"People should like poetry the way a child likes snow, and they would if poets wrote it."
― Wallace Stevens
Yes, poetry is the magic that can be invoked to drown all cares, take us to the other shore of spirit where only love is there to beckon us for eternity with her beauty, intoxicate, and drive us out of ourselves in ecstasy, and summon snow in the midst of desert's hot summer sun.
It is said that one can never claim one has completed the process of beautifying a bride or a house. Unceasing attention to perfection of craft has been mostly forgotten in the modern world resulting in great ugliness of its arts and architecture – ours is the ugliest culture in history where utility and not beauty counts.
Fortunately there remains one discipline in which some souls are still devoted to the job of unceasing beautification or perfection of craft and that is poetry.
Some poets still prize form with all its demands to attend to niceties of rhyme and rhythm and produce beauty by disciplining and attempting at perfecting the virtue of attention or sensitivity to delicacies of human experiences and emotions. They are brides of poetry we seek and should seek in a world drowned in ugliness. That beauty is the best guide and preacher we need sums upon essential Shahnaz Rasheed whose very name coincidentally means bride and guidance. Amongst living contemporary poets, one may recall Shahnaz Rasheed after Rahi, Raaz and Rasheed Nazki as attempting exemplifying certain ideal of attention to form and delicacy of treatment of poetic subjects and somehow approximate the station of priests of the religion of beauty accessible through language artistically received or treated.
Shahnaz breathes poetry and for him poetry is the wazeefa or talisman to face life and whose faith is primarily retrievable through his poetry. In him we can see graces emanating from senior stalwarts like Rahi and Rashid Nazki informing some expressions that are nevertheless uniquely his and not their shadow. Recalling Kashmiri aesthetic thinkers and critics' emphasis on art as fifth Veda and heaven sent means for helping in the path of heaven or salvation, let us read how Shahnaz Rasheed invokes Imagination – often but not always symbolized by moon – to help his readers engage with the dross of ordinary mode of living and transmute into the gold by opening up of the eye of Imagination, the eye of heart or what corresponds in some sense to the notion of creative imagination expounded by Henry Corbin in his The Creative Imagination of Ibn Arabi that one may read better with the foreword by one of our greatest critics Harold Bloom.
The secret of Mona Lisa's abiding mystery and value in art history is partly attributable to her smile that conceals sadness. But – and this is the magic art accomplishes – seeing this art work one gets only joy. Let us not forget, as Shelley noted, our sweetest songs tell of the saddest thought. Poetry heals, consoles, transports and lifts up, humanizes, beautifies and helps in salvation. Somehow I am reminded of Mon Lisa's sad smile by the title Doad Khaeth Guldaanan Menz (Vase: A Container of Pain) and the content of the poetry collection hailed by our stalwarts in criticism. To quote a verse
"Az ti chi shahanaz rasheedes doukhen raaech Karen
Chi neeri nagmi paehl kouri zahr pekh khaavan"
Shahanaz Rasheed is guarding (the treasure of) sorrows/Thanks to pastoral songs a shepherd girl can swallow a large dose of poison. "Khoshaeli hond gach kernavaan aes ti kuthen/aes ti chi thavaan doad khetith guldaanen menz"
Our rooms too feign prosperity's look. We too keep secret pain in the flowerpots.
Although primarily noted as a ghazal writer, Shahnaz's poems don't deserve lesser consideration. He uses symbolism of moon quite frequently. For him moon seems to symbolize imagination or the treasured space of soul bordering on the pure land of spirit. It is where his mother that nourishes him has gone and he implores her to come down or be accessible – what a wonderful work of art is "Hay Choudhiayim Zooni." He implies that our very identity, our treasured innocence and life of spirit that sustains us in this hard odyssey of life, our faculty to dream and imagine, has been exiled thanks to the fall or what Blake called experience and needs retrieval.
"Pages of my Gulrez have long been torn
This is what was written in answer"
"Na shur sawal rechn teg ni luken, na shur shoaqi
Taway tamashi kinen wael nazer gey ni kuni"
"People couldn't treasure innocent childish questions and desires
That is why there are no sellers of toys."
Shahnaz is a romantic bordering on the mystical – "Bes yehe, chain royich keth hish wech/pehur wozjar gulaben paney" – and there runs a streak of a tragic vision that is not heart breaking but mellowed by evidences of life asserting itself (despite all pain and loss) summoning us to embrace graces its embodies in its seeming contradictions. "Sounti khosh, hardi dil mallol gachaan/aes chi zindaey, shukr khudayes kun" (Spring delights, autumn saddens heart/we are still living, thank God.)"Wuni ti chu kuni kuni darwazes paeth loal napaan/Wuni ti chu kanh kanh choung dazaan waeraanen menz"
Put off by almost everything modern and desolation called development and urbanization Shahnaz invites us to read the book of his village in the moonlight. Shahnaz Rasheed's significance in modern Kashmiri poetry rests, for me, on his unique treatment of Imagination. This connects him with traditional view of creative imagination in Muslim Sufis and Romantics. Poems like Hay Choudhayim Zooni, Paraey, Kem Wouni have his unique stamp. This utter abandonment to the Life of Imagination saves the poet from nihilism to which more sensitive poets in this secular world are especially vulnerable. Shahnaz hasn't consciously appropriated this view of imagination but that doesn't matter. Two examples of genuine poets in Kashmiri that immediately come to my mind for whom poetry vehicles wisdom and is a portal to transcendence are Shahnaz and Hassan Anzar. In "Who Said" Shahnaz asks: "My village's shade trees/Who said many of them have withered/this land of thoughts/ how come has soothing shade/ My city's stars/ Who said have set in some forest long back/Who is embroidering after the dusk/ garland of stars on hem' skirt/Who is decorating my eyes in the night?"
Another wonderful paean to Imagination is "Aagur" that can hardly be enjoyed in translation. "When there will be moon in the night/dew will then descend/ hearts of tulips will be soothed/flowers will freshen/if flowers are born anew/butterflies will dance/children will dance/run/smile/ and in mothers' eyes will lit up/countless stars." A passage from his longest though not less delightful on account of length poem "Weer ti kukil" may be read as another wonderful address to the goddess of Imagination to save him from the immanence of samsara, the autumn of life without imagination. "Your song life's bloom everywhere/ I know your song is love's sublimity/ your song is the gateway to the places of worship/ for lovers your song is the lotus lake/metre of love ghazals/inebriating fragrance of flowers."
Man refuses to let go dreams – and Shahnaz notes this in his epigraph – (daily we spend six hours day dreaming) and invokes, for conquering suffering, such things as memory and art and beauty. His work itself is a beauty that refreshes and delights.