Danyal Hassan presents four poems that—in trying to make sense of the word ‘Kashmir’—develop a manifesto-in-verse against the nauseating exotica and orientalist framing that Kashmir is subjected to while a history of war, subjugation, and dispossession remains conveniently ignored—at the expense of such exoticization and orientalization.
The first three poems meet at a point where rage, dissent, satire, bitterness and even mockery converge to give form to a complex range of emotions grounded in a direly-needed response to this exoticism and orientalization—one that has dispossessed Kashmiris of their own identity at an international stage and in the ignorant gaze of outsiders. Here the reader will appreciate both juxtaposition and contrast in the interplay between a programmed visibility that is self-serving to the outsider and an intended and criminal invisibilization of the Kashmiri subject and Kashmir’s collective history and struggle.
One could find sufficient material here for a lengthy critique of a criminal consumerism and blind capitalism such that if the poet had gone as far as including the ‘eternal and evergreen’ lines of “hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast” in his verses, such inclusion might as well have triggered an apocalypse a la Ezekiel 25:17—since the quote has been appropriated to paint a convenient picture of Kashmir that is farther from its contemporary reality than The Shire is from Mordor. Luckily, we are redeemed from such a fate with the last poem that sets the record straight and brings the preceding three poems to a full circle in terms of dissent, critique, problematization, and denunciation.
Any literary scholar researching the exoticization and orientalization of Kashmir will find more than enough material for critique and academic inquiry in these verses. The same can be suggested to those interested in excavating how these poems denounce a very specific ethnographic and anthropological gaze that has developed over time when outsiders and those in power within Kashmir have treated the territory and its greater population in discourse, text, and representation. From the poet’s bitter dismantling of a popular Led Zeppelin song to a history of commerce, tourism and trade that managed so elaborately to not only exclude Kashmiris but to detach such Kashmiris from their own history, there is sufficient room for multiple lines of critical enquiry catalyzed by Hassan’s poetic expression.
In the poet’s own words, these four poems explore the word ‘Kashmir’ and “how it is usually understood or misunderstood vis-a-vis geography, culture, music, phonetics etc.” As a result, Hassan’s poetry here exposes a particular and selective filtering out, an intended detachment and a convenient invisibilization of Kashmiris from their own sense of identity and history on a broader timeline of representation, meaning-making, signification, self-styled understanding, and self-serving misunderstanding. If these poems succeed in multiple ways, one of these is in their attempt to reconcile—or in the least to confront—the Kashmiri experience with the aforementioned exotic and orientalist gaze.
Led Zeppelin Performs Kashmir in Kashmir
The crowd hollers
Zep twists every string to
mould a sitar out of his Danelectro
and swears by a dust storm
that he’s never heard of Kashmir.
Get hitched to a Bengal sweetheart
for gigs—Bombay; yet
an ILLETERATE GOD! Maintain
terra incognita for Kashmir.
‘Maestro—par virtuoso—par excellence!’
churn a Nirvana—song out of
a peoples who are still to be spared
a dull ordinary life.
The guitar riff runs a foxy
silence across geography, nailing only one point.
Beyond doubt—Kashmir is not a place.
it’s a hippie trail to add salt to spirit
and hips to hippies.
And climb up the
Stairway over the HELL OF KASHMIR
flirt the gap of your lilting teeth
with a Himalayan utopia frozen in time
(you’ll live a thousand years)
frozen in mind, IMAGINE: you
will never die in Kashmir!
In the jingling mishmash Zep
spits truth—he’s nothing to do
with KASHMIR GEOGRAPHIC.
squeeze out meaning from my land
and throw a desert on my face.
Oh. Oooh yeah.
If you are in a South Moroccan wasteland,
the Old slimey advises you
‘put Kashmir under your tranquilized tongue.
And soothe your
North American anxieties.’
Ooh, my baby, ooh, my baby,
let me take you there.
Shangri-La, under the explosive moon
it’s yellow halogen beam
zeroed in on houses
And the MASSACRES OF JUNE.
Oh, oh, come on, come on, oh,
let me take you there.
A bloodied face in the street;
drippy skin, hanging flesh
and limbs: cut off from the meaning of
A meal to thirsty hyenas.
Woo, yeah-yeah, woo, yeah-yeah;
let me take you there.
Saying the word ‘kashmir’ must be
so saccharine—the phonologist says:
why else would it sweeten your tongue
if not for the sugarplum syllables?
So the invaders and phonetic businessmen
take the name and
give it to their pets,
foods, soaps, dresses, and perfumes.
And did they succeed?
The kings who could not conquer
Kashmir fancy to consume it
so, to embody ‘Kashmir’
they baptise a canine;
indeed the masters feel victorious
eating their pet dogs roasted.
The Nationality of Wool
‘Would he like it if I told him if I told him if Napoleon…’
G . Steine
Kashmir may not be a country
but the wool fleece—cashmere. For sure—
they don’t kill men in Kashmir but sheep.
And they don’t kill sheep in Kashmir but men.
That’s where the softest wool comes from.
If Napoleon. Would he like? If
Napoleon. Would he like it if his wife
Josephine stops to wear Paisley shawls?
Would Kashmir still exist? If they stop it.
Would the Grande Armée like it?
If they stop it. If they stop wearing
Kashmir gowns and shawls.
Would he like it?
In the States Cashmere has yet
not been identified.
The Federal Trade Commission bans
all counterfeit Cashmere as wool.
Under the Wool Act
‘Not all fibers from the Cashmere goat are considered Cashmere’
So, one reason for Cashmere citizenship not recognised.
Under the Act; the term “cashmere” can be used to
identify fiber content only if:
—the fiber consists of the fine (dehaired) (skin
them) undercoat fibers produced by a
Cashmere goat (capra hircus laniger);
(Mind you we are talking Animal Kingdom here.
—the average diameter of the Cashmere fiber
does not exceed 19 microns; (i.e, a skinny non-
opinionated Cashmere is good Cashmere.)
—the Cashmere fibers in the wool product
contain no more than 3% (by weight) of
Cashmere fibers with average diameters that
exceed 30 microns. (i.e, keep off the stout and
MULISH Cashmeres. The lesser the number;
If you manufacture or sell any Cashmere?
You must comply with the Wool Products
Labelling Act. (Also Instructions to wash
colonial xenophobia) means your product
labels must accurately reflect the items’ fiber content
and the country of origin—if at all Kashmir.
The shawls slipped from hand to hand
a token of security—post-marital
when English law didn’t allow women
to inherit land; they could surely
bequeath a Kashmir shawl;
a currency of high exchange value
to meet the future exigencies
For the princely state of Kashmir
in 1846; the Maharaja’s anxiety
to send three pairs of shawls
every year to the British government
translates to a Buyer’s remorse—
‘Why the fuck am I still liable’
after the great human trafficking
deal is done and dusted,
to gift the damned wool?
-After Agha Shahid Ali
Let me cry out in that void, say it as I can. I write on that void:
Cachemire, Garden history
Cushmeer, Little finger
Cašmir. Siege. (trigger)
Or Cauchemar, Hospitals
In a sea of stories.
Or: Kachmir; PTSD
Kaschemir, Night After Night
Kasmere, Teacups. Cold—
Kasmir, Trout fish