that be!That is when the strength of our character will come to fore. Universities around the world are known for providing space for alternatives to emerge and in our kind of situations they become the backbone of resistance. Imagine all our universities, colleges and schools hosting such an event to inspire our talent.
If we want to liberate Kashmir, we have to liberate ourselves. We have to liberate our institutions. We have to celebrate our Shahids.


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