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My introductory speech at ZeroBridge Fine Dine, Srinagar - Kashmir

Photo by Syed Shahriyar

18th March, 2018

1:00 PM

Introductory Welcome Speech

Book Launch Ceremony – Zerobridge Fine Dine, Srinagar

“Good Afternoon. I feel extremely honoured and humbled by this gathering of eminent personalities from university faculty, government administration, media and private businesses.

I want to thank all of you for taking your time off from your busy schedules to attend this book launch ceremony.

Your presence means so much to me.

Also, this venue would have been impossible without the continuous support of the organiser, Syed Mujtaba Rizvi, a passionate painting artist, who has been responsible for organising several cultural festivals in the valley including the acclaimed Kashmir Art Quest.

I think I am fortunate enough to be speaking at my book launch ceremony in a place such as Zerobridge. This area, around the banks of Jehlum, seems to be an ideal place for holding cultural venues. I must also admit that the architecture of this café in the form of an ethnic houseboat is quite remarkable.

As a common Srinagarite, this place reminds us of our cultural identity that includes the life in the houseboats, the men in the Shikara catching fish and ferrying passengers.

Our city, Srinagar is called the city of bridges. It is just like a sister city of Venice in South Asia.

A deaf architect built Zerobridge on the banks of Jehlum. This bridge with its feeble pillars might be the most popular of them – maybe because of its unique name. Besides this café, a popular Kashmiri American rock band has been named after the bridge.

In the poem, 'I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight,' Aga Shahid Ali lamented:

From Zero Bridge

a shadow chased by searchlights is running

away to find its body. On the edge

of the Cantonment, where Gupkar Road ends,

it shrinks almost into nothing, is

nothing by Interrogation gates

so it can slip, unseen, into the cells:

Drippings from a suspended burning tire

Are falling on the back of a prisoner,

the naked boy screaming, 'I know nothing.'

When this bridge was renovated all over again in a chaste ethnic design for pedestrian movement, I felt very happy as a common Srinagarite, like countless others, to see Zerobridge getting a heritage status.

It is because this place has given me a strong sense of nostalgia. It occupies an important part of my living memory.

Before the recent reconstruction, I had witnessed small cars and rickshaws traveling on it as a schoolboy, until the government banned traffic, as the bridge developed weaker foundations.

Not much has changed in terms of daily life. I see the same huddle of tourists who pass the army barracks and buy snacks and ice cream at the corner shop, since my schooling years at Burn Hall.

In terms of artistic contributions, I think there was a slow death of cultural venues in the city, at a point in time, for various reasons that were often unknown.

I think we Kashmiris need to understand, once for all, that there is a certain societal importance in artistic spaces. By enhancing the creativity to produce art that can come in various forms, we can acquire certain civic engagements such as today’s gathering.

If more cultural events happen in Srinagar, there will be more dialogue, mutual respect and critique. People will have a chance to rediscover or affirm their cultural attitudes and public discourse will prevail. At the end, we as Kashmiris will have a chance for greater cultural exchanges with the outside world. It is only possible when we fulfill our cultural desires first. For that, social activity in the form of cultural venues is important.

Holding cultural venues should not only be tasked to academic institutions such as colleges and universities. Many responsible and worthy individuals can start this initiative on their own. As a matter of fact, Kashmiri Sufism has inspired many artists in Kashmir.

I think with recent contributions emerging in the city such as music festivals, art exhibitions, poetry sessions and debates, it can be a positive beginning for common Kashmiris.

For people, who might find my name unfamiliar, I should remind you that I had been blogging and writing op-eds on political issues, local and international ones, for several years. Some people in the local social media have called me ‘a noted blogger.’

I have done my postgraduate studies in England and have also worked briefly in United Arab Emirates, before deciding to write long form fiction.

For deciding to go into long form writing, encouragement from certain individuals such as mainstream novelists helps with motivation. This was the case with me as well. When I had a chance to meet Mirza Waheed years back in a coffee shop in Srinagar, who wrote ‘The Collaborator’, he told me that I have a certain flare in my writing. This pat of appreciation worked in a good way for me.

The idea about compiling an anthology came all of a sudden. It was only a few months back, during the completion of my debut novel, when an idea struck me about compiling an anthology of my newspaper columns and unpublished essays that I had preserved in my blog from time to time.

This anthology titled ‘Musings on Global Politics’ is a compilation of my sixty-four selected pieces on recent political issues from all quarters of the globe, including Kashmir.

I think this book would hugely benefit avid readers and university students associated with peace and conflict studies, journalism and liberal arts.

If the readers like my work, I will believe that my social and intellectual responsibility, as an individual, has been fulfilled.

As a Kashmiri, I believe apart from gaining regional insights about cultural and political life, gaining knowledge about happenings around the world has become pivotal for us, in order to become a responsible global citizen.

While writing my debut novel, I had no instructor. I wrote in planned sessions, in random sessions, during the day and during the night.

In between the writing process, I started to realise that in order to write evocative fiction, we need more writing workshops in Kashmir to guide our youth who are interested in writing short stories, poems, screenplays and novels.

Being a voracious reader of non-fiction, I think I am brave enough to conclude that there is certain magic and power in fiction. The whole writing process is often time consuming.

As reading had become a source of happiness to me, often in my solitude years, I think becoming a novelist seemed destined next, apart from being a regular columnist.

As I had developed keen interests in learning about several war zones around the world over the course of time, presenting a plausible history of this reality in a fictional plot seemed suitable as my objective. Basically, the novel writing resulted in unburdening myself in finding the root causes of war.

I wanted to educate myself in the writing process. As now the novel is published, I am ready to take criticism and at the same time if readers enjoy my narrative, I would take that as a befitting compliment.

I have followed a self-publishing route for my recent two releases. I should point out that in self publishing there is a certain freedom in the whole process - from editing, selecting the book trim size, and designing the book cover which I eventually did with my cousins, who run a local graphic designing company.

In terms of duration, it took me around three and a half years to write my novel. Like many writers out there, I also believe in a notion that intensive reading makes a good writer in you.

As a Kashmiri writer, I think my novel fills the gap of a genre having a universal appeal, as it’s a novel not only based on Kashmiri life.

In our daily experience, we have seen many foreign journalists and tourists visiting Kashmir, who have developed keen interests in our social and political problems.

When an Italian art student living in London had a chance to converse with me on social media, she narrated to me that Kashmir, after her travels, made her sentimental and occupied a special place in her heart. It was something, which I found endearing and respectful.

As a writer, who is continuously rediscovering style, I feel that a daily routine and writing about nature, common life, casual events and other observations is incredibly important – whether its fiction or non-fiction.

The reader feedback about my novel until now has been good. I am happy that my friends have found my novel lyrical and my anthology informative.

I will conclude my introductory speech by giving it to Fahad Shah, who has edited an anthology titled ‘Of Occupation & Resistance: Writings From Kashmir’ released in 2013. I read some portions of it and found his selection pensive. He is also an editor of the online portal ‘The Kashmir Walla.’

Thank you for your patient listening.”

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