Kahani to awara hoti hai. Story is a vagabond…My nani…used to tell me a story in which a girl says to her father, “I love you as much as salt.” My nani didn’t know about King Lear…She belonged to a tradition of storytelling in which space was unbounded and time was fluid; the hero could travel across forests instantly, and ignore borders separating Heaven, Earth, and Hell. Fairy princesses and monkeys spoke classical languages, and trees and birds told stories. This made for a more generous world, and, of course, a more imaginatively vibrant one; and it made the question “What does it mean to be human on this Earth?” a genuinely inclusive one–because the answers had to account for our relations with everything around us. It is because I am an inheritor of this way of thinking and being in which boundaries are always porous, always shifting, that I can accept that there is a grave of a Muslim disciple of Krishna in Brindiban…
~Intizar Hussain, Pakistani (but, earlier in his life, Indian–from Dibai) fiction writer, from an interview with Alok Bhalla in Manoa journal. [The surname can be spelled either Hussain or Husain in English.]
Bhalla–one of several translators of Husain’s work into English–comments during this interview: “The poet-storyteller is both blessed and cursed; he is exiled from Heaven and the courts, but he understands how integrally he is ‘of this Earth’–that is, secular. This seems to be the tradition in which you have been trying to locate yourself. Isn’t that why both the religious fanatics and the ideologically motivated find it difficult to accept you?”
Earth–we are embodied of earth, part of earth, indivisible from our earthliness, and we exist in relation to the things of this earth.
It might be wise to stay mindful of our necessary integration with all things earthly and embodied, to recognize how intricately we are connected. Bhalla, whom I met at this year’s AWP, mentioned that Husain was fundamentally opposed to identity politics; in his generous inclusiveness, he believed that to define oneself under a single identity forces boundary-relationships with others, that tribalism has led to nationalism and thence to genocide in far too many instances of human history.
Naturally that means he had a fraught relationship with Pakistan itself, and–to quite some extent–with Islam [he upheld the notion of Mussalmani]. He was revered enough and diplomatic enough to keep those boundaries porous and those relationships open.
Few of us will ever be as wise.
This lovely issue of Manoa features cover artwork and illustrations by Imram Qureshi, whose work I walked upon at the Met in NYC, roof garden installation, 2013.