Displacement and homecoming are inter-reliant. A new aphorism might be coined: ‘where there is a displacement there is a homecoming and where there are both there is unending longing for national-cultural-religious identity’.
Aches of displacement act as a spur to return home, conceived as a lost paradise. This generates a strong wish to regain and reclaim it; past becomes a basic reference point of all creative and intellectual endeavours.
Not surprisingly, all major and dominant narratives and discourses of colonial and postcolonial societies stem from the discursive matrix created out of displacement and homecoming.
In the mind of a displaced person, home appears either as an idea or an image, and sometimes an amalgam of both idea and image. In case home emerges as an image — and that image is usually static and reflective of a fixed moment — it inspires a pure nostalgic feeling of going back to a place which was abandoned at some point of time. It is believed that ‘pure nostalgia’ i.e., insatiable desire to keep relishing the personal past, has magical power to defeat the destructiveness of time experienced at ‘ever-worsening volatile colonial moment’ by bringing that static image back to life.
A static image of home has its own credits and discredits. On one hand, it can exceptionally relieve us of the pangs caused by displacement and on the other it might blur the sense and meaning of living in the present moment. Once a writer is overwhelmed by pure nostalgia, they might feel a strong urge to marshal all their sensual, imaginative and intellectual powers into reviving their lost paradise or pre-colonial, pre-modern moment. Meri Tamam Sarguzisht Khoiy HowoN ki Justaju (My whole story is nothing than a hunt for lost ones) becomes the focus of all kinds of endeavours.
In one way or the other, the fundamentalist and revivalist viewpoint permeated in cultural, political, religious and even in literary discourses — initiated in response to colonial displacements — originates in pure nostalgia. Pure nostalgia inaugurates a drive to revive pure, first, original, primeval abode or one’s Basti. A good part of 20th century Urdu literature is rooted in relishing the reviving lost paradise. Even a poet of postmodern era, Anjum Salimi, a Faisalabad-based Urdu poet seems to have captured the same theme in his following couplet.
On the other hand if home glows in mind as an idea, it stirs another kind of homecoming.
As both the idea and image are formed in mind, they tend to converge. However, they can be discerned as having distinct features in some respects. The image has a strong tendency to stay close to the thing, striving to become a real alternate of the thing and acquiring a static, immovable character. But the idea is inherently dynamic and moveable. A kind of fixity is the dominant feature of the image as opposed to the inherent fluidity of the idea. The idea has strong tendency to break away from the thing paving way for multiplicity of concept of origin or home. The image is arguably a product of imagination while the idea is born out of intellect.
The image of home is expressed in sensual metaphors while the idea of home is manifested in a metaphor of odyssey. Though the idea of home might be also cloaked in nostalgia, its fluidity doesn’t allow it to surrender to any fixed moment of past. In actuality, the idea of home remains in a state of flux, rebuilding, reconstructing and reinterpreting past.
Interestingly, both image and idea of home are kicked off by displacement but the question of whether home will be conceived as an image or idea belongs to the conception of ‘origin’. If home or origin is conceived as a monolith, it will stir a static image. But if home or origin is thought to have a diverse character, it will start off an idea. Though the issue of conception of origin also needs detailed reflection, it can lead the course of present debate astray.
However, suffice to say that the intensity and historicity of the experience of displacement influence the process of configuration of origin.
Going back to the remote and medieval past and locating there and reconstructing thereby national-cultural-religious identity is, to a large extent, an outcome of conceiving home as an idea. In colonial and postcolonial Urdu literature, we find host of concepts of national-cultural-religious identities that might be interpreted as outcome of longing for own home, i.e., homecoming. Hali in his less quoted poem Shikwa-e-Hind (Wailing of India), which is a fair herald of exclusivity of nationalism in Urdu poetry, complains to the land of Hind how its natural climate and its cultural landscape deprived us (Muslims of colonial India) of all essence we used to possess just because of being dwellers of Arab and Ajam.
Instead of Hind, Arab o Ajam begins to appear as the new abode of Urdu writers of late 19th and early 20th centuries which they conceive their first home and origin. So the narrator of Hali’s poem disinherits India, renouncing it as his original home and seeks solace in resorting to the idea of Hijaz reclaiming it as his first ‘home’ along with constructing his religious-cultural-political identity. The idea of Hijaz as the first home of Indian Muslims was emphatically followed by Allama Iqbal in 20th century.
The theme of locating home and longing for it, out of the territory of motherland, is extended in even Urdu poetry of postmodern era. In the following excerpt of a poem of Izhar ul Haq titled Qurtba Mein (In Cordoba), the narrator nostalgically reminisces the golden days of Muslim rule in Andalusia:
In Noon Meem Rashid’s poetry, we come across somehow a different idea of home. Rashid’s narrator seems to reclaim Ajam as his cultural abode with the unflinching hope that sun will rise from Alvand Kuh that will liberate us from colonial exploitations.
The narrator of Majeed Amjad’s poetry travels back to the Indus valley in a bid to retrieve his dispossessed cultural abode. Meeraji in his voyage of homecoming embraces the idea of a remote, mythical Hindustan.
Though these are contrasting identities, they stem from realising the dynamic character of idea of home. No wonder the dynamic spirit of the idea of home has morphed into a clash of ideas of identities that we find in Urdu literature and our society alike. Lastly, one fine point needs to be briefly mentioned. Hali, Iqbal and Rashid seem to be identifying — and looking towards it as liberator — with ‘some centre of power’ out of their motherland, but Majeed Amjad and Meeraji remain stuck to their motherland only reclaim the lost, debauched cultural abode.
This write-up is requested to be read in continuation with Nasir Abbas Nayyar’s essay on Displacement and Literature which appeared in TNS on March 26, 2017.