Inking Catharsis

Ghulam Nabi Shahid might not be a giant in the literary circles of Kashmir, but with his recent anthology ‘Ailan Jari Hai’, the writer has weaved the narrative reflecting the ground scenario of valley from the common man’s perspective. Bilal Handoo profiles the writer and his work

Writer-Ghulam-Nabi-Shahid

Occasional cries (of a child) are breaking the stillness of streets near Srinagar’s Dareesh Kadal. Another summer day is reeling under curfew. It is 2010 and state authorities have imposed siege to ‘restore’ law and order. But as clampdown continues, scores of households around the city are running out of food grains. By crying his heart out, a child is, perhaps, hinting the same miserable concern prevailing in his home.

But his cries are intriguing one non-local inspector Surindra standing guard near the bridge. He is moving closer to the source of cries. Finally he zeroes on in a nearby wooden shed on the riverbank. Upon enquiring from the family, Surindra comes to know: there are no food grains available in child’s home. Touched by the condition of crying child, the inspector takes his father out along with him for buying foods grains. The officer orders a local grocer to open his shop for a while and lent out some food grains to the child’s father.

But the child is still inconsolable. To calm him down, Surindra buys him a packet of chips. He stops crying, which makes the inspector happy. And then, he asks the child, quite earnestly: “What else you want?”

While playing with chips packet, the child briskly, replies: “Ajaadi!” (Freedom)

The above is the summary of Ghulam Nabi Shahid’s acclaimed Urdu short story ‘Ajaadi’. It is one among the twenty two short stories of an anthology titled “Ailaan Jari Hai” (announcement continues) penned down by Shahid over the span of last ten years.

‘Ajaadi’ has been included in the list of best 13 Urdu proses from Kashmir in an anthology “Kashmir ke teera Urdu Afsaane” (Kashmir’s 13 best Urdu proses). Shahid’s prose has figured alongside the works of literary giants of the valley, like Prem Nath Pardesi’s Dool, Akhtar Mohiuddin’s Pondrech, Pushkar Nath’s Dard ka maara and others.

Presently living away from the crowd in the hushed neighbourhood of Srinagar’s Parray Pora, Shahid’s literary journey began from Old City, his birthplace. During his school days, he would take a novel on rent for reading from one Janta Stationary outside his school, Hindu High School Sheetal Nath at Srinagar’s Barbershah locality. The shop was run by one Maharaj, a Kashmiri pandit. But the book affair which simply started as a fun soon turned into a hobby and then into an obsession for him.

Apart from the creative display, writing is equally considered as catharsis for both reader as well as writer. A burdened psyche of a writer often finds solace in writing. It was a search for the same solace that drove Shahid into writing as an untimely death of his dear friend had traumatised his mind.

His childhood friend, Dilip Kumar, a Kashmiri pandit was killed in police action when riots broke out in Lal Chowk in early 70s. “After his death, he came in my dream carrying a glass frame in his hands,” says Shahid, a retired private official. “Inside the glass frame was a dry sapling. Dilip asked me, ‘would you water this sapling?’ I replied, ‘Yes, I will.’ ”

When the same dream repeated itself on regular intervals, Shahid understood the underlying message. “By watering the sapling, he meant: I should carry forward the creative expression through writing,” says Shahid, a widower whose wife was devoured by cancer last year. “As we were both growing up, we had developed a great flair for writing. And by showing up in my dream frequently, it meant that he wanted me to continue the same.”

At present stage of life, Shahid has created his own niche in the storytelling. Unlike most in his tribe, his short stories portray the ground situation in Kashmir quite fearlessly. His narrative seems embedded with emotive appeals. And while weaving his tales, he doesn’t seem to compromise on truth. The same is quite reflective from his prose ‘Jawab Do’ (Answer me), which reflects the plight of Khateeja, a mother of a disappeared son, Firdous:

It is 10th of a month and relatives of disappeared persons have gathered inside Srinagar’s Pratap Park. Holding placards in their hands, the protesters are silently demanding the whereabouts of their disappeared sons. Among the aged mothers turning up for the silent sit-in, Khateeja, too, is silently holding a placard in her hand.

Aalan-Jari-HaiJust above her head, a hoarding overlooking the park, placed near B Ed College Srinagar, reads:

Agar Firdous Baroye Zameen ast

Hame ast o, hami ast o, hami ast

(If there is a paradise on earth

It’s this, it’s this, it’s this)

Quite mindlessly, Khateeja lifts the placard in her hand in the foreground of hoarding, which reads: “Mera Firdous kaha hai?” (Where is my Firdous?).

Apart from writing in Urdu, Shahid is equally prolific and proficient in Kashmiri. Besides, he writes scripts and dramas for audio as well as visual medium.

Mohammad Yousuf Taing, a renowned literary figure of the valley, describes Shahid’s anthology as “a work which exposes the pain of Kashmir in a terrific manner”.

Literary figures apart, Shahid rates common Kashmiris as his true admirers. After reading his works, one man buzzed him from Kishtwar and congratulated him. On other occasion, a tailor from Hazratbal called him up and told him: “I could relate with one of your short stories wherein you have expressed the dilemma of a father who steps outside his home for the medical treatment of his daughter during a curfew. You know what? I faced the similar situation recently when I took out my ill daughter for treatment during a curfew. Thanks for writing this!”

But, perhaps, the biggest compliment he received so far came was from the relative of disappeared person who after reading his short story ‘Jawab Do’ rang him up: “First, the man broke down on phone,” he says. “And then, he thanked me for presenting their plight before the larger public.”

In Shahid’s anthology, a short story ‘Baazyaaft’ (or, to locate) reflects the mysterious reaction of a father (Ahad Lone) upon knowing the destination of his disappeared son:

A crowd of people have started gathering near Lone’s residence since afternoon prayers. It is the first time since many years that neighbours are witnessing buzzing activities outside Lone’s house. Everyone seems clueless. As the time for evening prayers is approaching fast, almost everyone in the locality is busy speculating the reason behind the buzz.

When finally Ahad Lone steps out of the mosque along with others after offering the last prayers of the day, people notice a mysterious calm on his face which makes them to quiz him: “Ahad Lone, what is going on? Have you received any news about Aslam [his son]?”

“Yes,” Lone replies rather in calm but in confident tone.

“Where was he? When is he coming? Has he already arrived?” His neighbours ask. Someone among the crowd asks rather in an emotional tone: “Is Aslam not coming?” Ahad Lone, very calmly, replies: “His grave has been located!” All the stories in the anthology have been woven with the similar realistic narrative.

Shahid might not be the celebrated writer of our time, but he is happy with his “small” literary contribution. “I don’t write for any literary honours and prizes,” he says. “I only ink to invoke catharsis in my own people!”

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