After a gap of thirty years chance has taken me to Srinagar twice this year. The last time it was in March when I went for a viva voce. And this time, again, last week, I chanced to visit Kashmir University again for a National Seminar.
On my last visit I was not happy. I kept comparing the city to what I had seen thirty years ago. Then it was different -- at least in my memory I imagined it as clean and beautiful, its people friendly and warm, its aesthetic natural charms intact. in my mind these charms had grown so much that when I was faced with reality it came as a shock! And then there was that fear in my heart that this is not a safe place to be in.That, too played on my mind. So, altogether, it was not a pleasant trip.
This time, however, there was a difference --perhaps it was all in my mind! There seemed to be pleasant vibes all around. The hosts were friendly, the people on the streets smiled and greeted us wherever we went. There were lots of tourists at the lake. I could not sense any hostility towards outsiders. And, of course, Kashmiri hospitality was at its best. Overall, it was an excellent visit. The host, Prof Aslam, was gracious and attentive. This is his picture!
What bound the various sessions of the seminar was the presence of one of the stalwarts of contemporary theory -- Prof Aijaz Ahmad. Although I have met him before this was the first time I really had a conversation with him and found that there was more to the scholar than just dry academic talk. The man has an interest in poetry too and showed some interest in attending a poetry session in Chandigarh. (I made a mental note to follow this up!)
In this picture here I am standing with Aijaz and the co-host (Dept Head), Altaf Tak --
A visit to the Dal Lake on the last evening, after the seminar ended, concluded the Srinagar experience. What I enjoyed most were the tall Chinar trees. I had my camera handy and wanted to capture the right shade of gold in the leaves but -- although I got lots of pictures -- the right gold remained elusive. Here is a poem written on the Chinar gold:
THE CHINAR GOLD
Because an idea is in my head
I can not stay indoors
I loiter in the chill instead
Awaiting its time to be born.
The sky turns pink behind the clouds
But the spark still won’t flicker on
The dry leaves rustle with words unsaid
But they are words I still cannot own.
The Zabarwan stands motionless and mute
Its head held high atop the sky
The Dal acquires a shimmery sheen
Almost unreal as the hours go by.
A lone shikara glides across the lake
Cracking the glass in a slow-motion drill
A trail of tired ripples in its wake
Against the backdrop of Hari Fort Hill.
Because an idea is in my head
I go berserk looking at the trees ---
The Cedar, the Chinar, the Hazel and its kind
All of them sighing softly in the evening breeze.
The idea hums and buzzes and grows
I can neither gasp nor moan
It forms a body, takes a shape and flows
With a voice, a note, a tone.
AND NOW ---
Eureka, Eureka, I almost bellow ---
No longer do I need to be told
That what I seek so madly high and low
Is nothing but the Chinar Gold.
The orange and the yellow and the rust of the leaves
Touched by the sun’s slanting rays
Filtering through the foliage, reverberating with ease
A golden haze in the autumn days.
I seek this gold, so green, so mellow
The trees a-blaze in a kind of haze,
The late sun, turning green into yellow
Spring into autumn in mysterious ways.
The leaves of the Chinar beckon and call
They rustle and whisper and announce the Fall.
I watch and wait, and know I will find
The idea that has long lingered in my mind.
The gold, the gold, the Chinar Gold
The warm colors of the valley before it gets too cold
The warm colours of the valley, the Chinar Gold!
24 October 2009