Why do we write? The answer is in the counter-question: why do we live? Who knows why life draws us into the whirlpool of its own love? We consent to live by choosing to forget we live, by distancing ourselves from it, by choosing to be artists.
Creative writing is a vocation and constitutes redemptive act. Art is what beautifies life, what gives it a magical flavor and enchants it. Life is a mystery and it is best lived and not interrogated.
We don’t find any answers to its conundrums but find our salvation in dissolving in its flow and mystery. Mehde’s work embodies these vivifying insights in a way that we overcome alienation and despair as we find ourselves to be the world and become one with its sun and shade, beauty and majesty.
The title is significant. A stone has been ensouled. Art accomplishes this magic. Mahde’s work reminds us of a range of works in world literature that celebrate the vacation of the artist and art as the gateway to meaning of life.
The debates and illuminations in Tagore’s Sadhna, Hesse’s Siddharta and Jibran’s The Prophet are translated for Kashmiri audience in chaste Kashmiri idiom.
Fazl Ilahi’s work attempted something similar in the medium of novel that Mehde does in short story. Veiled, symbolic explorations of inner light and darkness and collectives unconsciousness of mankind and certain myths in the work of Mehde takes us into the heart of life and its mystical founts.
Mehde has dedicated the book, strangely, to Khalil Jibran. And he has reproduced as epitaph “And God said, Love your enemy and I obeyed him and Loved myself” Majrooh Rashid has termed his work as new chapter in Kashmiri short story and noted the uncanny and the mystical as dominant element. It is noteworthy that almost all stories treat the theme of mystical and the uncanny.
The first story “Rati Bouch” (“Blood Hungry”) presents the vampire like behavior of certain office people. It is Kashmiri version of Kafka’s stories such as The Trial and The Castle.
The difference is the narrator victim defies the heartless order of the world by refusing to let it have the blood meal. Ironically he has been bled pale by the system in the struggle. Another story “Maharini” presents the trial of an artists and art and how art succeeds.
An artist is asked to make a statue of the queen and he makes it more true to life than the living face of her. The artist accepts the challenge of sculpting life, to make the image one has idealized and give life to a statue.
Another better known story translated from Urdu by the author is enigmatic account of Shakar Baba (Sugar Baba) who embodies various symbolic dimensions in his life and career – a savior figure, an idealist, an artist, a mystic. His parting lines “forgive me, the devil of nafs had deluded me. There is sparkling light everywhere. In every breast it is. Without it the travel of life would have stopped.” Invincible summer in the heart of life of which Camus talks may be recalled here.
Another story “Lal” has these gnomic lines as conclusion “your enemy is yourself. Control it with the will and then earth is yours, the sun is yours.. The narrator asks “how many questions are waiting for answer and confesses that none can save him but himself. A shining jewel after great toil is lying before him and it may be identified with this hard earned wisdom of loathing the self.
“Kani meul zuv” tells us about a sculptor’s wish to ensoul this statues. Enigmatic character Khan Baba is able to enthuse them with life. But refuses prostration by artist stating God only deserves it. Infcat God alone is the Artist and human artists’s job is to imitate Him. The faith of artist in khan baba compels him to do the magic and it succeeds. Power of faith and art.
In mythic style collective unconsciousness and archetypal life is explored and concludes in “Takhleeq” (“Creation”) What is my travel of the ages? “Quest” “Of what? “ Real home, viz. the Garden of Eden “That is God’s compassionate bosom…He is our Father.
This earth is our Mother. We are signs of His existence.” Similarly the story “Adam” tells of cosmic man, negative and positive poles of existence. Shadow and light. “Maet Shehr” tells of our city where madness reigns. It tells us of no story, as doesn’t Adam and some other short stories in the collection.
But they make a point. It seems Mehdi is here on experimenting with a new genre that synthesizes memoir and short story. And it is hard to mis very strong autobiographical elements in his collection.
The story “Raji” tells us of youthful romantic encounter. The proposal to “move away to some forest and lose ourselves in the green sky” “Why get lost?” ”After getting lost man finds something” was the reply… “Aren’t you mad”? “Yes I am loli dewana zindagi heund dewana” “I am madly in love with love and life”
“Red Lips” captures the moment of illumination. It reminds us of a figure like Siddharta who finds enlightenment after realizing futility of visiting pirs and people for answer to life’s central question. He realizes that losing oneself is the key. And here love does the magic. He finds all lost, happy ecstatic in their own worlds and appreciates a sort of perspectivism or syadvada of Jains in another short story “Number Game.”
Just seeing life as a Question and accepting it is the answer. Negative theology and mystical thesis finds its apogee in this story. “All aren’t drinking the same drink and not nurturing one pain. The focus of gaze is different.” Numbers change. Life unveils newer possibilities.
New scenes get acted upon. Our task is to see this as witness and don’t be attached to pseudo-absolutes or get fixated on ideological shibboleths. Adam’s propensity to taste the forbidden, to lose himself in the dark, to surrender to the subconscious is captured in “Siyah Phal” (“Black Fruit”).
“Lael” (“Layla”) describes Pir Ahmed Sahb’s explication of a Rumi tale. “All princes are lovers of Layla. Whose is Layla” Ahmed Sahb asked and one elderly person replied “ She is of all of them” “How come?”Because all love her and Layla feels it” “I am asking to whom belongs her body.” Ahmed Sahb replied “Layla is of the one whom She/God likes.. it is said she will enter where the gate is opened.”
Poetic prose – sparkled with what appears free verse – makes the short stories more readable. Deep, symbolic stories written beautifully that can be enjoyed by many classes of readers is what sums up my impression.