Poems of Abdul Ahad Azad: Discursive Praxis of Culture and Resistance

Swapna Banerjee-Guha

Dynamics of people’s interaction with their regions has always been a complex phenomenon. Arranged in several layers and operated through subtle modalities of diverse functional nuances, its historicity is embedded in socio-economic practices and livelihood options. But quite importantly, it is also rooted in the cultural practices of people that happen to construct distinct regional identities building up shared consciousness across socio-economic categories. They evolve as collective expressions of the majority and stand out as essential components of socio-spatial dialectics of regions. In the face of multiple dominations taking place across the globe, such practices often strike a common chord with those across countries depending on prevailing disharmonies and diversities of struggles. A material framework of social relations and discursive methodology gets embodied in these practices with key elements rooted in interactions, contradictions and conflicts – surfaced or unsurfaced and generated historically. Taking diverse forms of popular culture like music, poetry, films, theatre, performing arts, cartoon or folk art, they become manifestations of people’s power in challenging the supremacy of organised power. Through them is highlighted the contradiction between the imagination of power that aims to control space and that of the located communities as its living users.

Sharing rich legacies of regional cultures and drawing analogous experiences from regions at large, these cultural practices are found to generate alternate means to build up resistance and solidarity across masses. Like many other regions across the world, a form of poetry since long has evolved in Kashmir with an aim to contest domination and spread socio-political awareness. The following four poems of Abdul Ahad Azad, translated from Kashmiri, belong to the above genre.

Born in a village having little interaction with city intellectual environment, Azad was much ahead of his time, writes Shamim Ahmed Shamim. It is a unique experience to read Azad. Limited formal education could not obstruct his exposure to critical, diverse viewpoints that largely influenced his thoughts on nationalism and longing for a new world without hierarchy. Even while respecting tradition, he did not walk on the beaten track, preferred the rebel than the refined, material than the mystic and valued collective consciousness to a great extent. His poems having all elements of world resistance literature introduced a new genre in Kashmiri poetry that was less delicate and more direct. Azad’s search as a poet went beyond Kashmir to an expansive space of liberty and inspired many who subsequently followed his way of writing.

He even started writing a history of Kashmiri literature, but could not complete the work. Azad died very young in 1948. His poetry became popular posthumously.

 

Ghulami (Servitude)

Heart’s fervour is killed by ghulami
¹

Vivacity of mind is stolen by ghulami


Even the conscious and the wakeful are thrown into a lethal stupor by ghulami


Even the worthy are made to stoop in front of unworthy due to ghulami


Even the insignificant are made to triumph over the wise because of ghulami


Those who spit out venom through words and writings

Ghulami even makes one beg to seek for their mercy


Pearl loses its shimmer diamond turns into dust


Gold becomes copper, ghulami is the cause


The way opium makes one lose sense
In the same way because of ghulami consciousness is lost

Despondency and suffering, humiliation and insult


All miseries are made tolerable, thanks to ghulami


But in crucial hour ghulami sinks its own boat


All spaces decked with ghulami’s blood are wiped clean by gurgling rapids² one day


All arsenals and mercenaries of ghulami are defeated by the unarmed


The boat of oppression is steered by ghulami and drowned as well


When time comes even the seeds of asur³ combat the mountain of ghulami


When unity and conviction spring up in slaves


They reach great height to conquer ghulami
 (What is ghulami then?)

It’s not even conscious of its own self

Then why blame ghulami for no reason


It’s fitting to be a slave of one who abolishes ghulami from this world


Even your final days pass without any resolve

That’s why ghulami keeps troubling Kashmiris so much

Sufferings of ghulami alone can give birth to lovers of life and free minds


Shaking the very foundation of ghulami

 

1. The poet does not use the word ‘ghulami’ in a stereotyped manner. Ghulami means ‘oppressed occupation’ in this poem

2. From this stanza, the poet implants hope

3. A type of seed used as spice

 

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In this untitled poem the poet makes the people conscious of their plight as their region gets occupied by outsiders¹:

Parrot, bulbul, crow and falcon fly the same sky


    But mark the difference in the texture of their flights


Can the storm of oppression scare the true lovers ever


Chains of this (mad lover) glitter like musical strings


Words make sound, the call of heart is different


Is the king’s decorated saddle the same like a bridegroom’s?


The sound of heart by itself is melody, music, santoor²


Music lovers bare open their hearts only to a beautiful voice

When life’s music players sit aloof in a corner


People drown themselves in shehnai and sarangi


Lust impersonates love and lovers too


Such melody and rhythm are like fleeting friendships

Self-obsessed look at themselves, deceitful at others


A free soul eternally looks at life


Your purpose you’ll find within yourself neither in mosques nor in temples


I shared it with a Muslim and a Hindu, should have shared with one who respects discretion


The powerful enhances power by flaunting courage to the weak

Knife remains hot and sharp only when meat is tender


Why blame the oppressor? I’ve slain myself


The archer gets his chance only when two birds fight


You may not fear God (but) why doesn’t God soak you with mercy

Even for God and his world my flesh is a prey


To this merciless life I prostrate but my mind doesn’t


You cry till your blood oozes out I decorate my entrance


Which magician has tricked you, made you so worried?


Oh countries of Hijaz, China, Rome, Shaam, Hind and Shiraz

Spreading treachery’s net, taming wind and water that come across


But the boat of this merciless tyrant will sink by itself


Azad goes to gardens as he shares his secret with friends


He’s all watchful to the melody of pain

  1. The poem has been selected from the Collected Works of Azad (Kulyat-e-Azad). The note is written by Padamnath Ganjoo, editor of the volume. The word ‘outsiders’ suggests that historically Kashmir has been occupied by foreign rulers like Mughals and Afghans
  2. A musical instrument of Central Asia that the Sufi saints brought to Kashmir in 14th century
  3. A region on the shores of Red Sea in western Saudi Arabia

 

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Inquilab¹

On its own Inquilab will uncover the secret of the new spring

When Inquilab’s garden will bloom with Inquilab

Intoxicated bulbuls² will get back their sense flower gardens will blossom in passion

It’s Inquilab that will bring the uncaring and the unfeeling back home

Do we plead to those who look back
Inquilab on its own will teach them how to look forward

The one who scatters thorns on my path why doesn’t he care
Inquilab itself will bring him back on my path
Let the world bribe them with precious stones entice with sacred threads and prayer beads

Inquilab will sort out all disquiets one by one

Flowers kept asunder are charred in intense heat

Only Inquilab will bring rains of compassion and love

A group of young don’t wake up by my call

Surely a day will come when Inquilab wakes them up
I’m ready if he needs my music

The soiree of Inquilab will be brightened by Inquilab itself
In love’s pearl necklace only some were precious

Inquilab will pick them one by one and bring them together
River has a single source but flood has many

Only Inquilab will raze the mountains and barricades of oppression
Some hearts are distressed by ill fate some by love
Solace for each will be brought by Inquilab alone

What melody of soul what song of body
Only Inquilab will teach all beleaguered loveless souls
Azad is confident but anxious as well
If he lives on his pain only Inquilab will heal

 

  1. Revolution
  2. A bird that is revered in Kashmir almost as an icon

 

 

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Budshah’s Lament

Pain of heart, music of soul can never be buried
One who listens to the call of empathy will lose his legacy

Is it so that the empathetic does not have the same blood (anymore)
Oh! Where are they hiding away
The same breeze, the same land, the same springs even now

The same pattern river makes even now the same water everywhere
Colder than ice I can see these hearts have turned into

Once their own music had enthused them

Oh patriot! I’m narrating but do you wake up from slumber
All your resource is gone your life too will

In which garden of love are you sitting silent
Why the once talkative bird now so quiet

Numb you’re, feel neither suffering nor pain

Had you looked for a cure your sense could have come back
A divine torch will light the darkness

Mirror of ‘ibrat’¹ hangs in place of the pompous ‘deb’²

Oh oppressor! What fire have you used to burn their wings!
Everywhere among pigeons I see the frightened falcons

Self-obsessed how will he fathom Azad’s pain
Once burnt can only realise the pain of burning

  1. Realisation
  2. A balcony that looks out – a sign of luxury

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All the four poems have been jointly translated by Farrukh Faheem and Swapna Banerjee-Guha. Farrukh Faheem is Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and Swapna Banerjee-Guha is a former Professor of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and Department of Geography, University of Mumbai.

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