Bold and beautiful

Print edition : February 02, 2018

In the funeral procession of Noor Mohammed, a rebel commander, at Aripal, 49 km south of Srinagar, on December 26, 2017. Photo: Mukhtar Khan/AP

The poems encapsulate and vividly describe the existentialist dilemma of Kashmir as a realm and Kashmiris as an ethno-sociopolitical entity.

NO one has heard about Ruhail Khan yet. He has made an entry into the world of literature with a bang, with his extraordinary poetry that depicts not only present-day Kashmir but also its chequered past spanning several hundred years. Who Killed Kasheer?, a collection of poems published in 2017, is a chronicle of Kashmir woven in poetic expression. The poems keep you hooked as they make you understand Kashmir and the issues surrounding it. Who Killed Kasheer? is an epic, covering a range of themes such as beauty, loss, suffering, desperation, sacrifice, courage and, above all, hope.

It is a book about Kashmir, its ethos and pathos. But people, especially those outside Kashmir, hardly know this story. Told in about 172 pages, the poems resound with a cry, one that is heard in almost every home in the Kashmir Valley.

Ruhail has not been introduced as a poet yet as he is far from being a traditional poet. His expertise lies in other areas. He has emerged as a strong storyteller in a lexicon that is acceptable to the reader. He is a corporate business leader, a top management professional, an industry thought leader, a much-sought-after keynote speaker and a published author. He has books to his credit, but his craft as a poet has not come to the fore yet.

Going through the book, one can easily fathom how this Kashmir-born author, living in Mumbai, has deeply analysed the Kashmir tangle. One can gauge that he sees this conundrum as having spawned a diverse, disparate and often contradictory and conflating potpourri of attitudes, perceptions, commentaries, denunciations and justifications largely fuelled by individual or collective cognisance of and fidelity to concepts of nationalism, freedom, equality, liberty, justice, free will and dignity of life. Accordingly, the representation of the genesis and progression of the turmoil has vacillated between an Orwellian dystopia and a Morean utopia. Subscription to either of the diametrically opposite worldviews, coupled with a historical myopia aided by political obfuscation, has ensured commensurate responses from the purported stakeholders and created a fatal cocktail of death, destruction and despondency for the peace-loving, hardworking, intelligent and hospitable people.

The poems, written in free verse, encapsulate and vividly describe the existentialist dilemma of Kashmir as a realm and Kashmiris as an ethno-sociopolitical entity. It is a concerted and honest endeavour to comprehend, imbibe and reflect upon the genesis, beauty, history, politics, culture, syncretic traditions and turmoil that the realm has had to contend with. It encompasses a comprehensive exposition of the loss, pain, torture, misery, apprehensions, helplessness, cravings, aspirations, hopes and dreams of Kashmiris cutting across religious denominations, ethnicity, social stratification, political affiliations, sex, age and historical chronology.

Sometimes one may utter a traumatic expression as the poems detail the events so intricately, as if they were happening in the immediate surroundings. Ruhail has spared none. The book opens with his childhood memories under the section titled “I remember”. It is full of what Kashmir looked like then—the life, the togetherness, tolerance, compassion, the beauty and much more—but ends with an “Ah” writing: “The visions of the future, the aspirations entertained, the choices imposed, and expectations loaded”. That is why he bemoans in the next chapter, asking, “Where has the glory gone”.

Who Killed Kasheer? is the central and focal point as the long poem takes us through history.

“Legendary Kashyapa,

got credited with your

habitation,

Kalhana recorded your

journey in hyperbole,

Kanishka embedded

Buddhism,

Mihirkula stamped

terror on their hearts.”

He records the turbulent history of the region in the best possible expression without mentioning dates but touching almost all the phases of history. “Yusuf Shah resisted the might of Mughals, /Victorious twice but treachery prevailed, /Masters changed and Durranis came to fore, /O Pandits shouldered the Afghans crossed the shore.” He goes on and touches upon 1947.

“Standstill, Independ

ence, Accession all got

inked,

But your Kashur had

his aspiration jinxed,

Mountbatten, Pandit,

Patel and the Lion,

Linked it to the free

will of Kashur in the

eon”.

Ruhail uses all the changed vocabulary of Kashmir since 1990 such as crackdown, ambush, AK-47, LMG and cross-firing to give the story a realistic touch.

“TADA, AFSPA, PSA

were the spawn of

terror,

Many a youth did in

their wake wither,

Staying alive became a

cherished dream,

You shivered with fear

to hear your masses

scream.”

The author has not missed any expression that could express the turbulence of the hearts and minds. “Boots in the mosques, boots on the chests, /Boots on the houses, boots on breasts, /Boots in the blossoms, boots on the harvests, /Boots in the orchards, boots on crests.” He is sad about the separation of Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits. In the poem, “Twins of Fate”, he says:

“One coerced in a

scripted exile, the other

forced in a while,

Measured their losses

and pain,

With misery as the only

gain.”

Rub the slate clean,

Make a fresh

beginning,

Be welcome with open

arms,

Come back to their

hearth and farms.”

“Kashmiriyat”, “Crackdown”, “Oh! Daughters of Eve”, “Two sides of a Coin”, “Saonth” (Spring), “Wande” (Winter), “Sangbaz” (Stone Thrower) and other poems capture the good, sad and bitter memories of Kashmir. “What If?” is another beautiful poem which starts with the words: “What if Akbar had not deceived Yusuf Shah Chak”.

Poems such as “Kasher Koor”, “The Conch that Fell Silent”, “Time” and Hope and Beyond” could send one into melancholic despair. The poem on “Half Widows” ends with the words:

“I still stand there, A

placard in my hand,

They call me Half

Widows,

But there are None’s

too.”

The book ends with a long poem, “An Ode to the Alphabets of Koshur Stoicism”, which once again brings out the people’s resilience to the fore.

“The coffins of your valiant folks are the testimony of their valor,

The sacrifices of your venerable fallen shall not go in vain,

In the verdant valleys and across the vanguards of vanity,

Who is the victor and who is being vanquished.”

Kashmiris take pride in the Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali for his narration of the tyranny and trauma of the valley, but Ruhail is not lagging. He is a revolutionary writer whose deep sense of feelings makes him an authentic storyteller. The book will surely test the emotional bandwidth of readers; its every word will be etched indelibly in their hearts, minds and souls. The book is a delight to read. What makes it special is that it aims for your intellect and conscience and surprises you with its disdain for political correctness and lack of espousal of ideologies.

Who Killed Kasheer? is one of those rare works that make you fall in love with it and treasure it as a collector’s item. What is important about the book is that the author has been straight, bold and courageous in telling the story of Kashmir. It is difficult to match his valour in introducing today’s Kashmir to the world. A must read to get the feel of Kasheer, which he believes has been killed, but the answer to which is difficult as there are many who mauled it and its voice.

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