It’s Not Safe Outside — A Poem by Azhar Wani

Nov 24, 2019

Azhar Wani introduces a timely poem that takes a famous couplet known to every Kashmiri and inverts its meaning through the poetic verse. Such inversion confronts the idealization of Kashmir as a paradisaical site that over the ages has become a well of horrors, pain and trauma for its residents, particularly in contemporary times. In his own words, the poet explains, "the poem traverses distance and time as Emperor Jahangir's words about Kashmir are echoed as a lacerated cry. Set in sometime that appears to be a looming catastrophe, one that hasn't stopped prophesying itself for decades in Kashmir, the poem seeks a moment of recognition of the growing 'otherness' and forced identities. In that, all it seeks from the reader is a moment of wide thought."

Azhar Wani introduces a timely poem that takes a famous couplet known to every Kashmiri and inverts its meaning through the poetic verse. Such inversion confronts the idealization of Kashmir as a paradisaical site that over the ages has become a well of horrors, pain and trauma for its residents, particularly in contemporary times. In his own words, the poet explains, "the poem traverses distance and time as Emperor Jahangir's words about Kashmir are echoed as a lacerated cry. Set in sometime that appears to be a looming catastrophe, one that hasn't stopped prophesying itself for decades in Kashmir, the poem seeks a moment of recognition of the growing 'otherness' and forced identities. In that, all it seeks from the reader is a moment of wide thought."

It’s Not Safe Outside

Agar firdous*

But heaven is an archive. And it has been full
since before us, as the history of humankind
fills rooms and lush gardens.
Kohl-eyed virgin archivers
look around to read, forever,
and cry. 

Bar royye

But Dearest, our faces are left to shine under
a moon, so wondrous, so besmirched,
that when they trace our skin,
with soggy fingers,
and read in morse, maybe remorse, 
our history—
their eyes will stop lying,
and they will see their faces in ours. 

Zameen Ast

But this land will last,
outlast you and me and them
and concrete will slide off the hills
the crimson water will settle
rubies
and the airs will carry,
but only prayers. 

Hameen Asto,
Hameen Asto

It is here you will find me,
or the me I would have you care about.
Here,
hear the Spring give Summer a right to burn desire.
And hear Winter as it sings white over Autumn.

Hameen Ast

It is here the bells have tolled.
Come, dig, lie beside me
for it's not safe outside.

*Original Farsi Couplet:

Agar firdaus bar royye zameen ast,

Hameen asto hameen asto hameen ast

English Translation:

If there is paradise on earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this

The original Farsi couplet was produced by 13th and 14th century poet Amir Khusro and is said to have been recited by the Mughal Emperor Jehanghir when he first arrived in Kashmir. Since then, Kashmir has been associated with these 'timeless' words to such an extent that they have served to construct a partial image of Kashmir that relies heavily on the appreciation of the Kashmiri landscape. On the contrary, the same words then work to invisibilize the pain, trauma and struggle of an entire Kashmiri population stuck for ages between nuclearized geopolotical conflict and the violence that that entails. The young poet, Azhar Wani, explores the possibilities of a poetic inversion that confronts the innocent and oblivious connotations in the original couplet by interpolating its verses into his own poem to elucidate its limits and contemporize its (lack of) meaning in the current times when it comes to Kashmir as a land of a peoples plagued by war and conflict. In that, the poet maintains enough of a poetic distance to make his verses relatable and palpable to all those who have suffered throughout Kashmir's troubled history.

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About the Contributor

Azhar Wani studies English literature at Ashoka University. He is the poetry editor for an undergraduate literary journal called Plot Number 2. He previously attended the Summer Institute at University of Iowa's Writing Program, with his writing being published in an anthology along with other international and American participants of the program.

Knowledge is like Teher.
A handful of cooked rice
a humble offering
to ward off the grief
from an entire century.
Whosoever receives Teher
does so with blessings
and well wishes.
Today the T in Teher
is the T in Taaleem
just as the K in Kashmir
is the K in your name.
From Teōtīhuacān to Tral
we make a humble offering.

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