Thursday, November 21, 2019



"Jalta huva pul'" or "A bridge on fire" ...A collection of exile poems in Hindi  by Dr. Agnishekhar.
Publisher... Jyotiparv Prakashan.(Mobile no.. 9811721147) , Ghaziabad. Price Rs299/-
Agnishekhar  ( born 1955 ) is a well known Hindi writer and  poet from Kashmir . Apart from being a poet , he  is a mountaineer, public speaker and a  political  thinker representing  a well known organisation of   kashmiri Pandits living in exile   .
Recently  , i read  Agnishekhar's  latest   collection of  Hindi  poems  'Jaltaa huva pul' or 'A bridge on fire'. Before coming to the book  and the poems therein , i need to say something  about the poet Agnishekhar.
Agnishekhar is one of the major contributors to the corpus   of post 1990 exile writings   from Kashmir that added a new dimension to the  contemporary Indian literature. In February 2010, he  was chosen as the  event Coordinator for the  international conference of poets held in Mysore . This conference was  attended by poets,
artists and film makers  from  Iran, Norway, Germany ,Vietnam, Ireland ,  Chile , Austria,Israel, USA , Tibet and many other countries.  In this well attended conference organized by Rati Saxena of KRITYA , Subjects like conflict  survival ,exile consciousness ,human displacement in war and terror   and  loss of culture and identity came up for discussion through poems , letters ,essays and films .
Quite often,  Agnishekhar's  stature as  poet gets overshadowed by his non literary personality ( political ) for which he is more popular and  known . And after reading his poetry,  i have no hesitation to say  that  something that   needs  a broader reach and serious  understanding  is his sharp poetic sensibility . You can not ignore it. The  literary talent   of any Individual  wherever he  be ,  whosoever he be,  invariably attracts  the  attention of lovers of fine arts across all divides.   One  can not  overlook the plethoric  modernism and ensemble of moving  imagery  that he creates  through  his poems. The nostalgia that he weaves  through his poems is instantly owned    by  the people who have suffered .His poems   come from a  heart that is awash in sensitivity  and beats  with  love for the land of his birth .
Through  these  new  exile poems  , Agnishekhar  comes very  close to the poetic sensitivity of  modern   Latin American  and Kurdish  poets. I find him profoundly  influenced by  Mahmoud  Darvish ,Pablo Neruda and Nazim Hikmet.
 Agnishekhar's  previous  published books including   Kissi bhi samay  ( Any time ), Mujh se chheen li gayi meri nadi   ( They snatched my river from me ), Kaal vriksh ki chhaaya mein ( Under the shade of death tree ) ,  Jawahar tunnel,Meri priya  kavitaayen  and  Dozakh  ( A collection of  short stories ) etc. His  poetic collections have  been translated into many    languages of the country  .All these books  have been well received in the literary circles  . He also wrote script for a Bollywood movie 'SHEEN" .
 This new 144 page  book  titled ' Jalta huva pul' has   53 poems  conveying  pain ,anguish, helplessness and  suffering of   people who were forced to leave their motherland.The front cover of this new poetic collection   bears a  popular painting of  noted  artist Veer Munshi . This painting reflects the  pangs and sorrows of Kashmiri Pandits in exile.
From this new poetic collection,  two beautiful  poems are dedicated to Shaivacharya Abhinavgupt of Kashmir.   Some poems are dedicated to individuals like poet Sarvanand Kaul Premi , artist Bansi Parimu, singer Vijay Malla  and   well known Urdu writer Ismat Chugtai. Some poems convey intense feelings with anecdotes relating to   poet's  interaction with people like Gyanpeeth awardee Hindi   poet   Agyeya,  Dr Namavar Singh, Assad Zaidi, Prayag Shukl, Manglesh Dabral, Gyanendrapati, Arun Kamal   and Kedarnath singh .  There is  a poem titled "Peshwar ke shaheed school bachon ke naam" . This poem conveys  poet's  pain and anguish at the killing of 136 innocent school children by armed militants. Very loudly , he  condemns  such inhuman acts through this poem.
The poetic collection under review   begins with an intensely moving poem 'Asthiyon ka yudh'  or 'A war  for immersion of ashes of the  dead '. Let me  eloborate the context and background of this poem  so that it is better understand. There is a centuries    old practice with Kashmiri Pandits  to immerse ashes of their dead family members at Shadipora confluence   in Kashmir , a place where river Vitasta meets Sindh stream. This confluence is known as Prayaag by Kashmiri Pandits. Nilamata Purana makes mention of this sacred place  as under:-
" The wise say that by bathing in the confluence of Sindhu and Vitasta especially on the full moon day of the month of Prausthapada , one obtains the merit of the performance of Ashavmedha ."
(Nilamata Purana  verse 1384 )
After being hounded out from the  valley, many  Kashmiri Pandits continued  this practice by going to Shadipora  even during peak militancy period in spite of  grave risk to their lives. The poet writes:-
" During exile,
consigning ashes of our dead 
to our river ,
was like
a small
This fact
i understood
during the days of explosions ,
when like a thief,
i had to visit  my motherland .
Alas! The ashes  of our
dear ones too have to win a war to get consigned to our rivers "
There is another moving   poem titled "The obituary page of a newspaper" .For the poet , the obituary page of a newspaper  is like  a  reassurance of his physical existence .  Every day  ,when the poet  looks  at the   obituary page  and does not find his name and photograph, he is reassured of his being alive . The poet writes:-
" We were constrained to buy newspapers,
Constrained to see the obituary page .
This is the possible reason ,
When i don't find my name and photograph on page 2 ,
i get the proof of
being alive ."
To those who  smile or use dismissive language on  the plight of Kashmiri Pandits,   the poet  says :-
Smile on those
who ,
in desperation ,
sold their  farmlands,
and ashes of their ancestors.
Now their tattered tents
have changed into old age homes,
Keep smiling  on them."
(From poem 'Yeh Jeevan Hamaara' )
The poet feels that a bridge of tolerance and accommodation existed in his motherland that connected two banks of the river for the last many centuries. And then  suddenly  some people wilfully imported winds that destroyed this bridge. I quote some lines from his poem   'Jalta huva pull'  or 'A bridge on fire':-
" There at that spot,
terror stricken
and looking from the window of his house ,
the poet saw
how centuries are burnt down
should  the bridge  be  burnt and destroyed  .
The officers who arrived  there
were sure
that the fire will not spread beyond the bridge.
One could feel from their eyes that they had decided to construct a new bridge .
They  didn't see
how  the massive pillars at the foundation
were crumbling    into  the river and how supportive wooden planks
had opened up to get scattered."
In another poem titled " Eik Jaanleva Pustak Lokaarpan" , the  poet gives details of the  sentimental  journey  he undertook to his motherland    to offer his poetic collections to river river  Vitasta from Habba Kadal bridge. For this unusual journey, the poet went in disguise  from  his refugee camp  in Jammu  during  the days of peak militancy  .I quote some lines from the poem:-
" I had possibly visited to
get killed and waste my life.
Someone could have recognised me,
And then from the  dark windows
of the deserted houses
that stood lined up on both the banks
of the river ,
just one bullet
could have thrown my body
along with the poetic collection
Into the river below the bridge.
How good it would have been
if i  dissolved  myself like salt
in the silence of the river water .
Delivering my poetic collections
to my river,
i stood there for long
looking  at its  romance .
The poem "19 January:Eik antim raat ki kavita" sends a shiver down the spine. 19th January 1990 night has been a dreadful night for  Kashmiri Pandits when loudspeakers blared loud  in entire kashmir valley with threatening slogans   making Pandits shiver in terror. That night Pandits   were given only two options;  they had  either to join  the Azadi movement or leave Kashmir . Many innocents were already  gunned down before 19th January 1990  . The armed  groups   warned  Pandits about  the fatal  repurcussions   of their delay or avoidance to toe the desired line. With no one standing up for them , Kashmiri Pandits decided to leave everything behind and leave  to save their lives. I quote the poet : -
" For us ,
all of a sudden ,
time and  our heartbeats came to
halt  .
Every person remained stay put,
stay put wherever he was,
and stay put he remains to this day.
My mother froze in terror
in a cold and dark room
hiding her daughters
and daughters in law behind her back.
My father and younger brother
looked from the chinks of the closed window
as they tried to understand
their impending  extirpation and ruin .
Now we have no Shaka Samvat,
we have Vikrami Samvat either,
every year,
wherever we are  scattered,
within or outside the country ,
in cities like Jammu,
Delhi and Bangaluru,
In states like  Maharashtra, Punjab and others,
we remember this day,
the day we were exiled."
‌I recommend this book   to every serious reader of poetry more particularly to people who  have been banished from their motherland . Every exiled person is bound to identify and relate himself with every line of this new poetic collection.

(Avtar Mota)

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