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Arts & Letters, April 2018

Travelogue Gulmarg in

Travelogue Gulmarg in the winter Apharwat Peak Side street in Pahalgam 22 mer, it is otherwise covered in frost and snow for the rest of the year. Gulmarg has become a world-class ski destination in India. It also offers a couple of options for pony Betaab Valley Jammu-Pahalgam highway rides. The shorter Rs 900 ride, which my mother and I opted for, takes one to the gondola ticket house. The gondola climbs up to Phase 1, which is midway to Apharwat Peak, or up to Phase 2 at the peak itself, which offers one a panoramic view of Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth-highest mountain, on a clear day. The longer Rs 1,200 ride takes one past several scenic spots to Phase 1. But don’t be misled to think these prices are set in stone. Those with a healthy dose of patience and excellent bargaining skills can get this price down to Rs 400. The next morning, on November 29, as we prepared to leave for Pahalgam, we received news of our Jammu-Kolkata return train on November 30 being cancelled due to the maintenance work. No worries, though, as the organizers ensured us they would look into other options. En route to Pahalgam, we passed a couple of film locations of Haider: Martand Sun Temple, where the song “Bismil” was filmed, and a bridge on the Jhelum River. We also made a short stop at the Pampore field, India’s largest, and the world’s third-largest, producer of pure saffron. We made a second stop at an apple garden where I took my first sip of fresh Kashmiri apple juice. Pahalgam is a small town in the midst of a mountain valley. No snow, only the dusty, half-dead look of winter. Rows of mini Kashmir flags, strung together on a thread, criss-cross its center street overhead. A small market town lies a couple of kilometres down the road. The Pahalgam locals keep ponies and horses tied up outside during the day for guides to take tourists up the mountain slopes. On arrival, we dropped off our luggage at the hotel and took a car to tour Aru Valley and Betaab Valley. As the bus was ill-equipped to travel the narrow mountain road, we switched to two nine-seater vehicles. What spectacular scenery! Mountains, each higher than the other, some covered in snow, others rocky, but with snowy peaks! At Aru we stopped, clambered over the snow, climbed down a slope to the stream, and snapped photos on top of a small stone fence held up with wire. Safety tip: Walk down the center to avoid stepping into the wires! Later on the road at Betaab, we faced some traffic, that of a horde of sheep blocking the way. After some manoeuvring though, we managed to pass through them. The following morning, the group had the option to take a Rs 1,000 pony ride to Baisaran Valley, also called Little Switzerland, but most declined or ventured out on their own, haggling for their own rates. My mother and I, with a friend we met on our tour, did the latter, heading toward Baisaran on our own. She opted for a pony ride at Rs 400, while we trekked up the mountain. For the next hour or so, we climbed at least 1,000 feet while passing pine forests and a tiny stream where we drank our fill. On stepping into Baisaran, we were mesmerized with the surrounding beauty of the mountains. No snow here either. Only warm sunshine and green grass. After a few hours spent idling and snapping photos, we headed back. After dinner, we packed as we would leave Pahalgam before sunrise the next day. The commute to Jammu was long and we arrived in the afternoon. Nonetheless, the scenery en route did not disappoint: Endless rocky mountains, a turquoise stream, and a few more tunnels. At Jammu Tawa, our train finally left around 11pm that night. And again, with the ongoing maintenance work, we arrived in Kolkata 12 hours late, two days later, in the dead of night. My experience in the “City of Joy” is minimal. The next morning, after traversing traffic to find a small hideaway restaurant for brunch, then stopping at a small roadside sweetshop to buy a box of Kolkata’r mishti – alas, no roshogolla, their supply had run out! – my mother and I returned to the hotel as our bus would leave for Dhaka at noon. Barely getting on in time, we left the city and headed back home, arriving early next day.• ARTS & LETTERS SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2018 | DHAKA TRIBUNE

Poetry Just for poetry Sunil Gangopadhyay (Translated by Arunava Sinha) Just for poetry, this life, just for Poetry this play, just for poetry, alone on a cold day Traversing the earth, just for poetry A flash of a tranquil, wide-eyed face Just for poetry are you a woman, just For poetry so much bloodshed, these cyclonic depressions Just for poetry am I tempted to live longer Live a life of regret like human beings, just for poetry Have I disdained immortality The square Mahmood Sadaat Ruhul Shadowing hordes of inundated, Haggling towers to the ground, Peeking for piecemeal, Liberated of the bugle’s sound. Entertaining drowsy unwashed steps, Corrugated, Still, One for the supine laid across its unextraordinary expanse watched by extraordinary men. Dead end Sayeeda T Ahmad Boots clapping at the stone, Fountains binding speech, Tremulous artists spill their Odes to joy at every interval Nailing The involuntary to testify. After twenty years, how could you forget me, forget the painting of the pumas dancing a quadrille on our bedroom wall, and the mica hanging from our ceiling? When you wouldn’t let me fiddle with the buttons of your suit that evening, I should have known the project deadline had passed, and you were headed for early retirement. I wanted to waltz but dozed off after a slice of your chocolate chip cheesecake, awoke to find the folded note beside my pillow and you were gone. Not until the funeral did I realize you stopped gazing at the ginger mole on my sun-burned face days before you sailed for Bermuda. Lustre, Ruptured, Split, Shimmering, Fulgurating Bottled mirth. Red eyed, Bubbling. Infinitely malleable in our chains. Unquiet at the rocks of dawn. .......... Treasured by foreign lands Muted, molded by unyielding hands, The battalion of limbs yearns to shake the shackles. From page 3 As we are now nurtured considerably on a diet of literatures from the different continents, we tend to latch onto European and American critical perspectives while evaluating our fiction. Judging from such perspectives, it is possible to find traces of existentialism, magic realism and even postmodernism in Shahidul Zahir’s works. In a couple of interviews, he made his admiration for Central and South American fiction known, and that lent color to the argument that he was heavily influenced by the Hispanic masters. But one wonders if Shahidul Zahir could become the writer that he was unless he had a deep understanding of the characteristic features of our society that is still largely agrarian and could go into the deeper levels of our culture. A cursory look at his works is enough to see that he could freely dig into the legends, myths and rumors circulating in a peasant milieu and draw on those with wonderful effects. He has brilliantly captured some attitudes and ideas germane to the collective life people live in our villages or even when they migrate to towns in groups. He has recounted in his inimitable way the same DHAKA TRIBUNE | SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2018 ARTS & LETTERS kind of stories that people here have been telling for ages while shooting the breeze under the banyan trees, in the bazaars and at the nearby tea-stalls – stories that spread like wildfire and sway a whole neighborhood as soon as they are told. Though grounded in concrete realities, his narratives freely move in all the temporal spaces and embrace the bizarre and the fantastic side by side with what is manifestly solemn and tragic. His style has much in common with the narrative mode characteristic of our oral tradition. The indigenous mode of story-telling that was superseded by the new European form of novel writing after Bankim Chandra Chatterjee had modelled his Durgeshnandini (1865) on the English novel, particularly on Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, and thus brought a paradigm shift, might have found an outlet in Shahidul Zahir’s works. Shahidul Zahir was constantly honing his craft and searching for ever new language of fiction, but his ceaseless search was cut short when he was poised for greater undertakings. The works he has left behind, however, are of immense value and are likely to have an enduring appeal. • 23

Issue 87 / April 2018