Growing up in Srinagar was a joy
Khalid Mir’s first collection of Urdu poems Asbat-e-Khudi was released recently at a gala function at Delhi University. The function was attended by noted Urdu academics and scholars like Prof. Kausar Mazhari and Prof. Irteza Karim who lauded Khalid’s poetry and spoke at length about its merits. The book has been hailed a major tour de force in the contemporary Urdu poetry from the subcontinent.
Khalid Mir spoke to Siddhartha Gigoo at a book reading event organized by CSDS, New Delhi. The book reading was attended by many writers, artists, activists and even students from the Delhi University.
You were born and brought up in Srinagar, Kashmir. How was growing up those days in the eighties? Any early influences which you think have made an impact? I remember some of the people we were associated with who ran underground literary societies those days, not unlike the Dead Poets’ Society – people who read books and discussed in the chill of winter. In downtown! Those people were more interested in what was happening in France and Germany than their own neighbourhood. Edible Link was one such society. You read Toyenbee’s history early on, and French Literature.
I think growing up in Srinagar was a joy. Safakadal, where we both grew up, as you remember, was a laid back place with its own social dynamic and rigid lifestyles. Something frozen in times perhaps! The warm summers when one cavorted on the banks of Jhelum and the harsh snowy winters where everybody huddled hugging their pherans and kangris. I was fairly introduced to the English classics and early modern American literature in the well kept library of my late father who was a bit of an anglophile when it came to literary taste. The school atmosphere too fostered a love for languages. Interestingly I think that primed me to develop a deeper interest in literature and a passion for reading. Fortunately in Safakadal there was this society aptly called the “Edible link Pyend”. A shop just across the bridge. Where its Late Owner Nazir Gaash ran this society with select people. Incidentally it was here where I ran into your dad as well. He along with Nazir was instrumental in setting this up informally. As a school boy in the early and mid eighties I would watch them day and night. It was here that one would talk on things like salt and start negotiations given the heyday of the cold war, works of Nietzsche, Heiddeger and Kant made way into my imagination. And I remember being introduced to Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre and Toynbee. After Prof Arvind migrated out of the Valley, Nazir Gaash ran the society single-handedly till his untimely death in 2003. These were some of the influences.
You studied medicine and then worked in the UK and Vellore as a surgeon. What are your impressions of the days spent in these places? Any particular inspirations? Any muse?
I think England has something in it that makes one be poetic or write. The Dales and the greenery! The lakes and a laid back life .The only tragedy is that UK of today at a literary level is far different from what it was before. It is no longer a country of poets and dramatists. It is a society hooked to lotteries and reality T.V.
Tamil Nadu, where I did research, surprised me as a place inhabited by people who beyond communities are very proud of their cultural and literary heritage. Their literary corpus is ancient and being coastal has imbued in them an acceptance of people other than their own or celebrate them rather than being xenophobic or insular. Yes the beaches there definitely are a treat.
You studied Hindi in school. Your Urdu in Asbaat e Khudi is highly Persianised. In certain ways, your verses are reminiscent of Iqbal and Noon Meem Rashid –as pointed by renowned Urdu academics. Perhaps in terms of the idiom and the expression! But the form and the content are distinctly new and contemporary. How do you view such comparisons and see this evolution?
Yes, that was a surprise actually to have the work being weighed and noted seriously on that count, given the fact in their words that my preferred second language in school was Hindi. I had never learnt Urdu formally or in an institution. But I guess I was lucky to have parents who imparted in me the passion for the language whereby I was able to appreciate the nuances of the language. Secondly I guess my maternal grandfather whose grasp over Persianised Urdu impressed me a lot. Probably my writing in a Persianised form is second nature to me. It’s something that I grew up with.
What surprised me was noted academics like Kausar Mazhari, and Irteza Karim, who are considered authoritative comparing my poetic verse and style to Iqbal and Noon Meem Rashid because I haven’t read any of their works in depth. They weren’t my influences at all but really felt honoured. It was something that hadn’t crossed my mind. My personal poetic influences are heavily western, surprisingly, and the bulk of them that fuelled the acid-rock and counter culture movement in the West. I think Jim Morrison would be whom I consider an over arching influence. So fascinated by his work I was that there is a poem Rind-e-Birhana in the collection where I am in an imaginary conversation with him.
It was quite an honour to see the book released by academia and that too in Delhi University. So probably somewhere it did click. But let me confess here I have admired a couple of poems; My personal favourites are Iqbal’s is MAIN AUR TU and do wish I could write something of that sort; same goes for Noon Meem Rashid’s MERAY BHI HAIN KUCHH KHWAB.
Do you think that your profession as a surgeon has in any way complemented your sensibility as a poet? Your research on Genomics of Wound Healing made it to the British Journal of Surgery. That incidentally was your first published work.
It does contribute to some extent. The struggle within the infirm body to heal itself and the insight into the process involved does play a role. The range of emotions expressed by the infirm individual both on the road to recovery or death are complex. So are the expressions of their loved ones. So it can heighten your sense of sensitivity. Since as a doctor one is trained to empathise, it can get deeper than that.
One of the many things that baffled me during my research stint was that the rate of wound healing wasn’t the same in people with similar clinical profiles. Then research showed that we are programmed by our genes to either heal or flounder. Some kind of Genetic Determinism at play there even at a molecular level. The overwhelming of body defences where one either perishes or recovers at a cost. So some existential angst manifesting within.
Your poetry seeks an exploration of the realms of mysticism and metaphysics and also attempts to seek convergence between the East and the West? You talk about the conquest of the spirit. And you seek solace in eastern mystical tradition while also being welded heavily to the Western philosophical schools of thought.
The convergence becomes arbitrary at best. It isn’t something I attempted. It was in my opinion the influences converging. With Jim Morrison I realized that he was kind of spiritually blighted. Talking of hypnotic rivers and spirits hovering over. In Sufi mystical scheme of things he is nibbling at the peripheries probably because his conditioning and lifestyle precludes him from getting to the core. But the soul of his, nevertheless, seeks to explore, beyond the “DOORS” of perception. Whether fuelled by drug haze or simply inquisitiveness. He goes on to pen his perceptions and sing them. Mystical traditions and metaphysics is something the eastern societies have in their blood, its like second nature for them. The quanta of work produced especially in the Middle East and the Orient. With its own philosophical schools which are in a state of decay. One can’t disown or ignore that. It’s good to read Kant for example but one can’t be oblivious to other thought streams within our own environs. For example Ibn Arabi, Ghazali and Ibn Rushd. In the end it’s all connected. Being Human at an evolved level seeks same patterns of harmony with each other and the creation.
Let me quote Blake “If the Doors of perception are cleansed the world would appear as it is infinite. That infinite is the subject of exploration whether by Sufis or Philosophers. I guess regardless of religious or ethnic denomination.
Do you think your poetry will stun the poets and academics in the subcontinent and elsewhere? Will this bring about a revival of sorts? Given the state of mushiaras in India, one doesn’t get the impression about any kind of flourish or advancement so far as the quality is concerned.
Tell us something about the journey towards publishing. I understand there was a lot of resistance initially. Getting published by the Urdu Academia is a big deal. Given the literary bureaucracy involved?
The state of Urdu in the subcontinent is far from satisfactory. In India it suffers the double insult of firstly official apathy, second, the lobbyism within the literary fraternity there is the class of dinosaurs who have made it a kind of a franchise without any contribution to the language itself.
Pakistan lulled into complacency by their imparting Urdu a “Quomi Zubaan” status; not a single poet has made his advent since the death of Noon Meem Rashid and Faraaz. There too cake eaters are having a field day. Contribution however is zilch.
The other thing to note is that in both countries there is handful of academia which is opposing both the lobbies and cake eaters. So not everyone hankers after privileges and take their work seriously. The paranoia fuelled by the dinosaur Urdu literati in India for example that the language in India is dying is a blatant lie.
It’s spoken still in many parts and media channels too exist, so a Dodo bird scenario isn’t in offing very soon. Where some people try to make everyone believe that they are some sort of indispensible people
In Pakistan surely the media and academia is more deeply involved in its propagation but then again quality is debatable.
It was tough and time consuming. From UK I sent the manuscript to Khushwant Singh first to seek his opinion. His opinion was that I need a publisher, not in India but Pakistan.
In India too there is the literary bureaucracy and the strangle hold is all for to see. My manuscript in the beginning got a manhandling and an apathetic response in the Urdu Academy but then I realized that these were clerks and munshis with no formal grounding or appreciative bone in their bodies.
But then my work came into notice in the academy and doors opened up.
There was resistance to its publication particularly from abroad. I wouldn’t like to mention the names here. But in the end it really didn’t matter. One writes for the sake of literary craft not for others, if one is honest. What impact it will have let us see its early days but quoting Prof. Irteza Karim, ‘A pebble thrown in still waters, the ripples what form they will take needs to be seen.’ The collection has been included as part of research “Post 1960 trends in Urdu poetry” a project in Jamia Millia. It is still early days. Let us see.
You have just finished writing a novel in English. You have a trilogy in mind. The last one is set in Medieval times and brings together characters from the world of mystics. Yet the overarching theme is love. And you seek a transformation of the classical notions of love - perhaps at a surreal level.
Yes, the irony is I started writing in English and the Urdu poetry came as a distraction. My first book is near completion. A tale of an émigré’s sojourn to roots and coming to terms with unconditional love! Even there are people who are tragic figures in it. I think the theme is “love” in many of the things I write.
But its not just that, its varied forms of this emotion that get evoked which ultimately help us appreciate the cruel beauty of this world’s vibrant dynamics or react to it and help us write about it.
Lastupdate on : Sat, 12 May 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 12 May 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 13 May 2012 00:00:00 IST
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