The poetry of lost things.
When a city, a state, is thought of in the contemporary imagination mostly in terms of violence, it’s often empowering to reframe the city’s narrative through the fortification of beauty. For Takbeer Salati and Huzaifa Pandit, that beauty takes the shape of cherished pieces of poetry as they weave their way around the duo’s Srinagar—words from the likes of Ahmed Faraz, Rehman Rahi, Parveen Shakir, and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The photography that accompanies chosen stanzas and pieces of written narrative hints at a city dangling between the twin myths of past and tomorrow.
Salati and Pandit play, at different times, the roles of observers, mourners, archivists, and storytellers. Theirs is a Srinagar of lost prophets and lively markets. A Srinagar where the cries from mosques and the wails of migratory birds tend to blur into one. A Srinagar of adamant beauty and a quiet, insistent vacancy. A living, breathing city of flesh and blood that often feels frozen in the still impenetrability of time. Days, years, decades pass; frequently, it feels as though everything is exactly as you’d left it.
Simple everyday acts, episodes, and frames amount to a journey in remembering. This photo-essay, mostly, has the mien of an everyday archival project freed from the stuffiness of museums and the arbitrariness of documents. Welcome to Spoken Word City: Srinagar.
— Siddharth Dasgupta
The Bombay Literary Magazine
loneliness from conspiring
my death amidst laughter in loud gatherings.
I hold a mirror before me
I have been in
The regaling nightingale
slumps into the burrowing
hoopoe at times.
– Rehman Rahi
It is beyond cliché now that Kashmir is a land of saints and shrines, as the much-hyped Kashmiriyat gets thrown into the mix every time the lament for an epoch, that once was, is raised. While the contests of histories continue to rage on, the ordinary Kashmir transcends the quotidian realities of histories of loss through imagined crossings in words, images, and fragments of old belief systems that seep into the future. Old Srinagar—the Summer Capital, colloquially known as Downtown—especially offers testimonies of metonymy with a larger history that is writ firm in the veins of the land, in its shrines, lakes, handicrafts, apparel, and belief systems that stand strong against the onslaught of time. This photo-essay, therefore, speaks of the affective agency of a Kashmiri, of defeated longings, of hallucinations and images, such that the chronicles of times present may compensate for the silences of history. The essay seeks out an endangered memory that chronicles an endangered memory, as defiance and resistance against time’s relentless harvest of ruin begets an existential response—which in turn alerts to the tragic lack of guarantees of any Kashmiri survival at all.
–Takbeer Salati & Huzaifa Pandit
From where, which purple stained beaker
will wine with beaded bubbles pour into
the clay bowl of old age?
– NM Rasheed
When prayers are held captive in spools of concertina wire, do the pigeons like frenzied lovers stand sentinel over them, while the humdrum of the world outside hardly halts amidst the din of vehicles, the eager wares of the villager hawking koshur flour and pulses, the cloth seller in his makeshift shop haranguing with a woman customer, and the old beggar whose cries for alms lie slumped against the stone gates? The rikshaw waits for a fare, the shrine for devotees, the hawkers and cloth seller for customers, the beggar for benefactors, and the dazed sky for the captive prayers for freedom—perchance the durood may finally come true: tul kalam lyekh hukm-e-azaadi (Pick up your pen (Lord), and write (for us) the promise of deliverance).
Bud a flower
in my life’s garden.
Let him come to gift
heart a new wound.
– Parveen Shakir
At the shrine Khanqah-e-Maula (lit. the abode of the Master and through metonymy the region around the shrine) of Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, the patron saint of handicrafts like papier-mâché in Kashmir, the Awrad-e-Fateha (a brief treatise on unity of God and his attributes) is recited aloud after each prayer. Like flowers in bloom drawn in papier-mâché on the wall, they promise a garden of faith populated by flamboyant flowers of devotion and piety, demanding in turn that the fathers initiate daughters in the ritual of obeisance. The head must be bowed in humiliation, hands cupped in subservience, and the gaze linger in the hope that the wahid-ul-qahar (The Irresistible Subduer) will be placated enough to be Khair-ur-rahimeen (The one who is the kindest). Whether or not the prayers are accepted, the devotee returns home with delicious tubrook from the hawker peddling sweetmeats and parathas large enough to feed a whole family.
What will acquaintance yield
Yet, my friend reflect, perhaps…
The haze of unfamiliarity might shrink
Your eyes might sparkle, perhaps.
– Ahmed Faraz
While the late winter sun stoops from the top of the pine tree, a motley babble of men listen enrapt to a lecture on various government schemes by a veterinarian in a meadow. Cocooned in their coarse pherans to keep the biting cold at bay, the elders shuffle between hope, cynicism, and attention at a tale twice told, and largely keep up with appearances. The only youngster professes no pretensions, flicking through his social media account on his phone.
Spring has dawned, the mountains resplendent
in delight, and flowers all abloom
Spring has set in like last year
raking half-forgotten desires.
– Rehman Rahi
When the seasons change, the bakerwals, as the nomads in Kashmir are known, call upon their livestock, buckle their shoes, pick up a staff or two to twirl on the way, and walk all the way from the plains to the pastures in the mountains. This march against the timehonoured tradition of settling, automation, and distance is a reminder of the resilience of memory, and the cyclical nature of time—important reminders in a land that forgets all too soon, and is tasked to break free of all cycles (of angst).
These verses composed by me—
all leaves of the book of your memory:
A moment of a morning when we met,
some unrelenting evening tormented
by separation from you.
– Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Deep inside the pristine waters of the fabled Dal Lake, every day a congregation of vegetable-sellers hawks fresh produce from its floating vegetable gardens: monje (kohlrabi), haakh (collards), nadur (lotus stem), and pambach (lotus root) in a market that gathers just at the break of dawn. The decrepit dinga, the term for the boat laden with produce, is a stark contrast to the urban cosmopolitanism of the house boat—a European import and a relic of Kashmir’s colonial past, that caters to the tourist and must insist upon it being a home away from home. A foreign island in a domestic lake.
Main Banner Image: Imad Clicks/ Design: Siddharth Dasgupta.
Author | TAKBEER SALATI
Takbeer Salati was born and raised in Srinagar, Kashmir. She is pursuing her doctoral research on Saadat Hasan Manto’s short stories and attempts to explore life and its marginality across Partition of South Asia. She writes short stories and fiction that are influenced by the daily struggle of life in Kashmir. Her various short stories are published in Samyukta Fiction, Muse India, Cafe Dissensus, Nether Quarterly, Life and Legends, Parcham, Outlook, Cerebration, From My Window anthology, etc. A forthcoming essay appears in the food journal On Eating: A multilingual Journal of Food and Eating, edited by Sumana Roy. Her work has also been longlisted in the list of Best South Asian Short Story Writers 20 under 30 in The Bombay Review 2021.
Author | HUZAIFA PANDIT
Huzaifa Pandit is an Assistant Professor of English in the Higher Education Department, Jammu & Kashmir. For his PhD he worked on a comparison between Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Agha Shahid Ali, and Mahmoud Darwish under the rubric of ‘Poetics of Resistance’, at University of Kashmir. His first book—Green is the Colour of Memory (Hawakal Publishers)—was published as the winning manuscript of Rhythm Divine Poets Chapbook Contest 2017. His poems, translations, interviews, essays, and papers have been published in various journals like Post-Colonial Studies, Indian Literature, PaperCuts, Life and Legends, Jaggery Lit, JLA India, Outlook, and Poetry at Sangam.