The Fugitive Sunshine: Reading Kashmir in an aroma

The more I look, the more I see. The more I read these poems, the more I find to admire.

Poetry has an aroma of the place from where it emerges in the poet’s imaginations. The Fugitive Sunshine smells like a rainbow of emotions. In this collection, there are poems whose fragrance takes you into the gardens of roses and lilies.

And, in there, are poems which smell like death and darkness. These poems stir the soul, and the dreams. Obviously, how does one write poetry in Kashmir and not dream of crying blood on the yellow page!

[… dreams
laced in blood
and handed them unfilled
to their dreamers…

…we saw our bloody dreams
sliced into moments,
 flinging into symbol of time.

We saw our bloody dreams
drifting aimlessly like autumn leaves,
drenching in the dust of time.

We saw our bloody dreams
gasping as we continue to die…]

(All Blood, No Snow – pp 57)

Though there are emotions bleeding yet they beautify the pages like a crimson Chinar on an autumn sunset-sounds like Kashmir, right?

There is a protest in the poet’s chest that has found escape through The Fugitive Sunshine. And these poems should give a heartache to the tyrants. These poems are stitched with the threads of survival.

[…Even as my fragile boats
capsized in tempest,
A bridge of all sorts I still
persist to build
me and life.]

(Keep Going, pp 74.)


Dr Syeda Afshana’s poems, and that is the beauty of it, won’t let you linger in the hopelessness. These poems make one recognise the hypocrisy of emotions, and then gives the reader a hope to shine.

This book carries a magical slant. The poems are arranged in such a way that they connect with each other. They take the reader on a journey from hopeless darkness to the auspicious light: from the humiliation of slavery to the exaltation of freedom.

[…incoherence of minds
malaise of hearts
false affection
selfish sympathy
in conjunction,
under one sky.]

(Trade of Relations, pp 17)

[… I am colorless,
I am happy.]
(Antithesis, pp 116)

And from:
[… Who knows when a wintry sun
that has gone into hiding
behind the mountains,
will come out and
disperse the rays of hope.]
(Broken Idols, pp 80)

[… Sleep in peace ye dead of winter
and pray peace is what I find,
as the cold winds keep to my back
and I leave you all behind.]
(A Pyrrhic Victory, pp 96)

This is Syeda Afshana’s first collection of poetry. All 53 poems in this collection are in free form. The dominant themes that are woven into these poems is conflict, despair, loss, courage and peace. The poet reveals a master of juxtaposition willing to express difficult emotions with courage.

[… I continued
my search for words.
Fears faded slowly.]
(A Dilemma, pp 107)

Poetry, indeed, has always been one of the humanity’s sharpest tools for puncturing the shrink-wrap of silence and oppression. The geography of the poems is set mainly in Kashmir but they appeal to the universal human emotions. Syeda has tried to let the wider audience know about the Kashmir conflict through the universal idea of pain.

I came to know about Syeda’s poetry when I read an essay ‘Poets and Rebels’ in Kashmir Ink (Vol. 3 Issue 22). It was written by one of Syeda’s students. In the essay the writer introduced Dr Syeda Afshana as a ‘Srinagar based lecturer’.

Dr Syeda Afshana is the author of three previously published books:

Freeze Frame (2010), The Backyard of Corpses (2013), Gender Gamut (2015). She is a Senior Assistant Professor in Kashmir University where she teaches in the Media Education and Research Centre. She writes a weekly column Freeze Frame in the daily newspaper Greater Kashmir since the past two decades, is an Alumnus of the International Academy of Leadership, Germany and a visiting fellow at Centre of International Studies, Cambridge.

But most importantly, among the three female poets listed in the essay, she is probably the only one ‘based in Srinagar’ confronted by hartals and curfews on regular basis. Maybe the only one in constant danger of being hit by pellets or bullets because the other two poets are ‘London based’ and ‘US Based’.

I can’t blame the author of that essay for this lame introduction of his teacher. We live in a place where Aga Shahid Ali was ignored and forsaken when he was alive. We live where ‘In Kralwer, Maqbool Shah would compose his poetry under a Chinar. The tree stands still only now surrounded by the stink of a dry latrine.’ (Mehroosh Banday – Kashmir Ink, Vol 3. Issue 17). 

Our poets have the potential to meet the western standard of poetry. Or, even to create their own standard. This is the time where I believe these poets who have confined their poetry in 5 inch screens should come forward and publish their work. The only other poetry collection that know of is by Shifah Masood, a fifteen year old poet who self published her  poetry collection last year.

Among the female poets whose poetry I read and admire on social media are Dhaar Mehak, Shifana Banday, Tamanna Mukhtar, Shaheen Shafique, Aiman Peer, Asma Kirmani, Mariya Mushtaq, Tabeena Wani, Birjais Wani and I believe there are many many others.

I am not against the digital poetry but like Syeda Afshana, Nikita Gill, Lang Leav, Rupi Kour and Ruby Dahl, these poets (who publish on the digital screen) should also try their hand in print. Because poetry has an aroma of the place from where it emerges in the poet’s imaginations, and poems can only be better smelt on paper than on a digital screen.

Note: The piece earlier mentioned Syeda Afshana as the ‘first kashmiri female poet pusblished in the English language’ as claimed by the author. Ather Zia’s collection of poetry, The Frame, was commissioned under a grant by J&K Academy of Languages and Arts in the year 1999 and published in 2000 by JK Publishers, New Delhi. Zia does not claim her book to be the first either. Zia’s book is the first one to be formally published by the Cultural Academy in English.  

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