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Transforming Sorrow into Song

Hayat Aamir succeeds in the great task of saying yes to life despite all the horror it entails
Muhammad Maroof Shah
Srinagar | Posted : Dec 7 2017 1:44AM | Updated: Dec 6 2017 11:37PM
Transforming Sorrow into Song

To the question “What do you do?” the poet’s answer is “I praise”, as Rilke phrased it. Why is it so? It is through praise that man rises to the challenge of “the deadly and monstrous… the nameless and the anonymous.” Heschel noted that "There are three ways in which a man expresses his deep sorrow: the man on the lowest level cries; the man on the next level is silent; the man on the highest level knows how to turn his sorrow into a song."  Jesus  said that “Blessed are they that weep and wail, for they shall be comforted.” One of the greatest contributions of Islamic culture – great poets of marsiya and traditional exponents of Shiite perspective – to the world heritage is teaching how suffering/tragedy may ennoble us and be an instrument of gnosis (irfan). Our most blessed task consists in blessing that which made the blessing called life possible and this task is performed by na’t defined as praise of the Principle of Manifestation or Pole of Existence.  Marsiya genre as an extension or version of na’t asserts our right to grieve, sometimes with “the noble language of eyes,”  since “the touch of God is marked by tears.” Saints and artists show how Karbalas that we encounter daily – everything that seems to us “dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged,” – may be transformed in Him and recognized as “whole, as lovely, and radiant in His light.” 

These are the points that Hayat Aamir has argued in his critical work Na’t, Marsiya aur Irfan and applied to an extent in his poetry. Ramz-i Hankel is a standing testimony to the poet’s holy task to praise, to resist, “to fail and fail better” and ultimately to “die” in order to live better. This unique poetry collection affirms the tragic by singing the sorrow of Kashmir, of Hussain and of all the nameless oppressed people. The poet succeeds in the great task of saying yes to life despite all the horror it entails. The poet is one who can’t despair. His task is to praise, to celebrate, to witness the truth that is crucified and in the process vindicate God’s choice to fashion Adam even at the cost of bloodshed. The poet redeems the tragic in Karbala by turning not to an ad hoc faith that all will be good but by turning to an artistic insight that sees all is good or already eternally redeemed or declaring the glory of God as it is a play of Divine Names that one must learn to witness  and appreciate aesthetically without taking leave of the moral agent that is man who is required to play his part as a moral agent as well.  

Hayat has given us certain long poems that we can’t afford to ignore (even if one feels they could have been shortened without losing impact)  and that mark him out amongst his contemporaries.  He is not obscure – he rejects modernist aesthetics that makes a virtue of obscurity – or addicted to using private symbolism that is too demanding for average reader. He has inherited and further assiduously cultivated a strong faith in transcendence/sacred that distinguishes him from more illustrious or famous contemporary Kashmiri poets who have tasted too much of secular modernity to retain their ancestral faith and in the same measure their work fails to speak to the audience that has been mostly immune from doubt and consequent despair or nihilistic streaks. Since it is impossible to write great poetry without dialogue with the Sacred and Kashmir remains a pir waer or the valley that lives in the shade of the Sacred, it is the mystically inflected poetry that has a future here. Hayat’s art and vision  that echo Sufis singing the Way that is life  above all is destined for a future. He has partly filled the gap in our poetic tradition dominated by intellectually/artistically less gifted though spiritually more gifted Sufi poets and intellectually and artistically more gifted but secularized poets. Hayat is at his best in na’t and it is even possible to see his whole collection a species of na’t and marsiya – the latter is a species of na’t according to him. What a delight it is to read Hayat may be seen by reading his masterpiece “Waeth” especially its opening verses and much of the poem “ramz-i haenkel”. Waeth may be read as symbolizing the march of Life/Tradition and our poet has conjured a flurry of striking – and inspired – images to celebrate It. “Waeth sham-i sonder, waeth mushk-i amber/waeth haerkatij, waeth maar-i maechij/waeth aeni.” There are some extended metaphors such as dense forests are forms of river’s tresses. “waeth soarmi kukil/waeth may-i wasan, waeth grayi khasan.” Muhammad is the ground of Freedom – and thus it is absurd to imagine someone blaspheming Prophet in the name of freedom of thought. One can’t spit at the sun because “wasshames chu tehnday royuk prav.” Freedom is “tam-i saenz maaey ti bas,” “tem saenz ray ti bas” “tem saenz tray ti bas.” 

Passionate, overtly political, hard hitting Hayat is a poet for all the seasons, last things and end times.  Even if repetitive, verbose and clichéd at times, his gift of phrase and felicity of expression redeems his work and one is rewarded time’s worth. Hayat’s universe at times becomes a multiverse  as the dialectical tension amongst Muslim theology, poetry, mysticism and Kashmir’s ambivalence regarding matters theological is not properly resolved. Hayat deftly uses more familiar folk and classical images of both Kashmiri and Indo-Islamic cultures and  profound symbolism that often escapes on first reading but can be unearthed  with some effort. 

 Although life in all its grandeur, majesty, terrible beauty, provocations, flights and responsibilities wells up in Hayat ‘s work, for him the meaning of the dance of being is sweet sleep – this is an echo of Hafiz and Ghalib. Iqbal’s presence looms large in Hayat. To illustrate his understanding of the Prophet echoes him unmistakably. See, for instance, Mustafayi is for him “asl raz-i zindagi”, “asl saz-i zindagi,” “paartavi raz-i azl,” “hasli sazi ghazal” and “manieyey wajd-o-wujood.” 

Kashmir has long been waiting for a poet who could, in a language and style worthy of its  heights and depths, give voice to its religious and mystical heritage, reassert the severed Central Asian and Persio-Arabic connections, sing its sorrow or redeem it by song, recognize and make the world recognize special destiny unfolding in its tragic history, resist and fight for it battered soul and forge in the smithy of his soul “the uncreated conscience” of his people. Hayat Aamir helps to clear the way for this poet that is to come though it becomes rather hazy due to his juridical temperament, uncharitable and unwarranted reading of philosophical/religious other – he chooses to read non-Semitic/indigenous/ wisdom traditions that have shaped Rishi Kashmir in terms of binary of Tawhid and polytheism and doesn’t consider them as different formulation of Tradition that has Nondualism  or metaphysical core of Tawhid at the Centre. Muhammad(SAW) remains the First and the Last that other traditions don’t fail to recognize in their own obscure ways. Hayat Aamir stops short of drawing all the consequences of the doctrine of the Light of Muhammad or the Prophet (SAW) as an ideality of every man who grounds/symbolizes “all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.” All communities or nations have heroes or ideals but what is the ideal invoked in all these diverse ideals is called Muhammad by Sufis (PBUH). 

What is important to note is Hayat Aamir’s distinctive treatment of Islam’s  understanding of the tragic as a class apart from better known Greek or Western and Oriental understandings of the same and his invitation for taking seriously three misunderstood/ignored giants of Islamic history – his own work can’t be properly appreciated without familiarity with them – Ghazzali, Ibn Arabi and Iqbal. And that is a life’s task – but worth the “trouble” – to engage with them to help resolve our – and world’s – most pressing issues related to the dream of spiritual interpretation of the post-Nietzschean universe. 

PS: Iqbal had, arguably, high opinion of people bordering Wular (“How long will they remain hidden from the world/ the unique gems that Wular Lake holds in its depth”). That Iqbal was right may be evidenced by the works, especially the na’t,  bequeathed by Bandiporeans.