Gowhar Yaqoob

Arts Research

Grant Period: One year and six months

Gowhar Yaqoob is a Srinagar-based independent scholar. She has completed her PhD from the Department of Modern Indian Languages and Literary Studies, University of Delhi. She received a Post-Doctoral Fellowship from the Indian Council of Social Science Research in affiliation with the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She was a fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, from 2015 to 2017, where she worked on the early literary history of the Kashmiri language. Gowhar has extensively written on Kashmiri literature and arts, and has presented papers in various seminars, symposiums and workshops across India.

This grant will enable her to study the ways in which poets and rebels contemplate the question self through idioms of ‘love’ in the current socio-cultural and political context in Kashmir. Looking at the literary and visual culture, and political discourse from 1990 to the present, she aims to map the changes in the idioms of love by focusing on the works of two poets – Agha Shahid Ali and Rahman Rahi, and the videos and images of the rebel Burhan Wani. The plurality of idioms about love depicted in this repertoire of images and poetic expressions, according to Gowhar, are determined historically and culturally. The rationale for the timeline is to show how the tropes of love, having transformed and evolved for centuries, both converge and diverge in the present cultural context in Kashmir. The divergence is manifest in language, symbolism and imagery in expressions and the intervention of technology. Beyond the distinct philosophical and mystical connotations, using love as an analytic category will help Gowhar understand the contemporary cultural history of Kashmir and examine the potential of a rebellious love in subverting, disrupting and dislodging the established tropes that have plagued the discourse on Kashmir.

Gowhar has chosen to focus on the three distinct but interconnected personalities for many reasons. Agha Shahid Ali, who wrote on Kashmir from the outside, interrogates love culturally and introduces a plurality of idioms such as perspective, poetic, religious, and gender-specificity to engage politically with the question of self and selfhood. Rahman Rahi’s poetry is significant in understanding love and self, both as witness and participant, enduring the despair of the 1990s in the changing literary and sociopolitical scenario in Kashmir. Burhan Wani on the other hand, marks a significant moment in the contemporary history of Kashmir. He lived up to the meaning of his name and chose to remain a ‘proof’ in his indulgence with both love and self. He made explicit the claims of his love on freedom and for the landscape he situated himself in, having carved an unprecedented visual idiom of his selfhood through the internet. His death gave way to a pattern in which the circulation of the images of young rebels and protesters killed has played a significant role in exploring the cultural history of love in Kashmir.

By exploring how idioms of love are historically developed and accepted by individuals and communities and how they acquire new meanings when the context changes, Gowhar will study the poetry of Agha Shahid Ali and Rahman Rahi along with the images of Burhan Wani during his lifetime as a rebel leader as well as those that circulated post his death. She will study the ways in which love has been discursively explored in a political culture where the reality is dauntingly dominated by violence and mayhem. One of the pressing questions she will seek answers for is the different languages in which love manifests itself in a tormented place like Kashmir.

In 2015-16, we supported documentary filmmaker and writer Sanjay Kak to put together a book that brought together more than 200 photographs by a select group of photojournalists from Kashmir. The book illuminated the little understood period of the last three decades, challenging the hardened representations of Kashmir in mainstream discourse. While Sanjay focused on the photographic practices and the lives of the photographers, who attempt to connect their own troubled world the universe; Gowhar aims to go beyond the conventional tropes and explore the ways in which the discourse on love in the literary sources and political practices could be employed in reimaging the cultural history of contemporary Kashmir.

The outcome of this project will be an essay and a photo-essay. The Grantee’s deliverables to IFA with the final reports will be this essay and photo-essay. The budget is commensurate with the proposal.

This grant is made possible with support from Titan Company Limited.