‘Social Media has eliminated gap between literary mafia and public’: In conversation with Rumuz-E-Bekhudi

Reading something unusual, at times, may seem unreal—we think how did they let this pass the radar—because we are all so accustomed to reality and its conventions. 

Yet, in a scenario like Kashmir, if space is named for its unconventionality, it is given the status of nature. 

In those terms, from death to the simplicity of just existing, quantum entanglement theory to haiku poetry, words, language, and sentences are all natural—“innate”, as Chomsky would say. 

When we speak aloud, our words become natural. Why? Because once spoken, words return to nature—because we live in nature and are nature.

The deliberation of words becoming nature is what writers and poets have seen come to life, a time long past. 

While poets like Matsuo Basho are lauded for transforming an authentic but difficult to learn language like Japanese into words that are easy to understand, poets like Geoffrey Chaucer make the universal language of English appear difficult. 

Time and its academicians say it is about subjectivity. But sometimes, it is natural to believe it is all about the scripter and their abilities. 

Rumuz-E-Bekhudi, an articulated and lionized poet of contemporary Kashmir, appears to be part of the natural cabal. 

The way Pak Tujin’s poetry talks about the comfort and peace of nature, or the way W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” talk about the immensity of grief, Rumuz’s poetry gives a contemporary twist to poetics by making it uniquely hers—an amalgamation of the natural, nature, and grief.

Rumuz’s poetry has a gut-wrenching, charming precision to it. It is right to say that her poems appear as sunshine in the middle of a thunderstorm—that even meteorologists err, and everyone still manages to overlook it—because, as her devoted readers so eloquently put it, the thoughts she heaves are devout to the culture and the geographical setting. 

She gives voice to the ideas that permeate the spaces, the thoughts that get tangled up in the voids in our minds.

While negotiating with Ghalib’s poetry as a beloved, the scribbler-of-verses clears the way for the next generation of writers and poets by developing a flexible, modern style sheet for them in a constantly shifting environment— the style sheet based on instincts. 

Using social media as a tool to penetrate and propagate the new scene of writing in Kashmir while competing with internet bards like Atticus and Tyler Gregson, the poetess has a lot happening in her little playground on unfound oblivions. 

In conversation with the interviewer in the perfervid summer of 2022, the poetess talks about her methods of dealing with grief, her dedication towards writing, her acceptance of self, and her hopes for the future.

Interviewer: In the land of Lal Ded and Habba Khatoon, the common refrain remains that almost everyone is a poet. Perhaps, such is the resilient Koshur expression. But then, some people are first among equals. So, is it that drive to be the best bard in town or some other creative condition making you second to none today?

Rumuz: Well, I would say it is belongingness. I believe that the most basic needs of an individual are the need to be seen, the need to be heard, and the need to belong to a specific tribe. Belongingness, out of the three, is the most important, and for me, poetry is that belongingness. To me, it comes naturally because I was raised in a household where everyone else around was associated with music and literature.

In Kashmir, people have a lot of time, which, in my opinion, can either be considered an advantage or a disadvantage. We have a laid-back attitude toward everything, and we live a lazy lifestyle, meaning that we have the luxury of dwelling on beauty, aesthetics, language, etc. One thing I always try to keep in mind is that writing is always about expression and making a space for yourself where you feel like you can reclaim the powerlessness that is absent in the real world. I began writing to overcome a sense of powerlessness, and along this journey, as I progress in my poetic process, it keeps occurring to me that being a representative of the victims empowers me, that representing a larger collective conscience of the place I belong to makes me who I am.

Interviewer: One can imagine an elegiac heart in your poems—that quintessential Kashmiri lament of loss and longing. But probably, what sets you apart is the art and artistry of your expression. So, does it tell us that pain needs polishing to strike chords around? 

Rumuz: It does, but it isn’t always just pain. Look at it this way—we as humans cannot escape the being and its associations. For example, every poem of mine, to me, is a memory externalization. It is like you do not want to be forgotten—a repository, keeping a piece of yourself somewhere. Of course, what we as poets talk about sometimes stems from our personal experiences, the way we feel, and the way things happen to us. But it isn’t just constrained to that. It is also what we witness, our analysis and recording, our understanding of history. It is an organic process that begins on a personal level and broadens as we begin to empathize with the world, and that notion with time demands polishing, just like every other thing in life.

Interviewer: Since poetry is boned with ideas, nerved, and blooded with emotions, is this how contemporary poetry in English is faring in Kashmir?

Rumuz: I subscribe to the idea that poetry exists only to express oneself. But it all depends on what you’re trying to say. Are you trying to say something philosophical, as Noor-u-din Rishi did? Is it a means of expressing feelings, like Lal Ded did? Does it reflect a very rich intellectual heritage, similar to what Rahi and others do? Simply put, you have the tools, and you get to choose how you want to use them.

Now, think about it as a society. If you believe that society is filled with pain and sorrow, people will seek out poems or works that address those emotions. If society is heading towards meaninglessness, literature that is equally meaningless will emerge—this is one of the reasons why Jaun Elia is so relevant today. Poetry is useful; it cannot be reduced to mere emotions. It is a means of expression that is heavily influenced by the culture and atmosphere of the location. This is how it will remain.

Interviewer: How difficult it is to capture the plaintive landscape in its myriad shades and shadows? Is poetic voice or canvas doing justice with the melancholy in mountains? 

Rumuz: A poet is a poet—that should be enough of an explanation. Whatever inspires poets, inspires them and they try to capture that essence of their inspiration in the way it inspired them. This is also why I would love to contest the notion of me being a resistance poet. To me, poetry is a very organic process, and while living in Kashmir, you cannot escape conflict, thus conflict has been a bigger part of my poems. Since I cannot escape culture, it is a part of my writing, because I cannot escape the sensibilities of the place, they are also a part of my writing. This is all to say that, of course, there are different shades of Kashmir, and even if you cannot capture them all at once, you do, however, capture them one by one, and I do feel the poets today are trying their best to do justice to this understanding.

Interviewer: In times like these when nuance is no longer a notion, how does poet in you give voice to the everyday witness and the unfolding anguish?

Rumuz: Initially, I would just write a poem about it—a reaction to everyday witnesses and frustrations (smiles). Now, I let the pain settle, the anguish settle, and I let myself think about the meaning this frustration added to my being. Now, I ferment and season my emotions and frustrations, and then I see what that leads me to. I deal with it with patience and I voice it through a settlement with poetics.

Interviewer: But in the larger lingering cacophony, the human emotions often take a backseat and remain a work in progress. Is this where poets need to chip in?

Rumuz: Let’s start by asking whether poetry is still relevant in the postmodern era. In my opinion, poetry will always be relevant because it fulfills its purpose regardless of how alienated you are from yourself or from society. The fact that we all share the same ancestry is the only thing that unites the entire universe. Poetry always manages to find a way. What would a stream’s response be if you asked it how it got from the glacier to the ocean?

Interviewer: That it found its way…

Rumuz: Right! It finds a way. Poets chip in to guide the stream in the right direction.

Interviewer: But do you believe that the “poet is the priest of the invisible,” as Wallace Stevens once said it, since rhymester in Rumuz is in hiding? The point is, why would such a beloved poet cloak her real identity with a romantic appellation?

Rumuz: Well, these are two different spaces. There are times when people say, “It’s just you; embrace it.”

Perhaps it’s just that you’re not seen and accepted as who you are, and thus for that acceptance you create a safe space for yourself, where you feel you belong, a space for you as a confederate, lover, or beloved. Maybe someday I will come forward with my real identity. Maybe that will be the day I embrace all parts of me. I am not there yet. Until then, I think me and all my abandoned parts are safe in the poetic space that I have created for myself.

Also, at times, I get to act street-smart. I disassociate from one space to be in the other, and that greatly aids in my self-discovery.

Interviewer: Does the pseudonym tell us that the real identity during probing periods is a bane for a poet?

Rumuz: Yes, that’s a given. 

Interviewer: But why “Rumuz-E-Bekhudi”? 

Rumuz: Most people believe it is because I am an Iqbal fan, but this is not the case. I actually like Ghalib. It’s not about his writings or poetic techniques; it’s all about his wit. Nothing, I believe, better describes me than Ghalib. 

Rumuz-E-bekhudi is more than a pen name for me; it is a place where I can reclaim my lost innocence, femininity, and sensuality. It is the space I enter when thinking as a writer of ‘The Secrets of Selflessness.’

Interviewer: Since a poet unzips the veil from beauty, what does it tell us about the versifiers of the vale grappling with the grief—“the food for thought,” as they some of them call it.

Rumuz: I truly think it has more to do with people’s reactions to grief. People won’t let you grieve because they don’t want to see anyone grieving. And the reason is that no one ever taught us how to handle our emotions. We have always been shamed for expressing our feelings. It is definitely food for thought, which is one of the reasons I’m reclaiming my vulnerability. Emotions come like rain, “sag-navan tou-hindis baagas” (watering your garden), the smell of rain— petrichor, the beauty. Do you assess the rainfall? No, right. It is very similar to that, but unlike rain, we face criticism.

Wait, what was your question again… (smiles)

Interviewer: About poets grappling with grief…

Rumuz: Grief is something that many poets write about, but there are two things to consider. One, you should not romanticize it beyond a certain point, and two, you should not catastrophize it. The element of truth is crucial—there is a lot of froth in today’s world but remember that only truth moves forward.

Interviewer: You may be a bookless bard, but then your poems remind many of Shahid—the Bard of Jhelum. The very sense and sensibility make some separate the chaff from grains. But how good is this creative comparison?

Rumuz: What an unfair comparison that is! (laughs) Actually, I haven’t read any Aga Shahid Ali. I haven’t read most of the poets. I don’t mean to sound boastful, but I believe that my USP stems from the fact that I am not an academic, as this has prevented me from competing with many poets and authors. I believe my USP would be that I view things from a very intuitive understanding of everything because so much of the narrative around poetry today is heavily influenced by academia that you lose your authenticity. 

And, again, if this comparison is true, it’ll stick around. So yeah, I haven’t read Aga Shahid Ali. Maybe in a few years I’ll read his works with an intuitive fondness. Again, please understand that I am not trying to sound haughty in this at all.

Interviewer: Alright. So, in contemporary Kashmir where many are using social media to brand themselves as bards, you’re even stepping up as honorary mentor of some of these young poets. What according to you fuels these new-age couplet-writers of Kashmir?

Rumuz: The Kashmiri new-age writers’ outrage at the literary elites serves as fuel for them. Because literature is regarded as elite and associated with a particular class, etc. Social media has essentially eliminated the gap between the literary mafia and the general public by making writing and literature accessible to all. 

Young authors are motivated by the fact that they no longer necessarily need the support of a publishing house in order to be published. They only need to post their content on social media to start getting comments.

Moreover, social media has taken the place of earlier ‘nukads’. Normally, there would be places where people could gather to discuss issues or their creative endeavours. The absence of these gathering places in contemporary society is largely being filled by technology and social media. When viewed holistically, social media is a cultural phenomenon that is fostering a sense of community among writers.

There are additional responses to this that, while being reasons, can also be viewed as negatives. The general attitude of the world in the modern era is one of instant gratification for all people. Something about meaninglessness, instant gratification, instant fame, and capitalism is driving us more toward comfort and laziness and turning us into machines rather than allowing us to connect with our truth. Instant gratification is obviously a subject in this situation.

Interviewer: But at the end of the day, this coming-of-age poetic pack in the virtual world isn’t getting much traction. So, is our inability to go global and cultivate a new reader-base responsible for this logjam?

Rumuz: I will be very specific. This is due to three elements. One flaw is a lack of genuine content. People are resistant to outside influences. Everyone is preoccupied with themselves and wants others to concentrate on what they have written. Look at Rahman Rahi, for example. He has read Abhinavagupta and Oedipus—look at his canvas; a one to which a global audience can relate. 

Two, even if there are genuine works of global influence, there is a lack of translations, a lack of good translators. Whatever translators we had—sorry to say, but they were writers who appropriated a lot of written content to propagate a certain narrative.

The third issue is poor branding and marketing. We’re still using the same templates from decades ago. We’re still stuck in mutual admiration societies, and we need to get out of them.

Interviewer: Lastly, can you share with us a piece of your work that you hold dear to your heart?  

Rumuz: Sure! (hums a song while scrolling through her phone).

You know, one time I was cooking greens (hakh) at home and the thing got burnt, entirely. I did not, however, throw it away. I saved it and had it for dinner later. That day, I realized that no matter how bad something you make yourself is, it is still yours because you made it, and that’s a good reason to like it. (smiles).

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