What is Haseeb Drabu telling and not telling us?

Telling what sounds alien to him, not telling what actually alien is
What is Haseeb Drabu telling and not telling us?
Representational Pic

I readHaseeb Drabu's article `What is GK telling and not telling us' (GK edit-pageApril 26). Disagreement apart, I love his writings and the way he phrases hisargument. But this one was a sad exception. Unlike his usual coherent,profound, well-structured organic style of writing where a reader flows withthe prose, this one was too messy to explain what means what. Though the stylewas intact, but the substance was missing. Instead of writing this piece, hecould have served us better by not writing it. As his regular reader andadmirer, I find it hard to say but that is the only way I can say it.

The authoris not happy with GK news editors for not placing the statements according totheir newsworthiness. Whose statement should have appeared on which page andwho merited a wider space than whom, is a desk emergency met on the deskitself. I am not here to explain on behalf of the concerned desk, but as acommon reader (and as a student of journalism), I believe that thenewsworthiness varies from editor to reader. And who can understand it betterthan Haseeb. But reading unusually too much from a routine placement of newsitems is raising a point that is no point at all. Practically speaking,carrying all Ramzan greetings on the front page could push the damn COVID tothe page next. (And COVID hogs more space than all the presidents and prime ministersof the world put together.) In an abnormal time like this, many newsworthythings are happening at once. May be Haseeb himself on the desk would have donethe same as GK has done, but that doesn't deny him the right to disagree withthe editorial prerogative of the newspaper. Such comments can be made on anynews story placed anywhere in any newspaper. `Less important' and `moreimportant', is like a voltage fluctuation which can't be fixed for all.  If GK would have carried the statementsexactly the way he ranks their importance, the other reader might have raisedthe same points as he has. Both may have their respective arguments to defendtheir point. But that is not my point. My point is was the issue that grave tomerit a response like this. Does the mere coverage of one particular daydetermine the importance of politicians for a reader. I couldn't find an answerafter reading the whole thing.

My focus isnot the piece, but the tailpiece. Though there is no logical link between thetail and the body, but I take tail as a separate unit. There he has saidsomething he has been saying all along and I have been opposing all along. Hesees Kashmir as a special culture which must remain uncontaminated by anythinghe calls `alien'. To make that happen, we will have to insulate and isolate ourcultural cave from all coughs and sneezes of the people outside. Culture is nota quarantine we stay in to protect ourselves from external influences. Cultureis a window we leave open to let the fresh air come in and go out. No societyremains stainlessly clean from other influences. The language borders are tooporous to be protected from infiltration of words. (This merits an independentdiscussion. Come another day).

But I knowyou know that and your worry is beyond it. Your worry is that we are gettingArabised as if it may cause us a cultural extinction. As if we may lose our`uniqueness' which more than a cultural asset has become a politicalslogan.  By the way how is greeting onthe eve of Ramzan  alien to us? Ramzan issuffixed with Mubarak.  So the month byits very name sends a sense of celebration. Now the point that in yourchildhood you have seen people exchanging greetings on eid only. That is not because they wouldn'tgreet each other on Ramzan. Don't forget the welcome songs called rouf whichwomenfolk would sing on the arrival of the holy month. Their song was anannouncement of a month-long festival. Since we didn't have such fast,ubiquitous and sophisticated means of communication those days, so thegreetings were confined to the personal meetings only. Muslims gathering in amosque on the eve of Ramzan would warmly greet each other as the month is notjust about `spiritual time of reflection', it's a month of sharing bliss. People wouldn't withdraw from the bustleof life and worship like monks, they would do it all together and that is whatmade it a `community affair'. So don't say this all wasn't there. It was, butin the absence of a spotlight it wasn't as flashy as it's today. Meanwhile it'snot just here that people would cry that `mah-i-ramzan is getting over. It'severywhere.  You have not seen itelsewhere never means that it doesn't happen elsewhere.

You are notcomfortable with `Ramzan Kareem'. I too am not, I too choose to call it Mah-i-Ramzan.That sounds closer, easier and more-so that is our own way of naming the month.But what is `our' in this. If we are fanatically conscious of our own homebred,homespun phraseology, the origin of the word `Mah' will disappoint us. `Mah'figures nowhere in the lexicon my grandfather has gifted me as a relic ofKashmiri language and culture. This word comes from Persian and Persian is not`our' way of naming things. Likewise we call our late evening prayers `Khuftan'so why should we replace it with a global equivalent `Isha'. But `Khuftan'again is Persian which means `to sleep'. If we see Isha as a cross-borderintruder, Khuftan too is a foreign body slipping into our skin. Our names haveArabic or Persian origins. Your name, my name. Shall we then rename ourselvesto fit well in our so called sub-national slot. Then in chaste, pristine,honey-pure Kashmiri cultural lingo, Sultan is Sulle, Gul is Gulle, Raheem is Rahime,Kareem is Karime. As a tribute to our `unique' culture, let's begin this charityand molest our names first. Like you, I too love my mother-tongue, but it's notmy fetish. Like you, my attachment with my culture is emotional, but it's notdevotional.

I don'tbelieve in the superiority of one language over the other. Languages are anevolutionary fact with no badge of distinction attached to any particularlanguage. I won't mind studying Hindi or Sanskrit as a curious student oflanguages. But language as an academic endeavour is different from language asa political project. Why be apologetic in accepting that we are culturally,linguistically and historically linked to what you call alien. And what reallyis alien for us is not the Arabisation, it's the Hinduisation which doesn'tsymbolize alienation only, which symbolizes aggression first. Wonder why are wesilent on that.  Former still defines usin the larger paradigm, latter is not just unfamiliar but coercive. It's notjust changing our language, it's changing our DNA as a nation, as a people. Andif you are really serious in protecting the `uniqueness', it needs to beprotected here. No matter we call it `aekher jumah' or jumat-ul-vida, it won'tchange anything in us. But when our history is hijacked and presented to ourgenerations in a massacred form, that pains. If Arabisation or Persianisationis `contrary to our culture', Hinduisation is contrary to our collective esteemas a nation. If Arabisation dilutes our culture, Hinduisation threatens oursurvival. (Wish you do a piece on that.) If Hindi merges with our Kashmiri expression,we call it acculturation. But if Urdu or Arabic or Persian echoes the faintest,we call it `cultural imperialism'. There we speak Hindi to appease a politicianin Delhi, but here we keep our culture uninfected from an Arab virus.

We live in aland where beef buying legally earns you imprisonment and sociallymob-lynching. If we really stand for an open society, why be selectivelysecular and selectively apologetic. The dismantling of our cultural, religiousand historic institutions is a far graver concern than catching someonered-handed Arabising a word.

We standstripped with not even a fig leaf to hide our nakedness. Not just our identity,our self, our soul, our life is not ours. That demands telling and what demandsnot-telling is this adulteration of Kashmiri language and culture which – to mymind – is too trivial to burn your intellectual fuel on. Why should a minorrash bother us, when murder goes unnoticed.

Tailpiece:Arab-ising our names adds grace to them as they flow from the root. Hindi-fyingthem does the reverse. A small story. Pronouncing `j' as `z' when a man fromDelhi  pronounced my name Ajaz as Azaz,my friend Jaleel said `don't mind, it happens'. When the same violence was doneto his name the result was worse. He was called Zaleel. Then I told him, `don'tmind, it happens'.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Greater Kashmir