‘Poems as expressions of preserving political moments’

SRINAGAR: The second Pt Rughonath Vaishnavi Annual Talk was held in Srinagar on Saturday. The main speaker for the event was author and academic Prof Suvir Kaul, who delivered a lecture, “Of Gardens and Graves: Bearing Witness in Two Kashmiri Poems”.
Prof Kaul said, “Poems, like other forms of performance, can be mobilized to serve very different political ends; many will read each poem as testimony of forms of suffering that are not shared by all Kashmiris but are in fact exclusive to one community or the other.”
“Narrations of the traumatic past can of course be shaped to generate not greater openness and mutuality but to cement ex-clusionary identities. It is, however, my argument that these poems themselves refuse such exclusions. They do so precisely because they speak powerfully to their moment and preserve it, not as inert or past, but as the living precursor of ours, and as a necessary, living component of the future.”
Prof Kaul is the AM Rosenthal Professor of English at University of Pennsylvania, and the author most recently of “Of Gardens and Graves: Essays on Kashmir, Poems in Translation.”
The event began with a brief talk by rights defender Parvez Imroz, who said, “There is need of not just resurrecting our unsung heroes but also to uncover and discuss the role of the collaborators in Jammu and Kashmir.”
Talking about Pt Rughonath Vaishnavi, author and academic Prof Mona Bhan said, “For him, the prison was as an embodiment of how the history of an entire nation that had been imprisoned, its creative impulse stifled. It stood as a poignant yet persistent reminder of Kashmir’s long quest for freedom.” Srinagar-based photojournalist Javed Dar, whose photographs are part of Prof Kaul’s latest book, presented a slide show of a collection of his work during the ongoing conflict.
Playwright and language activist Amin Bhat recited some of the poems from the book in the original Kashmiri.
The first talk of the annual event last year attracted sharp and wide media attention after it was disallowed by the authorities.
The speaker, author and historian Prof Mridu Rai, had then delivered her lecture in front of a small gathering at an alternative venue. The annual talk has been instituted to commemorate Kashmiri political leader Pt Rughonath Vaishnavi’s extensive contributions to Kashmiri society, history and politics but also to begin a dialogue about the time in Kashmir of which little is heard or known in public or official narratives, the organisers’ release said.
Vaishnavi was a fierce and outspoken critic of the government and considered NC’s rise to power and its repressive regime a “colossal failure of statesmanship.”
His newspaper Jamhoor was banned in 1952, before he quit the National Conference over his disagreements with its politics. He then formed the Political Conference in association with GM Karra, the only political party that championed the Kashmiri right to self-determination even if it meant Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan.