By Dr. A.N. Dhar
THE author of the volume under review, Prof. Arvind Gigoo, has made a gentle impact as a talented writer during the past decade or so–through his competent English translations of some select Kashmiri verse (drawn from the works of a few noted poets) and also through his own poetic compositions published in several leading journals of the country. At present he is working on a project related to the critical evaluation of Kashmiri short fiction.
With the publication of the book titled The Ugly Kashmiri (Cameos in exile), which I view as a tour de force, the author has emerged as a forceful and persuasive writer, in fact a fine literary artist in the making. He deserves a word of praise for his technical accomplishment: the literary feat that he has performed in conveying what he wants to say about the Kashmir imbroglio and the resultant turmoil in the Valley through the short pieces of writing he calls ‘cameos’. The technique he has adopted speaks of his originality, that has suddenly made him into an innovative writer. That he is deeply and widely read, aware of the great masters of irony, satire and wit from among the British and continental writers (both classical and modern), becomes immediately evident to the perceptive reader. The thoughtfully chosen title of the book (which, I am afraid, could mislead or alienate some readers) and the sprinkling of apt quotations on the two fly leaves of the book bear testimony to the author’s scholarship and sensitiveness as a writer. The 180 ‘cameos’ if clustered together, would have just made up a small booklet, but in terms of their desntiy of content – each cameo packed with different shades of meaning – they speak volumes. As a chronicler of events and a critic of the socio-political scene he is concerned with, the author is outstanding in his craft. His acute observations on the various dimensions of the Kashmir problem are very revealing, making the reader reflect and introspect if he is a Kashmiri in “exile”; those not displaced from the Valley I believe, will also look ‘within’ if they go through the ‘cameos’. These terse pieces remind me of the Jew of Malta’s “infinite riches in a title” – the phrase Marlowe employs in his play to describe the protagonist’s fabulous wealth stored in his room.
Prof. Gigoo has a mind of his own – a fact that is pervasively reflected in the ‘cameos’. He has naturally acquired an English prose style of his own too, evident from his excellent preface to the work in question. It is a fine piece of prose, crisp and immaculate. The author lays bare his heart, conveying his anger, anguish and disillusionment over the events that took place in Jammu and Kashmir with the outbreak of militancy in the Valley, and over the inevitable exodus of the Pandits. A discerning reader can see that he is unbiased in that he doesn’t blame any section of the inhabitants of the Valley outright, Hindus or Muslims. At this point I should like to quote these lines from the author’s preface:
“I have never had any political commitment and religious conviction. I go on changing my opinions. I dangle between an idea and its opposite. I am sure about my doubts, vacillations and uncertainties. I have no answers and solutions to offer”.
The last two lines of the excerpt from the ‘preface’ quoted above remind me of what the English poet John Keats has said about the ‘negative capability’ of Shakespeare as a dramatist, through which he had achieved self-effacement in his works. Keats defines the quality of self-effacement as “–the ability to remain in uncertainties and doubts without any irritable reaching after facts”. To my mind – I have no hesitation in saying so – the author has largely succeeded in achieving self-effacement through the ‘cameos’ he has hit upon. He is ‘invisible’ throughout – an ‘outsider’.
Through the ‘cameos’ the author points his finger at what ails the collective psyche of the Kashmiris as a whole. He has no malice or ill-will against anyone and has no axe to grind in painting the Kashmiris ‘ugly’. He feels rooted in the Valley; hence his anguish and disgust. He targets everything unpleasant and doesn’t spare himself in the last ‘cameos’. As a neutral omniscient observer, he uses the ‘cameos’ as a medium for unburdening his heavy heart – the mental agony and suffering he has experienced in the Valley and later as a ‘migrant’ in Jammu. He is brutally frank too in conveying bitter and unpalatable things. While he points his finger at what pains and annoys him, he provides the healing touch of the physician too – in making the Kashmiri reader, Muslim or Pandit, to think hard and to introspect why things have gone wrong and how they could be remedied.
In some of the ‘cameos’ the author targets the Central Government for having bungled the Kashmir issue right from the start. The reader doesn’t find it difficult to identify the eminent personalities-political leaders and rulers-on whom aspersions are cast in this regard. As an imaginative writer, he makes statements (in the ‘cameos’) involving the interplay of wit and humour, irony and sarcasm, or paradoxes, ambiguities, innuendos, playing on words and the oblique manner of the English Metaphysicals to achieve his effects. Though the common reader can catch the general drift of the ‘cameos’, at many places he or she may get bogged down too – some ‘cameos’ seem nerve-racking as puzzles. The author will do well to provide helpful notes and clues in the form of an ‘appendix’ to the book.
Some specimens of the ‘cameos’ are given below to give the reader (of the present review) and idea of how the author employs them as his instruments:
I still am; I am not still.
(The author probably has a displaced Pandit in his mind)
Divided we stand; united we fall.
(Applies again to the Pandits)
“What are your demands?”
“Only money and independence from you”.
(This seems an aspersion on those Kashmiris who talk of freedom)
The old man saw “a ray of hope;”
his lieutenant said “those unfortunate people”; the bald bachelor felt the ‘ground slippery’.
(The old man can easily be identified as Mahatma Gandhi and his lieutenant as Nehru. Sardar Patel could be the third man who “felt the ground slippery”)
He wasn’t a bachelor.
Gulmarg and After
The dreamer closed his eyes when
the lion was caged; his daughter
opened hers when the cub roared;
and the young grandson played
(Clues: The dreamer is Nehru and the grandson Rajiv Gandhi. The ‘lion’ and the ‘cub’ can easily be figured out).
“Sir, the whole populace is on the road”
“Is it a welcome?”
“No sir, it is the beginning of a farewell”
(Clue: This obviously concerns Jagmohan’s second term as J&K Governor)
“Please introduce yourself”.
“I am my own ancestor”.
(Probably reference to earlier migrations in history)
“See you in Panun Kashmir”.
(Kashmiri Pandits’ disillusionment with the movement)
I congratulate the author heartily on his brilliant success in producing something that is original and novel. However, in view of its novelty and the inherent difficulties of a number of ‘cameos’, the book may not find favour with all sections
The book is welcome in view of its rich content. I must compliment the Allied Publishers, New Delhi, on having brought out a shapely volume with an attractive get-up.
The cover-design by the author himself is another feather in his cap.