I am always wary of the ‘intifada factory’ of my hometown appropriating my husband Arshid’s legacy after his death last year. There was a sustained effort after his death to adapt his thoughts, ideas, philosophies, musings, and theories, to the Islamist narrative, which he shared in his regular columns in Kashmir Images and Kashmir Life (local dailies and weeklies), in his capacity as Associate Editor and Consulting Editor, respectively. For many months the half-separatists in the Kashmiri media republished his works selectively, cherry-picking the ones which could be appropriated and used for their Azadi agenda. Anyone being introduced to Arshid Malik’s work for the first time would have taken him for a Kashmiri nationalist vying for the secession of Kashmir from India.
That is so far from the truth, that it is this fight which now takes priority besides the other struggle, a few of us have taken up for freedom from religious bigotry and misogyny in the Valley. Arshid was a Kashmiri through and through, but his identity as a Kashmiri goes far beyond the half-separatists of the intifada factory ever could redefine for us in the future. Born, brought up, living and dying provincially, he had remarkably evolved his identity in his last years to encompass a global one with global concerns.
I didn’t blame him for his provincial outlook in the early years of our marriage, knowing he had never traveled beyond the Banihal Tunnel (it separates the two capitals of the Jammu and Kashmir State of India) for more than a few days or weeks for some coaching classes in his youth and later for business trips related to his work. I had already been living, traveling and working in three states of North India by the time I met him, in lieu of my father’s transferable job and could boast of friends from all Indian and foreign denominations, castes, creeds, and faiths. When I met him, his loss of his best friend and neighbor, a Kashmiri Pandit, to the forced exodus of the community in the early 90s would be the focal point of our dates, when we started going out.
I was on the verge of going abroad for a Human Rights course (courtesy the now famous Civil Society of Kashmir) having already participated in a UN Survey on Children Affected in Armed Conflict when Arshid convinced me of the futility of sitting on seminars panels while discussing Kashmir. He was actually complimenting me for not just my obsessive compulsion of reading books by the dozen, but recounting facts, dates, events from history and urged me to use my experience to write what I knew and had witnessed. Plus, he added, I already had the gift needed to document human rights violations – empathy and objectivity (his words). In hindsight I think he had already sniffed the rise of the Islamist narrative and the presence of the networks of the intifada factory as early as 2001, already a veteran journalist by Kashmiri standards, post 9/11 and knew what I would be up against.
9/11 was the catalyst for me to come out of my stupor of passive reading and accumulating notes, case studies, so I applied to local dailies for column space on women and child rights, education and religious bigotry, my time tutoring orphan children of militants and Punjab Police personnel killed in the Punjab militancy giving me a bird’s eye view now. This brought me to the offices of Kashmir Images in Lambert Lane, a posh hub in the civil lines of Srinagar city and I met him. Our ‘love story’, as our friends and our child calls it, is a topic beyond the scope of this space and maybe someday I might accomplish it, a perfect example of ‘walking the talk’ – writing against the evil practice of dowry, expensive weddings in a capitalist system, the hypocrisy of the middle class and shunning it entirely – at a huge cost of ostracism by the tribal families. Like I said, beyond the scope of this blog post.
But coming back to the appropriation of Arshid’s legacy by the intifada factory, a well-funded, well-organized, trained in the art of misinformation, disinformation, and deception, a globally spread network, well-planned to disseminate its Islamist narrative to whosoever would listen and adapt, I have barely just scratched the surface of what hit our peaceful lives in the mid-80s. We did not know then but storm clouds of jihad were already gathering and Ghazwa-e-Hind had been underway as early as the summer of 1986. It took us decades to uncover the repackaged, concealed, takiya deception of post-9/11 when the world suddenly took notice of Islamo-fascism. It will be a while before we even begin to comprehend the forces at play when the Valley exploded in the autumn of 1989.
Sporadic clashes, mind you, would shatter the calm now and then before the jihad began. News from the Afghan-Soviet war would reach us periodically and sentiments were still high after the eight-year-long bloody Iran-Iraq war (this was before cable TV, Internet, and the mobile phone boom). Stone-pelting was a common sight when the protesters clashed with the police in ‘hide and seek’ games over electricity and water shortage or the occasional India-Pakistan cricket match drama. The First Families of the Valley which had been looting the state treasury for decades were also unpopular, with New Delhi’s US-like interference in meddling in other countries and placing puppet regimes visible in local politics too.
But terms like ethnic-cleansing, custodial deaths, disappearances, rapes, massacres crackdowns, cross-firing, shutdowns, curfews were alien terminology for us pre-1989, the ‘Shadow War’ still at a distant horizon, the inconceivable displacement of ancient neighbors through terror pogroms yet to start. So was the brutal put down of the intifada by Indian security forces starting with the Gowkadal Massacre of 19 January 1990 and continuing to this day with the murder of boys, men and a few women in the resurrected intifada of 2008, 2010 an unbelievable and horrendous reality. Just as the forced migration of his best friend and neighbor in 1990 tore Arshid apart, the Gowkadal Massacre ripped his 15-year-old poet’s soul asunder. His psyche/mind had shut off the trauma of incest (years of sexual abuse by a family member) deep inside his subconscious and these horrendous events triggered a nihilistic disorder in him that would result in 13 unsuccessful suicide attempts with the final one succeeding in December 2016 in an alcohol-induced comatose state, brought on by binge-drinking and compounded by medication pills for insomnia, diabetes, depression, IBS and the final, fatal OTC pills for chest congestion.
He finally got the peace he had longed for since the abuse started at the age of eight and that is why it is remarkable that he not only developed his own theories, philosophies, and opinions but also wrote poems, short stories and was a handyman at home, creating beautiful utility shelves, racks, hangings and even a clay pot fountain for the living room. That is why the wariness of the intifada factory appropriating his legacy reached a pitch as his first death anniversary approached. Always the ‘Keeper’ of his secrets, his fears, his dreams, his violence, both physical and mental, his work, and his stance regarding Kashmir, it goes beyond my wifely duties to safeguard his legacy.
Arshid was a Kashmiri first and foremost. Islamists, moderates take this as an affront because you are supposed to be Muslim first or you are not Muslim enough (read that as the takfiri practice of excommunication) and in Kashmir’s case, you are not Muslim enough if you don’t support the communal Azadi sentiments. This definition of being a Kashmiri is the typical reductionist, postmodernist, Leftist-Islamist alliance response to the years of colonial rule, revising ‘being a Kashmiri’ to inhabiting the former princely kingdom locked in a dispute between two nuclear-powered nations. For Arshid, being a Kashmiri meant living in total harmony with nature, the pristine beauty of the Valley, a gift granted by evolution and quantum physics, letting all forms of life live irrespective of their creed, caste, nature, behavior or faith.
I have Dravidian features and my build is more North Indian, large bones, dusky complexion and a ‘total contrast’ to the famed Kashmiri beauty of Napoleonic courts and the lores of Kabul and Samarkand yesteryears. So for Arshid to have fallen for me – someone possessing “Endian features”, (a derogatory spelling of India signifying its end, the Ghazwa-e-Hind mentioned earlier) –it was already a revelation that he had created his own understanding of beauty. We bonded over books, my collection matching his, but our main bone of contention was not religion, as his closet agnostic/atheist friends and nosey relatives so erroneously assume. By the time we met up he had already traversed the journey from atheism, to Sufi Islam, to radical Islam, to a lapsed Muslim with “Commie” leanings. His vacillation in later life between all these ideologies amused me in our marital life; he loved my tolerance and pure academic curiosity of religions, shorn of all the mullah-priest embellishments, and devoid of cultural additions and the radical messages of violent verses.
We discussed the core messages and values of all – Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and of course the Abrahamic ones, Hagarism, Judaism, and Islam with all its Shia, Sunni sects and schools of thought – my cosmopolitan exposure in my formative years bringing them up in conversations dominated by his Sufi upbringing and devotion to Sufi thought. As an aside, it is very important to make a distinction between Sufi Islam of the Indian kind, a specific hybrid of the Naqshbandi peer/fakirs, the Kashmiri Shaivite influences and the Rishi order. We would cover Zen Buddhism, HazratInayat Khan, VinobhaBhave, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Osho, Jiddu Krishnamurthy, Nanak’s teachings and Kabir’s couplets – all in the space of a few hours. He introduced me to Lal Ded, our Kashmiri mystic poet, HabbaKhatoon, the princess-poetess, and the works of his earliest mentor Agha Shahid Ali, the famous Kashmiri-American poet (incidentally one of the first people to be appropriated by the intifada factory). My Urdu disability gave him the opportunity to read and explain Ghalib, Rumi, and Faiz to me, while I shared my favorites from MunshiPremchand, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, and Mahashweta Devi.
The bone of contention between us was Kashmir’s independence. Having seen first-hand the dependence of the Valley on the highway and air lifelines in the bleak winter months, when snowfall and landslides would cut it off completely from the Indian mainland, New Delhi doling out packages for the development projects, every now and then, clearing of the National Highway taking top priority to enable the scores of trucks bringing in essential commodities or flying them in. I had much more sound arguments against his identity politics and nationalist views. The forced exodus (in my view ethnic cleansing of Pandits), shutting down of cinema halls, the coerced hijab/burqa diktats, with sporadic acid-throwing incidents to underline the threats, the rare pamphlets instructing Sikh women to wear kadas, and the Hindu/Pandit women to wear a bindi so that they could be distinguished from their women counterparts – all these pointed to an Islamic Jihad rather than self-determination.
Having been brought up on the Sunni Muslim Kashmiri identity of the 70s and 80s, which was prevalent on the Kashmir University campus, and percolated down to the schools and colleges and streets, I didn’t make much headway with him until the advent of social media in 2010. In the last six years of his life, a lot of things bulldozed his worldview and perspectives. After having chanced upon Arif Jamal’s Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, I started contacting researchers, authors, writers, journalists, bloggers to authenticate their reports. They comprised of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Afghanis too. Shocked into the realities of Kabul, the 1971 atrocities by the Pakistan Army in Bangladesh in 1971, and the physical realities of ‘Azad Kashmir’ with its changing demographics there, Arshid staggered to keep up with the information pouring in.
I was concerned about his postmodernist heroes like Foucault, Said and Chomsky being battered like that but most eye-opening were the free Anthropology courses available online from Ivy League Universities, ripping apart the “Kashmiri separateness from the Indian fallacy” bit by bit every day. He could still defeat me with logic, a lot of mansplaining and some mental bullying until I was discovered by a Pakistani journalist and offered space in a Pakistani outlet for my liberal views on religion and just about everything South Asian. The response by Pakistani liberals to my blog finally found a chink in his identity politics armor and his myopic, provincial stance broadened as he saw the larger picture, just as I had been telling him for years to step back and view. It took some time for him to sift through the original struggle of repressed Kashmiris reeling under the brutal Dogra regime and their ‘shaalbaaf movement’ (an economic struggle of exploited workers) demanding good governance and the hijacking of that struggle by jihadi elements.
Arshid’s roots went deep, very deep; his Kashmiri tribal loyalties always superseded the independent thoughts, (the only time I would be disappointed in his “wherever the evidence may lead truth” principles). Though he never, ever threw me under the bus in the Kashmiri media, stoically maintaining his dignity as they started smear campaigns against me, after my hijab article went viral and the intifada factory sat up and took notice, yet he never gave up on the independence of his Kashmiri identity. So much for a Sufi approach with its emphasis on “fani” and “fanaa” (extermination of the Self) or as they say in the Rishi order “nothingness” (shunyata).
Ever protective of me, he quietly advised me not to accept the offers to write for local dailies, weeklies and online editions now coming my way, wisely agreeing with my suspicions that they wanted to own me, with the aim of muzzling me. I assured him my boycott of the local media for their selective condemnation and reporting of HRVs would be held indefinitely, though I was opening up to the idea of Jammu-based ones. Perhaps this is what emboldens the intifada factory to blatantly appropriate his writings, dismissing me as a single “insignificant teacher” as their favorite mouthpieces like to call me, knowing I wouldn’t be countering them while they republished my blogs without permission in serious copyright violations. He was astute enough to predict the battle of the narratives on Indian campuses with mudslinging and screaming matches. Not surprising to me, since he had told me about the NSA-Snowden like cases a good decade ago before it unfolded.
Every time I sight a closet intifada factory journalist, embedded in the Left-Liberal circles, of Indian academia, Indian media and Indian intelligentsia, fooling everyone, I recall Arshid’s anecdotes and opinions about the said person and am amused, recalling his enactment of his favourite author, Joseph Heller’s dark humour with a twinge. There is not a month that goes by without seeing the very few ones he respected for their objectivity and journalism ethics succumbing to the lure of majoritarian identity politics. This is why my wariness grows as the intifada factory grows desperate and their rationale for Kashmir’s self-determination gets murkier with shoddy scholarship, outright lies, twisting of the UN resolutions and the imbecile statements of failed politicians of the First Families of Kashmir who spent 70 years looting it since its accession to India and continue to do so.
Arshid’s main legacy is social justice, which he formulated in his beliefs – an amalgamation of Sufi Islam, mixed with concepts of Marxism and classical liberalism. I still get phone calls from people whose lives he touched – young men whom he dissuaded from leaving their parents for better prospects; women with whom he shared the stories of his wife’s courage, spirit, and fortitude (his words) in order to push them towards their personal empowerment; children, nephews, nieces, cousins for whom he was always dear ArshidMaamu, beloved ArshidChachu. He leaves behind broken parents, a devastated sister and a heart-broken buddy in his brother-in-law. I have to keep assuring them that he has left all his kindness, generosity, helpful attitude, rationality and double the humor in our child, it is almost like discovering Arshid’s childhood and youth all over again.
As 13th December approaches, I cement courage enough to go through his writings, his poetry, his stories, his pictures and his stuff to remind me of the long road ahead and the hard struggle to keep his legacy from being appropriated. We often discussed death, never shying away from the only absolute truth in the world; me, always believing I would be the first to go due to a loony fanatic acting out on the threats. I would start leaving parenting instructions for him when he would stop me short by the gleam in his eyes, and a forceful gesture, “Stop! It should be me because I am not strong enough to go on without you. You are the Stoic one between us.”
He equated my dash to mainland Indian for work after the devastating September 2014 floods to the true stories of grit and determination and the resilience of humans portrayed in those Reader’s Digest abridged versions when a person had fallen down a ravine at the end of a hiking trail or was injured and trapped in an avalanche on a mountainside and the other companion goes for help, heart-wrenchingly leaving the other all alone, if somebody enquired about the unusual arrangement. I was supposed to find, build and keep a sanctuary, away from the madness of the Valley and when the time was right, he would follow. It was not to be.
For a man who never learned to swim in his beloved lakes, and canals, and who never had time to go hiking and camping in the alpine mountains he loved so much, he is everywhere in the atmosphere. The minute our plane touches down at Srinagar airport and we breathe in the cool air, be it Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter, his nicotine-deo-talc mixed smell is all around the “fiza” (milieu) and I know his spirit never left Kashmir, his grave kept green and snow-free by loving hands. There are heart-stopping moments when we glimpse someone who looks like him, but then recalling his humor, we have a hearty laugh and walk on, reminiscing about “Daddy” or “Arshee”, me silently vowing he will never be used for propaganda.