BY KUMAR M TIKU
An admixture of boyish insouciance, an almost precocious engagement with life and lives truncated by protests and interruptions, and, an unerring empathy for the underdog marks “No Place for Good”, the remarkable debut book of verse by Abdullah Bin Zubair that announces him as a poet to watch out for.
Across nearly four score or so poems that make this slim, beautifully cover-illustrated volume, Abdullah’s comes through as a voice of innocent grief over life, events and individuals around him laid waste by the interminable mayhem in the violence-singed Kashmir. Where no child is ever a child thanks to the almost poetic brutality of the times in which she grows up and withers before time.
This anthology is all the more striking because Abdullah is no more than a 12-year old. But his first published rumination in this anthology is from 2016, when he was an eight-year-old ‘man’, deeply unsettled by what his young mind registered as the ugly brutality of an honest man’s killing, the reference being to the elimination of Burhan Wani, the most-feted ‘Internet militant’ that Kashmir has known in its recent blood-splattered past.
It is clear that not unlike children of his generation anywhere on the planet, Abdullah has been engaging with the world via the internet from a young age. On the internet for a good year or two, Burhan had come to represent the face of youth resistance in Kashmir. His rallying cries and calls to action on his Facebook Live posts, but equally his unabashedly handsome looks, his earnest, piercing eyes, his young stubble, his bushy brows and battle fatigues had made him an instant heartthrob of the millennials desperately in search of an icon that spoke truth to power in their idiom and language. For Abdullah, the sudden and brutal snuffing out of Burhan on 8 July 2016 was a cataclysmic event that left a deep imprint on his young and impressionable mind, prompting him to give vent to his grief in cold and congealed words:
In Honest, the lament of the eight-year-old Abdullah is piercing “...He was an honest man, they got in a devil, killing as an evil…..What will they say? What will he say? Now God is our only way!
It is clear that young Abdullah is deeply inspired by his poet mother, Syeda Afshana, herself an outstanding young poet-chronicler of Kashmir’s pain and an inveterate media columnist who teaches journalism at the Media Education Research Centre in the University of Kashmir. Still, Abdullah’s father, Dr Zubair Saleem, a pioneering doctor of geriatric sciences who also was at the vanguard of the COVID response in Kashmir, cannot wrap his head around the workings of an eight-year-old mind that can react so sardonically to the elimination of a youth icon who represented the militant creed.
“Abdullah’s grandfather is a decorated senior police officer, his grandma is a retired headmistress, his mother is a media professional and father an established doctor. With a life as sheltered as his, how could he be so deeply affected with the protest on the street, It just defies logic”, Dr. Saleem tells me.
In a sure-footed display of rasping satire, his Three Monkeys takes potshots at a nation’s fall from grace from the lofty ideals of the Mahatma:”...There once were monkeys of a person named Gandhi...They were obedient to the truth, and shy. They were good, and simple….One didn’t hear wrong, the second didn’t see wrong, and the third didn’t say wrong….Now they are dead, three more emerged, of a new leader...Think of the consequences.
While I celebrate the luminous and quite extraordinary talent for verse of a pre-pubescent young boy, I cannot help but cry inconsolably over his deep sense of pathos building up with each new encounter on the street in which innocent Kashmiris are consigned to the flames like tallow to fire. Three decades after Kashmir erupted, the siege, the curfews, the lockdowns, the effect on ordinary lives of forced and unforced interruptions of the internet continue to be the weapons of mass capitulation for the state to bring a people on its knees. But in Kashmir, protest has a way of going underground before it surfaces with more velocity and ever-greater ferocity, over and over and over again. Words do not die. Children do. Youth do. Innocents do. Abdullah’s words bring the everyman alive.
It speaks volumes about the maturation of a young mind that is circled by questions, abuse and hurt that Abdullah at his young age can deploy wit and satire to telling effect. He ruminates about the bonfire of dreams under the jackboots of force and authority and the multiple harms on a child’s psyche that militarization has wreaked upon in Kashmir. In Living Humanly, he says, “...Fighting for life is a crime here, living for crime is life here. Lies are mightier. Truth is but a dwarf man…..Speak-up is all lie here, freedom of expression is just a word...All bad and barbaric are accepted, but the truth bluntly rejected….
Abdullah’s Kashmir is a horrorland of tragedy, death, anger and scars but no less a playground of dreams, fun, friendship and spring in bloom. A land soaked in violence, ‘no place for good’. Explosions, encounters, raids, detentions, custodial killings and unexplained disappearances. Homes are turned into battlegrounds by the troops.
This fine book of verse -- admittedly half-baked at times and rough on the edges, as you would only expect from a poet-in-becoming, not yet a poet-in-being -- is a forensic account of a Kashmir observed through the eyes of a boy still green behind his ears. He writes of pain and grief and bullets and grenade blasts and blood with the dangerous certainty of a full-grown adult. Like so many books on Kashmir by Kashmiris that have become a journal-in-motion of how conflict continues to thread everyday lives, over three decades after the Valley lost its innocence yet again, in the twilight years of the last millennium. A bloodied antique Valley where freedom and incarceration, crime and punishment, murder and martyrdom have long since become a soul-numbing vaudeville show of shadow boxers and no one side is about to declare victory.
No Place for Good is a dazzling debut, full of wit, wisdom, charm and just so many questions that assail a young mind in Kashmir. It is an elegy and an ode to a pristine land overrun by the ogre of shameless, normalizing bloodlust that just shows no sign of thawing.
(The writer is a development practitioner and a Kashmiri in search of a home)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.