Women’s Writing in Kashmir
Very few Kashmiri women writers have published their work in the last two decades. As such the women writers have been absent from the literary history of contemporary Kashmir. This despite the fact that Kashmiri literature is virtually synonymous with the poetry of medieval mystic poets such as Lal Ded, Rupa Bhavani, Habba Khatoon and Arnimal. But Naseem Shifai, Bimla Raina and Sunita Raina are exceptions and are at the forefront of a new wave of women’s writing in Kashmir.
Hanifa Begum, Taj Begum and Shamla Mufti were the first few women who began writing Kashmiri prose in the 1950s. The first published play of Hanifa Begum, Gate Manze Gash didn’t survive, even though it was performed on stage. Mufti played an important role in raising awareness about gender-related issues through the subjects of her plays. Her collection of plays, Aes Lukh (We, the people) was first published in 1977. In the 1990s, Shamla Mufti published her autobiography called Myen Kath (My Story). The title is reminiscent of Kamla Das’s famous autobiography. Mufti’s book gives us an important insight into the mind of a woman who struggled to find her voice in a world of writing dominated largely by men.
Taj Begum Renzu was not just a short story writer but one of Kashmir’s most important political activists. She emerged as a short story writer in the 1950s. Her collection of short stories published in 1968 revolves around issues of gender, social change and cultural transformation. She was also the editor of a Kashmiri weekly newspaper in the 1970s called Koshur Akhbar which had been started by the Cultural Organization.
Atiqa Bano is a senior political and cultural activist of Sopore. Even though she is primarily a cultural activist, she has been involved with Kashmiri literature. She started a Kashmiri weekly called Miraas (Heritage). This was an important and courageous step to have taken in the late 1990s but the weekly lasted only a few issues.
By the 1970s, Kashmiri women were not only writing poetry and short stories but important critical and philosophical essays. Dr Mahfuza Jan is a very important name in Kashmiri literary criticism. She was born on 12 February 1971. She teaches at Kashmir University in Srinagar. She is a new and young writer and has already published three collections of short stories Shinamoen (Snowman), Shihij Vath (The Shaded Path), and Amaarek Chaeng (The Flames of Desire). She has edited with Dr. Afaq Aziz the collected poems of the Kashmiri Sufi poet, Ahmad Batwari. Mahfuza Jan has also edited the collected poems of Shah Qalandar, Wahab Khar and Hasan Driver.
Mahfuza Jan’s stories are about the sexual and social exploitation of women in Kashmiri society. As a short story writer, Mahfuza Jan’s stories are engaging but the endings are somewhat contrived. Two of her better known stories Machar (Madness) and Duniyadaari (Societal Conventions) speak about two women hopelessly caught in a situation where the larger society impinges upon their inner world. In Machar (Madness), two lovers who have had a fight and cannot wait to reconcile are unable to meet because of a curfew. The story reveals how the continuity of Kashmiri lives has been disrupted by the violence in the 1990s.
Hajra Pervez expresses a similar sentiment in her poem, Ba Chas Gamach Syetha Abtar (My state has worsened)
Che Parvaazas chatith zan par
Ba chas gamach syetha abtar
My wings have been clipped
My state has worsened
Sunita Raina was born in 1967 in Dyalgam, Anantnag. She lives in Sahibabad near Delhi. Sunita Raina writes both in Kashmiri and Hindi. She has published many collections of poems. In an interview to The Tribune, Raina once said: “The greatest casualty of the militancy in Kashmir is not just the ethos of amity, but the creativity of people over there.” Raina writes:
Yeth garas manz chaniy bapath aus paarith khas kuth
Tami garaek az daari bar kochan andar haway walo
The house in which you had a special room
Come and see the doors and windows of that house in the street
Or in another of her poems:
Yeti aasi shihul hum raaz panun
Lay aasi panin tae saaz panun
Yeti aasi lasaan andaaz nyerul
Tati gyevzyen phulvain myen ghazal
Where the shade is ours, my friend
Where the tune is ours and the song ours
Where there is uniqueness of style
Only there you should sing my ghazal
Fiza Khatoon is a woman Sufi poet. Fiza Khatoon’s poetry is deeply imbued with Kashmiri traditions of mysticism. Born in 1960 at Parimpura, she published a collection of poems in 2000 called Dard-e-Nai (The Pain Flute). This collection of poem reflects a new trend in Kashmiri poetry- a turn to mysticism after decades of modernist poetry.
Ashqan ashiq karmit matiye
Lutiye deedar hawakhna
Lole chhai lal van tyongal tatiye
Lutiye deedar havakhna
Love’s madness in lovers
Beloved, show me your face
Love throws smoldering embers into my lap
Beloved, show me your face
The other older women writers of Kashmir are Aaisha Mastoor, Abida Ahmed, Feroza Shauq and Zeba Zeenat.
The younger generation of Kashmiri women writers is represented by Rafiqa Bashir, Muneera Fatima, Rakshanda Rashid, Razia Shabnam, Shamima Tabassum, Darakshan Andrabi, Saba Shaheen, Shagufta Nasreen and Sadaf Ghazala.
Rakshanda Rashid was born in 1963 in Tral in Anantnag. She is a librarian and has published a collection of poems called Sadaf. She writes in one of her ghazals:
Wav sontuk taazgi hanzh yeth khabar aamut chu soun
Shaame bronth shabnaman chirkao chu kormut vatan
The spring breeze has come with news of fresh air
From dusk, I am waiting, I have sprinkled its path with dewdrops
Razia Shabnam was born in 1960. Razia Shabnam is from Shopian in Pulwama. In one of her poems she writes:
Baharas sonth kalas kyah chu praran
Phulith aav harud sye kong posh khamosh
Why wait for spring?
The saffron flower has bloomed in autumn
And it is silent
Shamima Tabassum was born in 1972 and is from Patan in Baramulla. She writes in Kashmiri. In a poem she writes:
Khwabas andar chukha che garan khwab myen paeth
Aabas pyethen che wavik pyekar garan chukha
Are you dreaming a dream in your dreams? Just like me, tell me now
Are you writing on water with wind? Just like me, tell me now
Darakshan Andrabi is an MA in Urdu from Kashmir University. She lives in Lal Bazar, Srinagar. Born in 1974, she writes poetry in both Urdu and Kashmiri languages. She has published a collection of poems, Dil Hi Kafir Ho Gaya (My heart, my enemy).
There are also women writers from Jammu writing in Kashmiri like Noor Jehan from Poonch who writes not just in Kashmiri but also in Pahari. She is a living example of the multilingual and multicultural diversity of Kashmir.