By Miran Gulzar
How does one confront the absurd world? It’s a question which many existentialist philosophers have dealt with. Among the many thinkers and writers, Albert Camus came very near to answer this existentialist question in his major philosophical essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”. Written in 1942, Camus argues that we try to find meaning in a world which itself is meaningless, and once we realize that life is pointless, we are compelled to find a point to it anyway.
What if we try and rethink the same question, and ask it to the people of the Kashmir Valley who I suppose are not living but surviving under a strict military presence for many decades. The recent lockdown which was imposed by government of India on 5 August, 2019 and which never ended completely, with many restrictions still to be lifted, the wait for normalcy in such a place is no less than the “Waiting for Godot”. Believed by many critics to be inspired by Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus”, Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot depicts two tramps Estragon and Vladmir engaged in a never-ending wait for a character called Godot, who never comes!
In the context of Kashmir, one can assume Estragon to be a Kashmiri Muslim and Vladmir to be a Kashmiri Pandit, where one is the body and another is the soul, and both are eagerly waiting for the little boy to come and pass the message of Godot: “Mr. Godot told me to tell you he won’t come this evening but surely tomorrow.” The idea of ‘Waiting’ and ‘tomorrow’ is not new to Kashmiri people, not new to a Kashmiri Muslim and not even to a Kashmiri Hindu. In the valley where half-widows and mothers hopelessly wait in limbo for their disappeared husband and children to return, the wait of Kashmiri Pandits in the plains of Jammu to return to their homeland is equally tragic and sad.
Abrogation of the Article 370 was “a desolation called peace” and people were made to believe that a new era awaits them. In reality, the life of people in the valley has come to a standstill where each day repeats itself and each hour melts into another as if it never existed. In this absurd world, time doesn’t exit: it is only one more human, subjective way of trying to impose meaning on the meaningless. Just as characters and the language of the text Waiting for Godot uplifts the sense of nothingness, the everyday life of an ordinary Kashmiri resounds the echo of the remark of Estragon, “Nothing to be done” which translates into Kashmiri as “Karew te keh”. Unfortunately, it has become part of our everyday speech.
While Estragon and Vladimir quite literally do ‘nothing’, they find their own means and ways of passing time in order to wait for the arrival of Godot. And just like them, the Kashmiris too in times of restrictions have found ways to meet each other, to talk, to love, to remember their past, to remember their present, to tie knots at Sufi shrines for their uncertain future, and the most difficult of all, to wait, wait for this madness to be over. These activities might look insignificant to counter the nothingness and meaningless of life around us but this is what our lives have been reduced to and this is the harsh reality that we have accepted. And acceptance is what Camus recommends as the foremost way to confront absurdity around us. It is for him and as it is for many of us an act of resistance to what we have been subjected to.
With waiting comes suffering, as the restrictions that were imposed are eased by administration in bits and pieces like the chunks of bread thrown at a starving animal because nobody treats humans in this manner. Kashmiris don’t just live rather survive each day in search for meaning of a peaceful life as Friedrich Nietzsche writes, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” The increasing time gap from restoration of landline services to the restoration of broken 2G service after 6 month with no 4G internet even after eight months, is the denial of truth to exist and at the same time it is the denial of existence of people as well.
While all of this is happening, the Indian state is diligent in framing and manufacturing the news coming from Kashmir. The repercussions of this are very trivial as the majority living outside J&K is kept in dark about these harsh ground realities. Since the lockdown on 5 August, 2019 to the recent lockdown imposed in March because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the suffering of Kashmiris amid back-to-back lockdown has only increased. The pandemic does not stop India from carrying out its sinister plans from new domicile law to ceasefire violation and the never ending anti-militancy operations, which makes the local life more vulnerable.
Covid-19 pandemic has further shattered the broken economy, mental health crises and an already crumbling education system in Kashmir. With restrictions or no restrictions, a pandemic or no pandemic, any event can make our life instantly meaningless and one has to find new ways to give life meaning. Even now when the doors of mosques and temples are shut, one has to keep finding ways of rolling the rock up to the hill like Sisyphus. Does that make one happy?
Miran Gulzar is a Master’s student of English Language and Literature at the Islamic University of Science and Technology, Kashmir.
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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.