City of my dreams
On reading Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk I remember my own city
PARALLELS BY AASIF AHMAD KHANDAY
While I was reading a memoir by a famous Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk about Istanbul, where he spent most of his childhood years, I would repeatedly think about our own city, Srinagar, and the resonance that it enjoys to my life and times. As for myself, I was bred in a small village in South Kashmir. I was educated in the local schools and thus spent most of my time, till my intermediate years, in villages. But the idea of a city to me was always central to an imagined world, where life was better and happier. We had relatives in the city and whenever one would leave to spent a few days there, I would turn envious and fret about it for some time till i would be cajoled into submission by some momentary indulgence into something else. After my intermediate years, I got the opportunity to view and cherish the city of my dreams closely as I enrolled myself to study there. My excitement was palpable, as I wandered around the streets of Srinagar and wondered what makes the city different than the villages.
In İstanbul: Memories and the City, Pamuk talks about his childhood in his beloved and ‘melancholic’ city which nurtured and made him what he is today. Pamuk describes the city of his dwelling since the time of his birth through his personal experiences. He also narrates anecdotes and references about the city before his birth through the eyes of Turkish and European writers who wrote about the city in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, has a special place as the meeting point of two of the biggest civilizations of the contemporary world, namely Muslim and the Christian worlds. The Western people saw this place as the most significant lost bastion of their past glory and for the Muslim world it has acted, since it befell to Muslims in 1453, as the most prized city that Muslims wrested from the Christian world during the Middle Ages.
Orhan Pamuk goes about romancing his city through reading about the authors who wrote about it, through painting it as he experiences it, and simply living about its most beautiful places alongside the Bosphorus-Istanbul strait-that connects the eastern and western parts of Istanbul. Though belonging to a fairly rich family, and living in the best of the quarters in the city, Pamuk is influenced by the dwindling family fortunes, domestic fights involving his parents and by the constant squabbles with his brother, who he imagines bullies him a lot. Taking cognizance of the political and social failings around him, Pamuk constantly refers to the huzun that has been an important part of Turkish society for ages. This huzun, which is a kind of Turkish melancholia, dominates the book throughout as the author repeatedly refers to the innateness of Turkish society to celebrate the failings of the city and the Turkish nation since its lost glory in the aftermath of abolition of Khilafat in early twentieth century. Though Turkey made rapid strides in development after the abolition of Khilafat, it still could not find the place that it aspired in the modern European world; and consequently remained torn between the past glory of Turkey as a great Islamic-religious and trade-centre and the twentieth century Turkey which aspired to be part of the modern and developed liberal world.
The Srinagar of which I used to dream about was a bundle of contradictions as I began to know more about it in the last decade or so. I visited its parks and witnessed the escape route that people want to construct more and more to remain away from the den of its dirt and filth. I visited its graveyards and saw how they are getting more and more visitors for no fault of theirs. I went about the markets and found out how people want to buy happiness and life for money. I wandered around its locales and saw the sadness in the old decrepit buildings and places that once could define its greatness. The Dal and Vitasta as well as the sight of Hari Parbat and Takhti Sulieman would bring about a sense of sadness in me as I knew more and more about the history of the city and the travails it has went about in the last few centuries.
Having read about the Turkish melancholic-celebration, I could not but remain dumbstruck about such a thing. Is it possible to celebrate sadness? Thinking of my own nation and the city of Srinagar in particular, I am left wondered how I may bring myself to celebrate its failings. Should we live in a hopeless trance and, like Turkish huzun, celebrate what fate may befall us time and again? Is there anything about our history and culture that we constantly and willingly adhere to when accepting our fate? I am not amazed to find that this truly is the case about Kashmir as well. For more than four hundred years we have lived the life of prisoners who want to live a peaceful life in their serene prison by bringing their jail wardens from the world outside of their own, in an expectation that every successive warden would be more humane than the previous one. When the warden provides us a full stomach that is all we ask for. And so long we are fed well any other excess on his part should be a cause enough for celebration.
(Aasif Ahmad Khanday Research Scholar; HCU, Hyderabad. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lastupdate on : Mon, 24 Oct 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 24 Oct 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 25 Oct 2011 00:00:00 IST
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