The ninth letter

Arshid Malik

By: Arshid Malik

My name is Arshid Malik. Yes, but why? When I was born, my folks decided to call me by the name Arshad, meaning “expert”. And my birth certificate, once it was issued by the Srinagar Muncipal Corporation – though it was not a corporation in those days – read Arshad Malik, born on this and this date at Srinagar.

I was satisfied with my name though I have come to believe that one should have the constitutional right to assign a name to oneself for after all you have to live with it your entire life. Anyways, life went on as I journeyed through my schooling years. But then, while I was growing up, I developed a philosophy of my own, as all people do and if you have not developed one you should stop reading this column and develop one. My philosophy was plain and simple. It said that since one is a human being, one should do everything possible to keep it that way, since in most cases people happen to abandon the very premise of being human and thereof the allied duties and rights.

Now that I was born a human, humanity was my cherished ideal. As I got in touch with the world at the behest of local tours and picnics arranged by my school and other outings with my father and mother, I realized that keeping alive the tradition of humanity which happened to be my philosophy was not only difficult but almost unachievable. I noticed people around me and almost all of them were acting oblivious to the very principles of humanity. While I walked my life I discovered people whose ideals were based on treachery and falsehood and there was a certain prevailing social predicament that outrightly announced the “non-compatibility of human ethics and chances of growth and prosperity”. I learnt that I had to be, no matter what, dishonest and unscrupulous in order to avail the benefits of wealth and fortune. There were times when I was forced to think that I would not get anywhere if I did not give up on my ethics, my philosophy.

Life flowed by and my knowledge about the “non-compatibility of human ethics and chances of growth and prosperity” grew with every passing day. The number of people I had known as a child grew at monstrous rates and one fine morning as I relaxed in the breeze of spring in Kashmir, I discovered that most of the people I had come to know in my lifetime (till then) were subscribers to the “non-compatibility of human ethics and chances of growth and prosperity” ideology. As my common as well as general knowledge about the world grew, I found out that not only people but politics, economics, academics, and a plethora of other disciplines worked their way through the very principles of humanness into a circle of pathologically morbid circumstance and from this very core sprung up philosophies that implored subtraction of humanness and natural reasoning from all spheres of existence.

Sometimes this knowledge came to me quite easy and sometimes I had to pay up hard. I had learnt my lessons while I crawled in and out of school curricula. And I was brave enough to protest all that had gone wrong in this world. I registered my protests in the shape of various forms of writings I have done till date but always craved for a particularly brisk mannerism of protest. I chose to protest in the very roots of my identity and existence. Thus, Arshid Malik stood my name.

I changed the 2nd “A” figuring in my name to an “I”. I chose to be called what no one had intended. I am Arshid Malik. My first name with an “I” instead of an “A” was very uncommon in those days. And I remember the first person in my life who really noticed the rather strange spelling of my name. It was none but the author of “The Country without a Post Office,” Late Aga Shahid Ali. It was the first time I was meeting this Kashmiri-American poet, at his residence in Srinagar, when he pointed out with teeming ebullience the “I” in my name. Thereafter, whenever we would meet, he would greet me by the name “Arshad with an I”.

There are people who share my first name and spell it as “Arshid” rather than the traditional and more appropriate “Arshad” but I had no idea as to what their ideology is. Some of these could be mere typos. But mine is an announcement of sorts. When I spell my name to someone, I make it a point to doubly confirm them the “I” in my name. And when I confirm twice the “I” in my name I am doubly making sure that my protest stands registered – my protest against the subjugation of pure human circumstance by inhuman ideologies and their ideologues.

The ninth letter in the English alphabet – the “I” in my name stands for my unlearned form of protest.

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