Post from the Country Without a Post Office
Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali’s collection of poems ‘The Country Without a Post Office’ is related to exile, yearning, and the loss of home and country. Ali has highlighted the tragedy in Kashmir by comparing it with Joseph Stalin’s Russia.
In his collection of poems, Ali writes about “the land of doomed addresses” where “everyone carries his address in his pocket so that at least his body will reach home”, where from no news is reported, and where violent death is common.
‘The Country Without a Post Office’ is about the Indian administered Kashmir, a conflict-hit region in the Himalayas contested by two nuclear neighbours India and Pakistan. It is about the identity of its people, its ethno-religious identity. It is about the control of its 12.5 million people by a militaristic state.
Being born in Kashmir, I grew up conscious about identity, the identity of being a Kashmiri, the identity of being a Muslim. Our ethno-religious identity is something that changed the world around every one of us for decades to follow.
Getting shot at by an Indian Army soldier when I was in my 7th standard, seeing one of my cousin’s throat slit after being picked up from a soccer field, and watching my uncle getting detained scores of times for not subscribing to the pro-India views on Kashmir, I saw conflict up close and realised it was all because of our distinct identity, of being part of a contested Muslim-majority region ruled by the Hindu-majority India.
In the past three decades, according to different rights groups, over 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Kashmir, over 8,000 subjected to enforced disappearances, thousands arrested and orphaned, and hundreds raped.
The last six years of Hindutva resurgence in India has further complicated the matters with people from Indian mainland often questioning the aborigine Kashmiris to leave their homeland to migrate to Muslim Pakistan, the Hindu bureaucrats and police officers from Indian mainland having no understanding of what is happening in Kashmir being airlifted to rule the disposed population.
The iron-fist rule of New Delhi is driving home the point for Kashmiris that they are being victimised by the Indian militaristic state just because of their distinct ethno-religious identity.
The youth in Kashmir, mostly educated, are responding by joining militant groups and launching a rebellion against New Delhi.
This way, the radicalised Hindutva groups in India are pushing Kashmiri youth further toward the path of radicalisation.
This is unfortunate considering that while between 1989 and 2008, Kashmiri movement against the Indian rule in the region had been armed, it shifted to a path of non-violence and the peaceful street protests of the years 2008, 2009 and 2010 are a proof. However, the Government of India’s dealing peaceful protests with excesses pushed the Kashmiri youth to the wall, which was visible with highly-educated youth including engineers and Ph.D. scholars joining the armed movement in the subsequent years.
Seeing these youth, at one-time no more than around 200 to 250 by New Delhi’s own accounts, becoming sitting ducks and a fodder for around one million Indian soldiers in the region has disturbed not just me but every thinking individual in Kashmir.
Understanding what can be done to stop the daily bloodbath in Kashmir and save the next generation of Kashmiris from an unceasing genocide, and the assassination of my former editor Shujaat Bukhari right outside his office drove me to this course.
I am still looking for the answers but the fellowship has not just provided me an opportunity to study my own conflict in a better way but also introduced me to the world of conflicts and transformation.
Fortunately, it has also helped me connect to the people who are doing their bit to make this world a better place by helping foster peace in the conflict-hit regions.
We are already in the 12th week of the fellowship and it has been an overwhelming experience for me to have attended the lectures of some of the best academicians, practitioners, policy analysts, strategists and peaceniks and learned from their experiences.
More than anything else, from this fellowship I have learned that the distinct ethno-religious identities of people living in other parts of the world have, just like us, become a cause of their being subjected to atrocities.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia; Nagorno-Karabakh on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia; Transnistria in the land near Moldovo’s eastern border with Ukraine; Novorossiya (a confederation of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, the breakaway areas in the Ukraine), the Republic of Crimea, East Prigorodny conflict, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Pankisi Georgia crisis, Adjara crisis, Russo-Georgian War and Euromaidan just like the more prominent Palestine-Israel and Northern Ireland conflicts all have the distinct identities of the people in these regions as the preeminent contribution to the conflict.
While Agha Shahid Ali’s illustrates in his ‘The Country Without a Post Office’ the agonies faced by his people because of their distinct ethno-religious identity, the 13th century Persian poet, Jalaluddin Muhammad Rumi’s poem ‘I am not from anything’ leaves us thinking.
I am not from anything
What is to be done, O Muslims? For I do not recognise myself.
I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Gabr, nor Muslim.
I am not of the East, nor of the West, nor of the land, nor of the sea;
I am not of Nature’s mint, nor of the circling heavens.
I am not of earth, nor of water, nor of air, nor of fire;
I am not of the empyrean, nor of the dust, nor of existence, nor of entity.
I am not of India, nor of China, nor of Bulgaria, nor of Saqsín;
I am not of the kingdom of Irãqain, nor of the country of Khorãsãn.
I am not of this world, nor of the next, nor of Paradise, nor of Hell;
I am not of Adam, nor of Eve, nor of Eden and Rizwãn.
My place is the Placeless, my trace is the Traceless;
‘Tis neither body nor soul, for I belong to the soul of the Beloved.
I have put duality away, I have seen that the two worlds are one;
One I seek, One I know, One I see, One I call.
He is the first, He is the last, He is the outward, He is the inward;
I know none other except Ya Hu and Ya man Hu.
I am intoxicated with Love’s cup, the two worlds have passed out of my ken;
I have no business save carouse and revelry.
If once in my life I spent a moment without thee,
From that time and from that hour I repent of my life.
If once in this world I win a moment with thee,
I will trample on both worlds, I will dance in triumph for ever.
O Shamsi Tabriz, I am so drunken in this world,
That except of drunkenness and revelry I have no tale to tell.
(Faisul Yaseen is a journalist based in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir)
Faisul Yaseen – India
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30