Shilpa Hak and Ketan Dand, NCR: Kashmiri literature is known for its four poetesses – Lalded, Roopa Bhawani, Habba Khatoon, and Arnimal. The first two are known for devotional poetry – Lalded is in fact one of the patron saints of Kashmir. Habba and Arnimal are renowned for their poetry about human emotions without too much stress on mysticism.
Habba Khatoon developed a class of poetry called Vatchun .She lived in the fourteenth century, and it is said that Arnimal perfected the same genre. The poet Abdul Azad calls Habba’s poetry as the first storey of a house ,and Arnimal’s a more refined second storey, both sharing the same foundation.
Arnimal lived in the eighteenth century during the barbaric rule of the Afghans. Kashmiri Pandit girls were married pre-puberty in those days in an attempt to save them from being forcibly married off to those who could not be refused. Arnimal was thus married very young to Bhawani Das Kachroo, who was a celebrated poet in the Afghan court.
Arnimal was deeply in love with her husband, but he had nothing but disdain for her. In an attempt to win his affections, she learnt the ways of the court, but nothing changed his indifference.
She knew only him as her lover and knew only that they were betrothed. In her small world there was love only for him and therefore found it difficult to fathom the vacuum in which his indifference for her existed. His intransigence only threw more rocks at her already broken heart. Thus ,out of pain ,was born a poetess.
Despite the sea of emotions from which it arose, Arnimal’s poetry is a vivid sketch of emotions mapped to the beauty of nature.It speaks of her unrequited love, fear and hope. Sometimes it speaks of jealousy of the women her husband frequents ,and sometimes of sorrow .
Here she speaks of her yearning –
Arni rang gom, shravan hiye
Kar yiye ,darshun diye
(I was a summer jasmine with an ivory glow ,
Now I wait lacklustre, when will he appear before me ?)
Some of her poetry shows so much devotion ,one wonders whether it’s addressed to a lover, or the Almighty himself –
Mye kari tas kitch poshi maal ta
Chavi na hiy chas myeni dri
(I made garlands of jasmine for him
If only he would manifest himself in these flowers !)
One can find the descriptions of domestic violence in her lines, which showcases a defiance very rare for women in her times. Her soulful rendering of the pain she went through only added lyrical music to her
poetry, perhaps fashioned by welling tears that had no succour, endlessly. Thus, she was able to compose the pain flowing out of her and shape it into a sepulchre of all the love, joy and beauty that lived within her and that flowed for those that wanted to quench their thirst through time.
A famous poet named Kamil tried very hard to prove in the late eighties that Arnimal never existed, reminding one of similar attempts of other scholars to prove that Lalded had later converted to Islam. However, one cannot successfully deny the soil that the saffron grows from, something every Kashmiri knows.
Denying Arnimal’s existence is like denying one’s heritage and ancestry. No matter the extent of efforts TO WASH OFF HER EXISTENCE though, her poetry will be carried forward to generations and generations through oral tradition- like it has survived till now. History is testament that we would have just been glorified hunter-gatherers without our bards.
It is said that Bhawani Das came back to her in the twilight of her life, having had his fill of the pleasures of the court, but by then it was too late. The nightingale of Kashmir left the world without experiencing the love she so much craved.
Let us strive to not be a Bhawani Das to Arnimal’s memory at least. For maybe in our recognition of her beauty in pain, her soul might find solace on a half-moon night over the Dal.