India’s borders and borderlands have been marked by conflict since its independence from the British in 1947. Kashmir and the Northeast regions of India along with many forgotten enclave areas have been witness to relentless violence that have upended lives for several decades. How does literature from these war zones represent the conflict and people’s experiences? More specifically, how do writers narrativize the conflict and write about violence? Mirza Waheed from the world’s most militarized zone of Kashmir and Aruni Kashyap from Assam in Northeast India have lived through conflicts, and their work has been deeply shaped by these experiences. Their writings in the form of fiction, essay and poetry present a glimpse of life under duress and military occupation. In this episode, they discuss the imperative to write about Kashmir and Assam, the problems and challenges they have faced while writing about these difficult topics as well as their experiences in the publishing industry. Mirza and Kashyap speak about pressing questions about how to write violence and the limits of such writing. They discuss questions of representation that are vital literary and visual discourses of these two volatile regions. In the case of Kashmir, the representational pitfalls have always been associated with exoticizing the space in films and statist discourses. The Northeast is doubly vilified, first as a conflict space and then as a subject of heavily discriminatory narratives about its people. How do writers write to subvert nationalist and statist narratives that have saturated the discussions on such conflictual spaces? Amrita Ghosh talks to Waheed and Kashyap on this Mehfil as they reflect the anguish and pain of people caught in a cycle of violence.
Mirza Waheed is a writer and journalist from Kashmir and based in the UK. His debut novel The Collaborator was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize. The Collaborator is about life in Kashmir under militarization and violence and it was also the book of the year awarded by The Telegraph, Telegraph India, Financial Times and New Statesman. Waheed is also the author of Book of Gold Leaves and Tell her Everything. The Book of Gold Leaves was shortlisted for the DSC prize for South Asian Literature. Waheed has published articles in the New York Times, Guardian, BBC and Al Jazeera English, among others.
Aruni Kashyap is a writer and translator from Assam, India and Associate Professor and Director of the Creative Writing program at the University of Georgia. His recent works include a story collection, His Father’s Disease and the novel The House With a Thousand Stories. Along with editing a collection of stories called How to Tell the Story of an Insurgency, he has also translated two novels from Assamese to English, published by Zubaan Books and Penguin Random House. His poetry collection, There is No Good Time for Bad News was nominated for the 58th Georgia Author of the Year Awards 2022, a finalist for the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize and Four Way Books Levis Award in Poetry. Kashyap’s short stories have appeared in many journals and literary magazines.
Amrita Ghosh is Assistant Professor of English, specializing in South Asian literature at the University of Central Florida. She is the co-editor of Tagore and Yeats: A Postcolonial Reenvisioning (Brill 2022) and Subaltern Vision: A Study in Postcolonial Indian English Text (Cambridge Scholars 2012). Her book Kashmir’s Necropolis: New Literature and Visual Texts is forthcoming with Lexington Books. She is the co-founding editor of Cerebration, a bi-annual literary journal.
To inaugurate our Mehfil which means a celebratory gathering in Urdu, we asked Uday Bansal to compose a small poem for us. It was read out by Amrita Ghosh at the start of the program.
Tumhaari taal se betaal / Duniya tumhaari shaunq se ghafil hai / Taqaluf Chhod bhi do / Aao yeh tumhaari hi mehfil hai
This roughly translates as "cast off your inhibitions and come join our celebrations."
We want to thank Bansal who writes poetry in Hindustani, the confluence of Hindi and Urdu. Bansal has performed at the world's largest Urdu Literature festival Jashn-e-Rekhta in 2022 and has given a TEDx talk titled "Zabaan-e-Urdu" where he explores the misconceptions about the Urdu language and its relevance in today's times.