April in Kashmir: Chaucerian or Eliott(ian)?

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By Zubair Nazeer

Geoffrey Chaucer, the 14th century English poet, in his The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales introduces the month of April in the very first line. He writes:
“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour…” (Original Text)
“When April the sweet showers fall
And pierce the drought of March to the root, and all
The veins are bathed in liquor of such power
As brings about the engendering of the flower…”
Chaucer’s perception of April, popular one as well, is the beginning of the period every year after a long and harsh winter. It is the time when spring is finally in the air and motivates actions and desires. It is the time when people are eager to enjoy nature. In the context of Chaucer’s poem, it means the time when people in England set out on a journey to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer is a collection of twenty-four tales of a group of pilgrims on way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. April, in the Chaucerian sense, symbolizes new beginnings and a journey of repentance. This is a medieval presentation of April when the month had much to offer. As we say in Urdu- Fursat- Faraagat ka waqt (time for leisure and comfort).
Kashmir Valley is a place with a harsh winter and April is supposedly meant to represent all such things as symbolized in Chaucer’s April. However, this merely appears to serve representational purposes. The Badamwari Garden on the hills of Koh e Maran is in full bloom in the month of April and marks the arrival of the spring season in the Valley. It is around the same time, schools and colleges open in Kashmir after winter vacations. It is the time of new beginnings.
It is the beginning of new tourism season in the Kashmir Valley and, of late, Ministers of the administration , like pilgrims, pay a visit to the Asia’s largest Tulip garden on the banks of Dal lake to announce the start of this season. It is the time when apple growers with new hopes and desires start work in their orchards. The first activity they perform is well captured in Robert Frost’s poem ‘Mending Wall’. They mend the walls that divide their property and seem to be steeped in tradition that one of the narrators of Frost’s Poem reiterates, “Good fences make good neighbors.” All these manifestations of April/Spring are, what Keats would say, things of beauty which are joy forever (Orginal line of Keats: “A Thing of beauty is a joy forever.”) Spring season in Kashmir is indeed the best season where all her beauty is resplendent before the eyes of all.
However, the administration aims to present and propagate political messages through these things of beauty; through the month of Chaucerian April. There is no problem in Kashmir. People are happy as they are. There are no innocent killings. There are no human rights violations. There are no political problems and issues. Everything is the handiwork of some vested interests. Schools are open; colleges are open, and tourists are arriving. There is peace; absolute peace. This is the picture that the administration would wish to draw about the month of April in Kashmir. However, the picture is not that rosy.
April and its tourism charm is presented as the solution to the problems in the Valley. Chief Minister Mehbooba on 3rd April 2018 said that “The state has gone through an enormous phase of violence. The tourism industry is one magical medicine that can provide a healing touch to the wounds of people.” This was her reaction after some reports of tourists getting injured during clashes emerged. The message conveyed was that there is peace in Kashmir. Attack on any tourist is condemnable. Tourism is, indeed, the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy. Everyone wants it to develop and prosper. Everyone should enjoy spring season and not just tourists. Kashmiris too have a right to enjoy spring season. But, tourism is not the solution to all problems in Kashmir. April in Kashmir does present itself in the Chaucerian sense but partially. The reality of April in Kashmir is different than it may look through its beauty or as presented by the state. April, in Kashmir, has to been seen through the poetry of a different poet.
T.S. Eliot, 20th century English poet, in his The Wasteland introduces the month of April in the very first line. He writes:
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”
Eliot’s poem is divided into five sections and the first part (which opens with the lines- Arpil is the cruelest month….) is titled ‘The Burial of the Dead.’ Interpretation of April as the cruelest month in Eliot’s poem is paradoxical and complex if we keep the whole poem in mind; but simply put, it is in contrast to Chaucer’s upbeat opening. Some critics suggest that Eliot may have deliberately attempted it. Some other critics suggest a different context. These critics suggest that the opening of Eliot’s poem is a reference to a poem by Rupert Brooke ‘The Old Vicarage, Granchester’ 1912 – a poem of childhood memory and the English countryside in spring season. Brooke died in the Aegean in 1915, a young and gifted man in his prime, struck down by war. Eliot adopts the style of Brooke in his poem and contrasts carefree days of childhood with the ones after the devastating First World War. April of Eliot’s is one where there is a sense of fear and uncertainty. It represents devastation caused by the War in which a number of people were killed.
‘April is the cruelest month’, ‘The Burial of the Dead’ and ‘The Wasteland’ represent a picture and feelings which are unfortunately manifested in Kashmir in April and beyond. April arrived in Kashmir in 2018 and on its very first day, sixteen Kashmiris were killed in Shopian- 12 militants and 4 civilians (Greater Kashmir, 1 April 2018). On April 11, 2018, four more young civilians were killed in Khudwani area of Kulgam. All of them were young. Chaucerian April would have seen many among them going to schools and colleges, but they have lost their lives to the conflict. There is the burial of the dead. A number of young Kashmiris are blinded by the use of pellets by the forces and they may never be witness to real Chaucerian April when it arrives in their homeland. April in 2017 was no different in Kashmir. On 8th April 2017, eight innocent youth were killed Budgam during Parliamentary by polls. A day after one more boy was killed in Baroosa Ganderbal. While Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir says there is peace in the Valley; Deputy Chief Minister says-“We have entered into a decisive phase in this war. (April 8, 2018)” Is there peace or we are in the state of war? Innocents don’t get killed during peace. April can’t be Chaucerian during war.
April has seen new flowers blossom in gardens across Kashmir. April has seen young flowers buried in graveyards across Kashmir. In April, schools and colleges are supposed to be open. Since the 1st of April, schools and colleges have opened but for one day. Even on that day, students preferred resistance and protests than lectures. Schools and colleges have been closed as ‘a precautionary measure.’ Apple growers are not only mending their walls, but also mourning the dead. There is despair and loss of hope.
Who doesn’t wish for a Chaucerian April in the Kashmir Valley? Everyone wants April to shape new actions and desires. Everyone wants tourists to arrive and enjoy. Everyone wishes to have peace and stability and no violence and subjugation. April should come and melt the black snow of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA).
Political leadership has failed Kashmir. They have given no hope to the youth. They may try to present Chaucerian April, but it is Eliot’s April in Kashmir.
“…There is a place in the heart of Kashmir and it is known as Srinagar When power seeker approaches it from northern or southern end He make so many promises and sells so many hopes And he easily does say “I will bring an end to pain”
In the midst of pain, Kashmir listens and trusts But soon is made to remember what Browning has said long ago “Just for a handful of silver and a ribbon he left us” To see an end to pain, Kashmir starts to struggle once again….”

(Two stanzas of the writer’s long poem on Kashmir)

—The author teaches Public Policy at the Amity Institute of Public Policy, Amity University, Noida. He can be reached at: zubairmalik.2009@gmail.com.