Why read and meet Gulshan Majeed?

Gulshan Majeed is amongst the first rate living postmodern poets and short story writers of Kashmir. He has carved permanent niche in Kashmiri literature by virtue of a few iconic stories and poems. Besides his path-breaking papers on issues historical and cultural, he has gifted us valuable pieces of translations and philosophically and theologically inflected reflections on a host of issues. He is one of the most brilliant conversationalists deftly employing humour and irony for diverse ends, academic and political. He says so much in so few words and without allowing the reader the luxury to conclude or make easy judgments as his writings are quite nuanced and polysemic. Dextrously employing irony and self reflexivity he weaves stories that evade easy grasp and simplistic paraphrasing. He lets complex ironical self deconstructing narratives unfold and we are left with a sense of mystery and sometimes ambiguity and uncertainty. Although occasionally his language is not that circumspect, and even objectionable on various grounds, and one sees haste and rather carefree attitude regarding both syntax and words, he usually succeeds in capturing our attention by short pithy penetrating sentences. His mission is to shock complacent audience and he achieves this partly by arresting style, that is hard to avoid falling in love with.

Given most stories collected in this volume have been originally published long back, this volume  might appear rather familiar to his readers, one thing that has not been duly appreciated so far by his critics is the significance of the peculiar dialect of the mystical and the absurd that forms key to his oeuvre. We can unlock with this the secret of Majeed’s life and work – his attempt to translate Camus’ The Fall and some other works, his longer poems, his forthcoming novel, his forays in research and lastly his select criticism all exploring the question of meaning in a world that seems to defy our quest for it and thus question the ideological narratives that have so far framed our explorations. He delights in puncturing the usual construction or reading of important historical, mythological and religious narratives. Majeed speaks for the margins and has chosen exile for himself – he has deep suspicion of the governing order, of academia, of what sells in the market in every sphere. He finds something grotesque and funny in almost every character and situation. He laughs and with Plato questions the wisdom of taking affairs of life too seriously. He asks what then to deflate high sounding ideological claims. He examines life and finds it a play, an adventure that moves in a circle as if everything recurs eternally. He has ample share of wisdom to point out what is jarring in so-called people of wisdom. He is courteous enough to acknowledge on the face of it the significance of the other but deep down he sees life seems to roll no mass and all is vanity though he doesn’t conclude on the note of nihilism but on the virtue of detachment given all things, ideologies, rhetoric, utopias and dreams of progress are empty. You come up with a grand proposal to him  and, wittily and humourously, he punctures it. His favourite response to your special grandiloquent claims is characteristically Beckettian one of “on the contrary.” He has seen one of the towering mystics well in his house to be impressed by cultistic, mystifying stories. He has seen life’s cruel jokes first hand that compel him to examine it, in Marxist style, with an eye on shoddy or seamy side.

It is instructive to watch evolution of Majeed, raised in Sufi ambiance, turning towards Marxism and tempted to flirt with anarchism, spending time in jail, pursuing illustrious academic career and writing some path breaking papers raising certain disturbing questions, embrace more critical view of things religious and mystical (bordering on agnosticism of sorts) and then, following encounter with life’s tragic and humbling woe,  turn back to life of religious observant Muslim who takes deep interest in  Quranic exegesis and father’s mystical legacy although his rationalism stays to colour his views. He takes more critical rationalist view of miraculous occurrences or claims, doubts tenability of theism-atheism binary (quotes and endorses his father on this point and, with him, questions conventional claims of attributing miracles and faith healing to Pirs). We meditate on two stories of Majeed that have been included in his newer collection Tange Dolmut Ber. “Su” and“Khashri Led Houn..”

Su (He) captures a situation that though interpretable in various ways succeeds in questioning the interpreting self and straightaway lands the reader into the heart of the tragicomic or the absurd where one only gazes at the helplessness of actors in the theatre of life. Men have lost addresses of homes or access to their own selves and often indulge in absurd spectacles and selfish games to distract themselves or avoid encountering the heart of darkness or nothingness. The meaning of life succeeds in eluding us and we lack resources to capture the transcendental signified. We don’t have shoes that fit our feet – life as Baudlaire said, is a hospital in which every patient wants to exchange his bed – or if we do we don’t know they are truly ours as life forces us into situations where one goes helter skelter without clue. Gulshan isn’t interested in  telling a story but showing how we become objects of stories or constitute stories that can’t be paraphrased or framed in familiar terms. Gulshan’s poems also bring home the point of pointlessness of efforts to fix meaning of subtle ironic elusive situations and the ultimate mystery called life. We needn’t debate what the writer truly meant as man is a creature, according to great mystical and many mystically inclined postmodern thinkers, whose deepest meaning lies in resisting ideological trappings or fixed constructions or impositions of particular meanings. Man is a Question and the sacred ground of life is a Mystery and maturity lies in opening ourselves to It, gratefully acknowledging It, walking humbly appreciating the gift of life that eludes our conceptual nets.

Another story explores the itch that life is and failure of our grand systems or ideologies to cure it. What is the life of a mange affected dog?  Our petty ideals and meanness condemn us to live miserable lives that copy a dog’s life – we are born “astride of a grave” as we read one character in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot exclaim, make a lot of noise and are enslaved by lusts of all kinds. We are competitors and aides of mange affected dog.  Ideological divisions and then failure to actualize communicative dialogue and pursuit of egoic dreams and getting wasted in petty tussles is what is satirized by the writer.

Talk to Gulshan Majeed and one recalls arguments of old Masters of irony. He mercilessly examines lives and ideologies that fail the test of being fruitful for mankind. Invoking wisdom of such figures as Socrates  and Mullla Nasruddin and bringing Masters of hermeneutics of suspicion into the debate, Gulshan gives us our time’s worth. His attempt to present more rational or empirical character of mysticism– an ambitious project he has developed in relation to his own father Lassa Khan Fida who had earned reputation as a Sufi and Sufi poet and whose reputed work Gulzar-i Haqiqat he has published again – deserves  attention. Given his eventful life and work as a scholar of culture and civilization and background as a student of philosophy in Aligarh Muslim University where some churning was all attempting to bridge the worlds of faith and science and his latest interest in certain philosophical and theological debates in Quranic exegesis, especially Farahi school, meeting him/reading him may be considered by anyone interested in all these debates and the vital question of Kashmir’s culture and history.

Gulshan has his own version of key events in Kashmir’s ancient and medieval period, his deconstructive approach to history and theology and his mystical and modernist reading of religion.  Given his training in philosophy and literary career and first-hand account of lives of mystics and participation in major developments of post 60s Kashmir, meeting and reading him is an education. Our new generation struggling against unwilling disbelief and negotiating divergent narratives of history, myths, philosophies, theologies and literary practices would especially treasure his boisterous and lovable company.