Inside the Cracks: A History of 'Being' in Kashmir — by Gowhar Yaqoob

Feb 1, 2019

In experimental prose, Gowhar Yaqoob invokes an indiscernible narrative voice reminiscent of the narrative style found in the earliest texts that reflect on the genesis of consciousness and language. The narration progresses from myths of origin and philosophical reflections about 'being' and 'world' found in originary Shaiva, Buddhist and Islamicate narratives to meditations on the current state of affairs in the context of the Valley. Yaqoob's text produces a mode of reading into 'being' in Kashmir and of Kashmir detached from concrete and defined sociopolitical, ideological and religious contexts. As such, the narration maintains a balance between abstraction and unfamiliarity while employing a voice that can traverse various histories and times when reflecting on what it means to have existed in the Valley through the ages.
In experimental prose, Gowhar Yaqoob invokes an indiscernible narrative voice reminiscent of the narrative style found in the earliest texts that reflect on the genesis of consciousness and language. The narration progresses from myths of origin and philosophical reflections about 'being' and 'world' found in originary Shaiva, Buddhist and Islamicate narratives to meditations on the current state of affairs in the context of the Valley. Yaqoob's text produces a mode of reading into 'being' in Kashmir and of Kashmir detached from concrete and defined sociopolitical, ideological and religious contexts. As such, the narration maintains a balance between abstraction and unfamiliarity while employing a voice that can traverse various histories and times when reflecting on what it means to have existed in the Valley through the ages.

Sometime ago, in the valley of nowhere I remember where I was born to grow into life. This life with memories with which I have been carrying on... Times which I remember, without putting in much effort. After all, forgetfulness is not an easy task. Isn’t forgetfulness the only reason to let memory float in time?

Where was it that I learnt the story of nowhere? Do memories fade away?

A valley un-trodden...is all that I wished to remember where the colour of snow was laughter and yellow flower dust making love with butterflies. A nowhere... to let the texture of time flow. When did I last pass by that valley of mine? I was born in nowhere, where did I leave for? When did I leave? What did I leave: a womb or a moment in time? My dreams did not delude my forgetfulness—living in innocence; as if in consciousness. It is not easy to forget: yet I did not turn that museum of thoughts into exile.

Did I leave behind an ecstasy of mind in the meadow of thousand wild flowers?

The ecstasy was borne out of reflections in the water, unfastening the myths of origin. Out in the open, amidst the cool breeze, the white paper birds soaring higher, tearing through the dark fetters of clouds, where the smoke rises—above the mountain-tops without direction. The sense of direction was equated with limitations and the limitless became chaotic. From the slumbers of long servitude, winds whisper hope and the dry autumn leaves fallen onto the ground giggle with snowflakes. Those drunken and frenzied, breathe the air of nostalgia to spell the slogans of memory. And from the spec of the dawn, blood oozes with hues melting on a color-palette—to give birth to martyrs and specters.

The ‘demons’ inhabited the valley in ‘nilmat-purana’. Life sustained itself on hilltops and who could step down to walk down the hills? Rolling down the hills turned into a reason for being. And the myth of origin was conceived when waters concealed gods of radiance. Amidst the Himalaya, a trident sorrow evacuated the pain to create nothingness and the lands under water turned into the valley of desires. Set out on a little boat without the ‘Deluge’, piercing through waters to seek Noah’s prophecy, the demons stooped lower under the water.

When Sisyphus conceived of existence as rolling his stone up the hill, the Valley was resurrected by rolling down the hill. Someone later called it ‘Paradise’. Men weeded out holy flowers to adorn the surface of land and slipped into the image of Paradise; where after Adam’s repentance for the ‘Fall’ turned worthless. That virgin earth—soft at the onset of—enacting existence in the valley, Sisyphus grew jealous to have never succeeded to reach the top. Adam felt disgraced for his repentance.

The sun shone all year long at last for the earth to reveal its texture. To the disinherited man, borne bare feet with course hands and amputated tongue, no word or work could win them salvation. The myth of ‘The Great Ejaculation’ couldn’t wash away the curse of the ‘demons’ to the margins. The goddesses relapsed into abhorred silence.

Asoka crossed the Himalaya to relive the godless myth, to dissolve the color of manslaughter of Kalinga in the virgin snow of the valley, to obliterate the Self beyond space and dip his tongue in Nirvana. And when Solomon tread all the way in faith to enter into Paradise, his tomb high up on the Hill Takht-e-Suleimani/ Shankaracharya mythologized two versions of history and faith—however between two controversies.

Another narrative emerged from Kashyap Reshi’s abdomen. Resh vaeer turned into the abode of memoirs: First was Ahmad, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and Nund Ryosh was the seventh in the lineage. Vaakhs and Shruykhs versified paradoxes and the oracles passed on from heart to tongue, gulped down into layers of memory.

Voices unparalleled in the history voiced—to be—Be Free! Then the tongue dipped in liver turned all silverware into copper. Freedom is not a noble deed yet solace to any man who yearns for happiness. For freedom brings ease in the hearts to meet the fate of finitude without bitterness. And the slogans of freedom curled—to go astray amidst the relic of partition—buckled into its own formlessness!

When the winds hit the snow-clad mountains, every morning palms filled with dew slit open dreams from the eyelids, to play unmerciful acts of existence imprinted in eyes where dreams are on guard and echoes of freedom are cracking. Yes, your dreams and my interpretations—undecipher the truth. My sins and your confessions—yet more reasons to resist.

There is a fiction more significant than facts and documents, for hearts behold narratives as more reliable than archives. The roads without milestones rejuvenate the map of memory as time floats. The blots on the leaves of history dried crimson and scarlet in autumn, so the spell was begotten onto their young poets whose trans-being drew the silhouette of a rebel and in their songs cried aloud:

O Promised Land!

O Srinagar!

At dawn, when the horizon is still unfamiliar without dividing night from day—at the brim of separation, shadows glide into each other crossing the lines: of borders, of control, curved and barbed until the day breaks bright from behind the silhouettes of sonnets composed in the dark. Birds kiss the morning red before prayers in a chorus. Red—for blood and green the racked carcasses that beckon to be devoured.

Colors had only stories. At smoking rounds, the riddles full of snares suspended coughing fits into laughter: like an orphan dog discolored by mud, over-run by curled lyrics.  The heart’s silence stands still, rain drops pierce under the skin diluting the blood to lose its red. O rain! Do not wash away the bloodlines. Following the pilgrimage to become faith crossing the rally of the mountains, the snow settled down the angst. The blue skies shrouded in gray do not let the rendition of phallic imagery melt away for the faithful pilgrims. Loss is irrevocable.

O beloved in freedom—in a moment of despair when the tears are likely to trickle down—recollect rare lines of dead poets. Do not let the tear drop smear paradoxical narratives and forged documents, curious interpretations and infinite versions. For there are overlapping voices, in scripts, in memories, to be re-read in the cracked mirror.

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About the Contributor

Gowhar Yaqoob is a Srinagar (Kashmir) based independent researcher. She was formerly Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (2015-2017). Her research practice focuses on literary and visual cultures in history with an emphasis on interdisciplinary approach. Her work interrogates broader themes of nationalist identities in a nation-state, manuscript and print culture and language politics in particular in Kashmir. She has been involved in translation projects, translating from Kashmiri and Urdu into English.