Enduring voices: Agha Shahid Ali and Mahmoud Darwish

Mir Liyaqat
Today, many regions in the world are living in the shades of unresolved conflicts, which have a direct link to the colonial politics. The unabated violence, ethnic cleansing, systematic genocide, muzzling the dissent are the hard realities that people in such places have to suffer similarly as the colonial era witnessed. However, the literature emanating from these conflict zones offer us one of the most important ways in which the La Resistance of the besieged people is expressed and celebrated. Over the period of time this new genre of literature has evolved as the most interesting and powerful literature to study and analyze for the researchers across the world. The development of resistance literature in these disputed territories has necessitated a questioning of many of the assumptions on which the ‘mainstream meta-narratives’ are based.

The dialectic of place and forceful displacement from their roots and the identity politics are the main themes of the post colonial resistance literature which albeit censorship and restrictions continues to flourish. Agha Shahid Ali, the Kashmir-American poet and Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national poet, are the two seminal voices of two conflict regions, where people remain repressed and oppressed. The two regional poets created such a language in which they bear the burden of people who suffered the geographical dislocation and continues to live in the macabre of violence and political uncertainty.

In the back drop of post colonial writings, ‘resistance poetry or literature focuses on what is suffered and shared by these writers and their people in the neo- colonial world. Ironically it remains politically unacceptable to the countries that actually sought freedom from the colonialism but deny this basic right to others. The contemporary resistance poetry or fiction of Palestine and Kashmir blatantly opposes all sorts of oppression, regardless of boundary or geographical distinction.

In the galaxy of resistance literature Agha Shaid Ali and Mahmoud Darwish emerge the most artistically accomplished and politically compelling poets, who gave us new lyrics of loss and longings of their oppressed people. They use politically motivated metaphors to portray the unfolding tragedies to represent the muzzled collective conscious of their people. Their poetry like other modern English poets is not only of the abstract considerations of love and longing but of personal events conditioned by the political crisis.

Agha Shaid Ali being away from his homeland casts its craft and concern upon histories of loss, longing, injustice and brutality befallen in Kashmir which remains for him an alter ego wherever he lived. He mourns like a nightingale over the lost paradise after the great tragic partition carved out the two arch rivals in the sub- continent. But the territory of Kashmir was turned into the battle field where political egos were fought at the cost of people’s aspirations. The continuous hostility and war mongering politics between the India and Pakistan made it the most dangerous flashpoint for conflict and cultural differences in the region. The territories controlled by India, Pakistan and China have not only divided the Kashmiri population but fractured their identities too.
The status quo in Kashmir might have been the reason for Agha Shahid Ali to identify himself more as an American than an Indian-English poet. For sometime his academic exile in America distanced him from Kashmir but its culture and the post 1990 violent circumstances re-connected him again with his homeland.
On the other hand Mahmoud Darwish is one of the major Palestinian poetic voices, who was forced to leave his village, jailed, and then finally exiled by the Israeli authority because of his open political position unlike Agha Shahid Ali. His entire poetic production deeply probes the location of home, exile and identity crisis in the foreign lands. Being as a pro- active political activist and witnessed the decades of violence he realized that the military machines of occupier is so strong that they can’t be defeated only with bullets. He found his Arabic poetry more powerful than bombs and bullets by narrating the unheard stories of resistance and cultural identity of Palestinians. He firmly believes that only writing back to the oppressor, we can reach out to the word and stop the cultural as well as military aggression of an illegal Jewish state, which is out to erase our identity by bombing and destroying our roots.
His resistance poetry hates war mongering but it gives an expression to the longing and aspiration of the besieged people who want to protect their land and identity. Darwish in one of his poems writes “I am my Language…I am my language. I am words’ writing: Be! Be/ my body/ No land on earth bears me. Only my words…bear me/ this is my language, a necklace of stars around my neck”. The family ofDarwish had a terrible experience of an ethnic cleansing that deeply affected the life of poet when he was just a school going child. From that point of time everything prevented him from finding his lost homeland except in the language of poetry.
The ethnic cleansing of Palestinian in the 1948 which is also called the Nakba in Arabic (catastrophe) by the Western Jewish settlers sow the perennial seeds of hate and horror in the Middle East. From this watershed incident the Israeli-Arab hostility stems from which has so for taken the heavy toll of innocent Palestinians and ransacked the geo politics of the region. The ongoing dispute and the unabated Israeli military onslaught have not only divided Palestinians into the Gaza strip and west Bank colonies but slowly their homeland is disappearing from the world map as the forceful occupation of their land continues.
History is always written by conquerors; hence the necessity for Ali and Darwish to tell the true stories of their people was simply an attempt to invalidate occupation and oppression. The mainstream narratives state that the Palestine was a deserted land, there were no Palestinians and their language was missing. In the case of Kashmir, the reigning all-is-well-theory is tainted with the blood of a hundred thousand Kashmiris.
More than 40,000 widows and thousands of orphans, thousands of women raped and molested, more than 8,000 persons disappeared in the custody of armed forces remain Indian state’s biggest denials.
For Ali and Darwish the location of home, homeliness, identity crisis and exile becomes a part of daily life as a stranger in the foreign lands. Their poetry narrates the resistance of survival and hope that one day the peace and respectful return will herald. The displaced countrymen will again live with dignity and die with honor in their homeland.
There cannot be worst tragedies than Palestine and Kashmir in the modern times, where blood is cheap and lives have been so devalued that these places have become the biggest indictments on the face of democratic world. Ali and Darwish consequently strive to reinstate the harmony between land and poetry by poetically conveying the authentic narratives of their beleaguered homelands. This can be explicitly seen in what is now categorized as the resistance poetry, poetic art that has raised a local tragedy to the universal level.
The author is a blogger and research scholar at the University of Pune