Why is the world today suffering spiritual-moral crisis, reeling under countless conflicts and devastated by huge avoidable suffering at all planes?
The best answer to this can be sought in great writers. However part of the current tragedy is that the best writers/critics are either not heard or not known or not coming forth to make their intervention. One important reason for scarcity of better writers today in Kashmir is that, collectively, we have ignored nurturing those spaces that fashion writers or sharpen critical sense. Now, to some extent, we have been able open up some spaces. Today let us pay attention to one such space that has been active for quite some time in Kashmir. J & K Fiction Writers Guild is an open space in Summer capital of the State where every Saturday afternoon, an open group of writers, critics and people from all walks of life interested in literature, meet, read and critically appraise short stories besides, briefly, informally interacting on any issue any writer or audience is interested in. It is an open space for all to express, to question and debate issues pertaining to everything a writer is interested in (It is everything in life that does interest a writer and nothing human is alien to him).
Let us dismiss the perception that Kashmir hasn't a great legacy (and its continuity till date) of excellence to guide and inspire its current writers. During Buddhist and Shaivist periods, we have succeeded, unlike, vast majority of similar smaller kingdoms, in gifting the world with whole new schools of philosophy and aesthetics (It is another question and an outstanding irony of academic politics that no Vice Chancellor of Kashmir based universities is interested in establishing philosophy department in his university. Neither are authorities in education department granting philosophy the priority it deserves as part of general curriculum for sharpening critical intelligence and helping in encountering crisis in values or nihilism or fundamentalism – of both religious and secularist varieties – sponsored violence.) During the Islamic period we have produced great philosophy for the masses in the form of mystic poetry besides first rate literary figures and scholars of various disciplines. Lalla is a class in itself who can find place in any great anthology of world poetry. Shaikh-al-Alam is an incomparable genius who revitalized the whole Reshi tradition and thus in a way almost all that is spiritually or morally significant in indigenous history of culture.
Even though politically not autonomous for centuries, Kashmir hasn't relinquished its freedom, even a sort of leadership, in the world of art, craft and culture. Kashmiri's mystic poets have, at least occasionally or in scattered manner, moments or flashes of genius that are comparable to the best of world poetry including masterpieces of Persian and German mystico-romantic poetry. Modern Kashmir has the likes of Rahi who can rub shoulders with the first rate poets of any country
.t has Urdu poets and critics who seem to have carved for themselves permanent place in the history of Urdu literature and criticism. It has a world class genius humourist Qazi Ghulam Muhammad whom every Kashmiri should be reading. It has first rate Iqbal scholars like Prof. G R. Malik. There is a poet in almost every village for whom it could be claimed that he/she has been indeed touched by the Muse (modern post-Zargar Sufi poets, only few of whom can be charged of repetition or (un?)conscious plagiarism, are in thousands in Kashmir which is a record that we need to be more conscious about). We have some short stories that constitute the proud heritage of world literature.
We have novelists and memoir writers and immensely talented journalists whose pen is indeed much mightier than the sword that can be countered by any power. It has world class translations or adaptations of many great classics by poets and translators. (See, for instance, Rashid Nazki's translation of Qaseedai Burda, G. N. Khayal's translation of Umar Khayyam and Mumin Saheb's rendering of Mantiq-ut-Taer).
A Kashmiri has every reason to feel proud and claim great inheritance and thus have faith in its power to liberate himself and larger humankind which shares in its current fate that is best described by Dostovesky's phrase "souls on hire." We have reasons to hope that writers in younger generation rediscover their great past and, and thanks to the great suffering they have witnessed, act as conscience keepers of the world of the " the wretched of the earth" – silenced or marginalized classes/communities.
J &K Fiction Writers Guild is contributing its share to providing the necessary moisture to make our soil more fertile (zara num ho to yeh miti badi zarkhaez hae saqi) by inviting most of the well-known writers (including some mentioned here) to preside and contribute. Eager learners and upcoming writers are awaiting their mentors and accomplished writers every week and one can feel that the ice is thawing and we can smell the fragrance of spring flowers. Nothing can stand between the birth of self consciousness of people mediated by great writers and the beautiful dream of azadi that all oppressed people, everywhere are seeking to realize.
Azadi, like Derrida's Justice or Sufi's Beloved God in His full glory, never comes but must be ceaselessly sought or approximated as a limit or ideal state. Leaders dream dreams, while writers provide the reality check by testing them and interpreting them in the furnace of life with all its contradictions. Let us learn, with fiction writers, that art is a way of transfiguring and healing and celebrating life despite misdeeds of the "Other" or our crooked hearts that weave illusions or construct idols. Art and Religion are evidences that our spirit can never be enslaved though our bodies or lanes can be temporarily.
Life's great challenge to which great leaders do respond is to model life on art and that is salvation or felicity. Let our politics approximate art or artists guide us so that we could better interpret the symbol and dream of azadi or freedom that all political philosophies and people seek.
For artists like Faiz and Mantoo India or Pakistan have yet to win freedom (Kashmir ki bari keb aayae gi, one can imagine). However there can be no curfewed nights for dreams and we can, even though haltingly, say Bol ki lab azad hae teray and make winds testify aes kel ti gawaan aes.
If you have ever felt that there is a creative writer in you or you have been unsure regarding the merit of your work or you have been irresistibly driven to announce that you have the right to write and get your work known and appraised the local literary elite, it might be worth exploring certain spaces around you including that of this Guild. It is a truly democratic space, professionally maintained by voluntary work force which organizes, advertises and maintains profiles and introduces authors or their work to the world. This space needs to involve more of first rate writers and critics and discuss more of classics in creative fiction to chisel tastes.
So far only a handful of highly satisfactory short stories have been presented and much of the critical commentary has been arcane because our standards have been rather poor. I hope the standard of these Saturdays keeps improving and give us, on the pattern of classic Tuesdays with Morrie, great lessons in the Craft of Recreating Meaning of Life through Literature.