IT was just another evening in Srinagar in 2010. There was a curfew in the city and Huzaifa Pandit was forced to remain indoors. Bored, he was listening to Fareeda Khanum as she rendered Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ghazal, Toofan ba dil hai har koi dildaar dekhna (every heart here shelters a storm/ my love won’t you see). “Although the lyrics spoke about love and longing, a couplet in the ghazal, I felt, was metaphoric of Kashmir’s leadership crisis. The couplet read: Khaali garchi mimbar-o-mehraab sar nigaoon hai khalaq/ Rab-e-qaba-haibat-e-dastaar dekhna (the pulpit stares vacant, the prayer rug too empty. Yet, the dread of robed turban — no one lifts his head, none dares this temerity),” recounts Pandit.
He realised that the works of some of the great poets could be interpreted to resonate what the ordinary people of Kashmir were going through. Today, the 28-year-old is a research scholar on resistance poetry, focussing on Faiz (Pakistan), Agha Shahid Ali (Kashmiri origin) and Mahmoud Darwish (Palestine). He calls his reinterpretation “cultural translations” that have been contextualised to portray the suppressed Kashmiri voices. “The ordinary Kashmiris have a desire to comment on their everyday experiences, the claustrophobia we feel. The poetry of these masters gives us words to express ourselves,” explains Pandit, who is also the editor of the magazine Kashmir Lit.
The Srinagar-based artist will be in Mumbai this weekend, where he will be presenting resistance poetry at Helm of Eight, a performance space in Andheri. The performance, titled Kashmir: Ek Doh Ek Sham,
is scheduled for Sunday evening. At the event, Pandit will be presenting works of poets such as Saqi Farooqi and Noon Meem Rashid, as well as his own poetry. “What I write is more focussed. It is aimed at shedding light on specific events, such as the death of ex Major Avtar Singh. Did he really shoot himself or was he and his family killed because they knew too much? These are the kind of questions my works attempt to raise,” says Pandit.
The poet and scholar believes that merely reading out poetry and its translations will not have the same impact that a discussion has, so he will also rope in the audience with an interaction. “For instance, Rashid’s Saba Veeran (Desolate Sheba) talks about how the town of Sheba lay desolate not because of a natural calamity but
because its ruler, Solomon, was a bad administrator. This can be contextualised to talk about Kashmir and the issues the people of the Valley face,” he points out. Of the belief that militancy is not the answer, he hopes to convey to the Kashmiris that there are other ways of resistance too. “I experienced ‘freedom’ in the two years I spent in Pune while pursuing my masters in English. I wasn’t persecuted for losing my identity card. When I had to file an FIR, I was surprised how helpful the Pune police was,” he shares, adding, “Back home, I have been shot at thrice, beaten up mercilessly for peacefully protesting and watched friends and neighbours die at the hands of the army. My time in Pune taught me what freedom feels like. There are so many who are not as fortunate. It is their voices I bring to the people through poetry.”