In the 2nd part of the interaction, Ravi Dhar talks about his first attempt at writing a novel, and the a place call Kashmir and its culture and influence on the recent history.
Excerpts from an interaction with Rajesh Prothi
What kind of literature appeals to you?
Books on psychology, religion and mysticism, apart from fiction and poetry are part of my reading list. I also enjoy reading books on science and technology. I believe nothing in the world of knowledge is too complex for man not to enjoy it. If it does not happen so, it is because of inappropriate communication strategies. I remember to have read a book on Statistics cover to cover in a matter of six hours all because of its racy narrative.
What inspired you to write your first novel?
Before coming out with my first novel, I had been writing poetry. The art of poetry is the art of building symbols and metaphors. Many of these metaphors are at times very personal and private, challenging the comprehension of the readers. Novel, on the other hand, is a narrative medium. The metonymic representation of reality in the novel prevails over the metaphor. Not that the metaphor is absent in it. But that the metaphor reveals itself as the metonymy unfolds. This allows the novelist to enlarge the canvas of his artistic representation and make it come close to everyday reality. As I wished to attempt a detailed exposition of the theme of regeneration of life in the given circumstances of my life and times, I had the urge to come out with my first novel. But, here again there was a challenge, a challenge posed by the times in which we live. Being preoccupied with my professional duties, I had scarcely the time to attempt a full-scale novel. So, I decided to break the movement of the action into three stages, with each stage yielding a novel, and together giving birth to a trilogy.
You mentioned birth of trilogy. Are you indicating more novels in the offering extension of the same story line?
As I said earlier, Orphans of the Storm, is only the first novel in the trilogy that I have in mind. The story so far has captured only the first movement of the narrative spread out over the three novels. My second novel, tentatively titled Wings of Wrath, will be revealing the mystery shrouding the disappearance of Rattan Lal in the first novel and the maturation of the chief protagonist, Siddhartha, into The Buddha. The narratives concerning the two will coalesce towards the end to pave the way for the action of the third novel, tentatively titled Return of the Native. How this will unfold is something that the readers can look forward to in the two forthcoming novels.
This is not for the first time that Kashmir had to go though testing times. What is your take on this situation in the Valley?.
Philosophically speaking, the sites of Peace are also the sites of the most intense contestation between Good and Evil. This is because the world was conceived in infinite pairs of opposite identities out of Shunya, the Nihil. To wish for one without the other is a childish fancy. The two will always co-exist. The question arises, is there no way out then? Yes, there is. And it is through transformation of consciousness, from a dualistic one to Two-in-One consciousness, or what I call zero-consciousness. Once this transformation takes place, one realizes the futility of confrontation and the need for complementation.
Kashmir has been the seat of spiritual wisdom for ages. Despite the change in the religious demographics of the valley, the spiritual tradition has remained unharmed and preserved in the Rishi tradition of the Sufi saints who have blessed this land. But, at the popular level, the conflict between the opposing forces has played out with the scales tilted in favour of those seeking to paint the valley green since the thirteenth century. A correction is inevitable. For Nature abhors imbalance or else all will be plunged into mayhem and destruction. My novel looks forward to this reconciliatory regeneration, the epiphany so to say of life in the valley.
Kashmir has always been connected with Sufism. Do you align with this thought process?
As I said, Kashmir has been the seat of mystic wisdom since times immemorial. But, as the political history has witnessed upheavals, the dominant religion too has seen changes. Though born into different religious denominations, the mystics have always spoken with one voice of the True and the Absolute One. The people have of course always been limited by their religious symbols and rituals. So, even when the mystics have reiterated the same Truth, people have chosen to read the attestation of their individual faiths in their revelations and pronouncements. At times it has gone to such ridiculous limits as to see the legitimization of a scholar’s faith in the pronouncements of a mystic of another faith. Far from legitimizing the beliefs of one particular faith the mystics have always been preoccupied with stating and restating the Truth as experienced by them. The Sufi tradition in Kashmir has been a part of this uninterrupted Great Mystic Tradition of Kashmir.
Kashmir has had its share of writers, did any one of them is in your list of favourites?
I must confess that having left home at the tender age of ten I have not been much in touch with the literature produced in the valley except the one written in English and the folklore to which I was introduced by my mother. Also, in school, we were encouraged to reconnect with our respective ethnic cultures through learning songs and other creative forms of our cultures. As a result, I developed liking for the poetry of Rasool Mir, Mehjoor, Lal Ded, and Habba Khatoon. At this point I would like to mention Salman Rushdie, whose literary style has fascinated me. I have liked in particular his art of breaking the English syntax and experimentation with English lexicon. Both find expression in my literary style too.
For over two decades you have been preoccupied with the teaching profession. What has been your motivation and your high and low points?
I have been fortunate enough to have been blessed with some wonderful teachers in my School and College. Whatever little I have achieved in my life has been due primarily to their mentorship. Had I not gone to Sainik School Nagrota, I may never have become a thinking being that I am and may have led my life as a part of the crowd which lives by structures of belief and thought already laid down. Having seen for myself the singular role played by teachers in my life, I could not have chosen any profession other than the teaching profession. In fact, it isn’t a profession; it is a mission. And so is writing. Both strive to make a difference to the intellectual and/or imaginative frames of reference of the world.
I first realized the significance of being a teacher in North-East India, where I spent six early years of my career. Even at the height of militancy in that region, the safest person was always a teacher. I recall an incident that happened in Kohima. I was in a Jeep driven by a Nepali. All on a sudden, an Angami Naga waved the driver to stop. As the Jeep came to a halt he hopped in right next to me without caring to seek my permission to get in, and barked an order to the driver to take him to a point near the War Cemetery. The driver was too scared to protest. And for a moment I too was shaken. Then he looked me up and asked what I did in Nagaland. I said in a very flat voice, ‘I am a teacher in the university.’ No sooner had I said it than the man turned all honey and milk. He went on and on to beg my forgiveness for his rude behaviour. He thanked me for all the pains I was taking to teach the Naga students. And at the very next bus stop, he got down apologizing yet again.
In similar circumstances in the Punjab I had a different kind of experience. I had only recently joined the university at Ludhiana. Though militancy in Punjab had by then been contained, it had not as yet been exterminated. I had just then completed teaching my first Semester and was in the process of evaluating the students. It was early morning and I was alone in my room. My roommate had not as yet arrived. I was busy reading something, when I sensed approaching footsteps. I dismissed the sound as being made perhaps by a peon or a student passing by. Then all on a sudden, all was quiet. But, I could feel a presence towering over me. I looked up. He stood right in front of my table. A young handsome Sikh with a flowing beard and a blue turban. He fished out a revolver from his pocket even as he pulled a chair to lounge himself in. I looked at him unperturbed. Years of teaching in the strife-torn North-East had taught me patience and calm-headedness. I asked him if I could help him. He said that in one of my classes I had a boy who was a part of their Jathebandi. He wanted me to take care of him as he had not been able to study much due to his pre-occupation with their activities. I asked him if that was all that he had come for and he said, ‘Yes’. I asked him that if he did not feel that a student should have confidence in his teacher to discuss his problems with him. At this he first stiffened and then he relaxed, saying ‘No no, he didn’t ask me to talk with you. One day, he was sharing with us all how he had happened to neglect his studies because of the work of the Jathebandi. Hearing this, I thought of approaching his teachers.’ Saying this, he left.
Given a chance, what would you like to reverse in the history of Kashmir?
I would definitely like to reverse the exodus of Kashmiri Pundits from Kashmir. From my interaction with the people during the two visits I have made during this period, I gathered that even the common folk in Kashmir would like the Pundits to return. The problem is that the history of Kashmir has been a prisoner of the political class which has thrived over the instability in the region. It is these vested interests who do not want things to settle down. As long as the pot keeps boiling they are assured their pound of flesh. So, they resort to both coercion and disinformation to seduce the common folk into following them.
What do you think should happen to preserve Kashmiriat?
The supremacy of the non-sectarian Rishi/Sufi tradition alone can restore Kashmiriat. In it alone lie the seeds of peace and communal amity in the valley. And this is a homegrown tradition that has been nurtured by centuries of non-denominational mystic wisdom.