Why I Write
Is it possible to write about someone I know too closely, to echo the pain of a dying boy in my neighborhood hit with three bullets in his abdomen by an impoverished Indian soldier? Is it possible to genuinely recreate his picture, to register his agony, through writing or art without being biased?
All of us are biased. But most of us are biased so much so that our bias is a marble conviction not letting us to know how biased we are.
Truth in every age, Franz Fanon wrote in 1961, is a property of national cause.
What’s ideology? Ideology might assume a multitude of many different meanings like: a) The process of production of meanings, signs, and values in social life. b) Ideas which help to legitimate a dominant political power. c) Systematically distorted communication. d) Identity thinking. e) The conjuncture of discourse and power. f) The confusion of linguistic and phenomenal reality. Etc.
Early on the morning of 10th December in 2006 when the humanity was waking to celebrate the World Human Rights Day, in Mir Bazar, the grocery market outside my village, a soldier thrust into Manzoor’s abdomen the barrel of his gun and fired twice. As the bullets pierced through, Manzoor was thrown upward and then fell down with a stumbling thud on the ground, his face burying in the frosty December dust.
By the River Jhelum, on 14 June, 2010, I sat in a forlorn, wooden café in the heart of Srinagar. The sky was overcast with clouds. It was the fourth day of Tufail’s death— the first boy to be killed that season in Kashmir. He was seventeen and was struck with a tear gas shell almost a mile and half away in the Old City while he was on his way back home from tuitions.
Writing is like a painful bout of long illness.
I don’t want to fall in the viscous traps of modernism and post-modernism though I don’t know what these –isms actually mean, where their blurry boundaries lie. At any cost, no matter what the levels of complexity are, no matter what bewildering multiplicity of perspectives I’m dealing with, I want to remain loyal to the historical truth.
One of the essays written by Eric Hobsbawm is titled: ‘Post-Modernism in the Forest’.
If you Google the images of Tufail Ahmad Matoo, you might find a freshly murdered boy on a stretcher. His head is slightly turned to right. His questioning eyes, half open and mysterious, brim with a defiance to live. His left arm bandaged around the wrist rests gently on the right one. Blood is warm and still dripping from his mouth and nostrils and the white cloth underneath is drenched red. In so much blood, it is difficult to see that his skull is cracked open, or the grey and white of his brain matter.
Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winner for his path-breaking work in welfare Economics, three years ago published a book by name of The Idea of Justice. In his earlier book, The Argumentative Indian, he characterizes India as a loquacious, ‘heterodox’ people.
Is it not that ideology would mean the immersion of an individual into her role in the society and the perception and way of life that correspond it?
The true intellectual vocation, Socrates once said, is to speak truth to power.
In a hospital in Srinagar, looking at his sawed belly held together with seventeen stitches and covered with rolls of bloodied bandage, Manzoor, my brother-man, my cricket friend, my own own Manzoor, sobbed in my arms. When the nurse asked me to leave finally, I walked out into the corridor. The sign in red paint over the door across read: “DISASTER WARD.”
History has no mercy. It has no rules in it against suffering and cruelty, no internal balance that restores a people much sinned against to their rightful place in the world.
So there is Tufail: the boy with a rising bridge of a nose and sharp handsome features, the first hints of beard never to blossom on his face.
In the last twenty-two years, some seventy thousand Kashmiri civilians have been killed by the Indian troops, says one estimate. In the summer of 2008, more than sixty protestors were killed. In the summer of 2010, the number of protestors killed doubled.
Cyclical views of history have always seemed to me flawed for that reason, as if the turning of screws means that the present evil can be transformed into good. Nonsense. Turning the screw of suffering means more suffering, and no path to salvation.
“What is freedom? How would it feel to live a free life? How to arrive at and preserve the idea of freedom in a state of its total denial? What attributes should one impute to an existence brutalized and humiliated on a daily basis? How to confront a young girl gang-raped by Indian soldiers along with her mother? What is the relationship between a victimized memory and disgrace? Is state fundamentally an oppressive apparatus? Is resistance the only mode of being under occupation? What necessitates a revolution? Is love possible in war?
In 1989 when Kashmir rose in arms against India, I was in kindergarten. I sang the first rhymes in school against the background music of bombs and bullets.
Ideology, the indispensable medium in which individuals live out their relations to a social structure, is also like background music.
In the winter of 2008, I was living a very solitary life in a ghetto in southern Delhi. I happened to read James Joyce’s A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man. With Stephen Dedalus, I cried like a miserable boy.
What does it mean to be a Kashmiri (writer) right now? Ah! Does it not mean to exist beyond the grand-national narratives of India and Pakistan? Does it not mean to dream a life of honor and dignity? Does it not mean to write songs on elm leaves in summer and happily harvest golden paddies in autumn? Does it not mean to live within the dynamic counters of my own identity, of being a tolerant human being, a Muslim and Kashmiri?
Do humans long for order and beauty, for threads of subliminal music? Is this longing fundamental or universal as mystics like Rumi mused?
In the famous debate between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault about human nature, the latter is more interested in how words or categories like ‘human’, ‘justice’, ‘beauty’, etc., were or are being constructed within the discourse communities of law, medicine, psychiatry, over a period of time in history, and is more keen in understanding what power these categories yield or authorize and legitimize in the totality of society.
History is a nightmare from which we might never wake up.
In the Modern Language Association annual meeting in Los Angeles in 2011, I asked a panel discussing Shakespeare and Phenomenology: How will you interpret the American war against Iraq phenomenologically? Everyone was thrown into an awkward silence until someone behind me cackled with laughter.
Phenomenology, says the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate enabling conditions.
After the first week of teaching Composition Writing in a serene school near Sierra Nevada in California, a student asked me: “What’s the drinking age in your country? Is it very late like 22 as in America?” I broke into an uncontrollable laughter. “No, we start drinking at a very early age, at three or four,” I shocked her. I longed for a sip of kehweh and felt like throwing away Starbucks coffee that I was sipping.
Phenomenology allows to locate the writer in her biographical detail, thereby helping us understand how and which structures determined and shaped the structures of her consciousness, where in reside the experience, the truth of experience suspended in language. I can see the hue of her eyes and the thickness of the glasses through which she looks at, and reflects on, while she rests her elbow on the window sill, purses her lips and widens her eyes, about the world.
In my dreams, Tufail often comes walking from the spot in Srinagar to my quiet house in Fresno. In his hands is the gravestone which reads loud:
“This is the place where the craziness of the police reached such an extent that they smashed innocent Tufail’s brains to myriad small parts; the nadir, the abyss which would make the beasts of the jungle turn pale with shame.”
The force of term ideology lies in its capacity to discriminate between those power struggles which are somehow central to whole form of social life, and those which are not.
Yes, the screw turns, but it not only brings more repression, it also dialectically reveals new opportunities for ingenuity and creativity.
No artist tolerates reality; art is an activity which denies and exalts simultaneously.
I want to write more picturesquely and more exactly.
Notes: The quotes used here are either direct or altered to serve the logic of this essay. They are from following sources: Franz Fanon (3: Wretched of the Earth), Terry Eagleton (4, 29: Ideology: An Introduction), George Orwell (6, 32: Why I Write?), Edward Said (12, 16, 29: The End of the Peace Process: Oslo And After), and James Baldwin on James Joyce (25, Notes Of A Native Son). Albert Camus (31: The Rebel.)
Feroz Rather was born and raised in Kashmir. He is currently attending the MFA program at California State University Fresno where he also teaches fiction writing. His work has appeared in India in The Caravan, Tehelka, Reading Hour, Combat Law, Harmony, and Economic and Political Weekly. His nonfiction is forthcoming with Los Angeles Review and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.