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By | Syed Safa Chishti

“Aayas bo neerith shoka chaane
Chaerith vucchimay bumay.
Me konthsamay tse loguyo Rumareshun aay
Daay kami dyutnay chhay no pheran ma”

Driven by love I came rushing out
Only to see your eyebrows, arched
Ruma Rishi’s age be yours
May you live long my faithless one,
But tell me, who gives you counsel?
Not once do you look my way

Elucidating the agony of a wrenched heart through the poem above which depicts a deep longing to be beheld by someone, these lines express the tale of an ancient Kashmiri woman’s tormented life who wove the pain of her tragedy within the lyrics of her writings that get seldom reminisced post two and a half centuries of its existence.
Often counted amongst the eminent poetic names like Habbah Khatoon and Lal Ded, the contribution of this popularly known poetess of 18th century known as “Arnimal”, left a noteworthy mark on Kashmiri poetic legacy. Her contributions to the Kashmiri literature have been legendary as mentioned by some Kashmiri writers like Abdul Ahad Azad, who lauded her limited available creation and called her as one of the best female Kashmiri poetess after Habba Khatoon.
Kashmiri historian, poet and writer, Zareef Ahmad Zareef takes us down the lanes of Palhalan in 18th century of ancient Kashmir, the birthplace of Arnimal.
“Arnimal was a chivalrous Hindu Kashmiri girl born in 1737 in a village of Palhalan. Much like Lal Ded and Habba Khatoon, Arnimal’s unhappy family life became the main source of inspiration for her poetry” he says. “Married off in her childhood to Munshi Bhawani Das Kachroo, a Persian scholar in the court of Jumma Khan, the then Afghan Governor of Kashmir, Das was known to abandon his wife within a short passage of time, indulging himself into infidelity within the durbar courtesans” Zareef Ahmad adds.
He narrates how deeply shattered Arnimal became by this rejection. “Through this separation from her husband, Arnimal sought refuge in poetry, aiming simultaneously to win her husband back through her writings. Thus the artistry of a literary genius came into existence”
Like Habba Khatoon, Zareef Ahmad believes that Arnimal’s poetry also draws inspiration from reality. “She highlights the varied emotions flowing from the wounded heart of an agonized woman of the 18th century, revealing the many shades of the society via the embarrassment and taunts she underwent in her parents’ home, evident in her Vatsuns. She spent almost 17 years of her life waiting for Das’s return whilst mixing the passion for her estranged husband with her poetry” he adds.
In the vatsun below, she reveals her heartbroken sentiments that yearned for her husband’s return after Das left her.

“Kar lagan chaen kadam saani aangnay
Sheri hemayo valo
Bo draayas darda chaane parda tsatith
Beyi yitamo lo
Bo hee maal aesus motseyas
Poshi tulo ho valo”

My garden waits for your footstep
Place your foot upon my head
Let me wear your footprint like a crown
In the ache of longing I tore my veil
Will you never return to me?
I was once a wreath of jasmine
I’ve withered now to a blade of grass
Let me wear your footprint like a crown

Arnimal’s tragic life was ceased forever in her poetry; she had marked all her life for her husband to read when she had lived. “Eventually after years of wait, Bhawani Das returned for his wife only to see her dead on the pyre, for cremation” said Zareef Ahmad.

The added tragedy with Arnimal is that post two and a half centuries, today; her poetry is not recorded as a written material and has therefore vanished. Her legacy, as a renowned poetess and being remembered amongst leading female poetesses in Kashmir however holds least records of her documented life history. Her songs and lyrics were however sung by traditional singers/musicians, like Kailash Mehra who gave her voice to songs like “Han Han Cham Lol Chani” and “Aalaw De Tu Sai”. Her fading poems are strived to be kept alive by singers and historians who recite her sufferings and poems in events or small gatherings. These reasons attempting to keep her alive however, over the due course of time conceived some other hypothesis by some critics who put forth there views of her not having existed ever in the history at all.
However, Zareef Ahmad terms these theories “contradictory” on the grounds of Arnimal’s husband’s existence being a known figure as an officer in the Jumma Khan’s court. “The life of Bhawani Das Kachroo being a historian, a poet and appointed at a high position in the Afghani court could not necessarily be something to tamper with. His relation with Arnimal therefore cannot be made up on such grounds by disregarding her writings. The very evidence of her being present is her writing herself. Hence, she was a historic figure”, Zareef Ahmad said.
He pointed out how the conclusions drawn in case of Arnimal’s work could be due to the fact that much of the focus in her writing was based on “what” was being shared from the perspective of a woman who suffered abuse back then rather than “who” the woman was.
The importance of the lyrics written by Arnimal lies in the fact that they reflect the sorrow, sufferings, passions and longings of common women of the valley of Kashmir. For Arnimal to speak of violence and abuse while being embedded in a culture of silence was an admirable and courageous feat.
Though we have limited literature available on Arnimal, but her contribution towards romantic poetry cannot be ignored. The emotional connect of her work with the readers and listeners even today reflect how the then tragedies suffered by women in Kashmir were shockingly relatable to the miseries suffered by the women of today’s era.
According to Zareef Ahmad Zareef this limited content resulted due to “negligence of the previous education specialists” post-independence. Stressing on the significance of “Dar ul Tarjuma” (School of Translation) in such fields he stated, “Earlier exchange of arts linguistically had made it possible for such historic figures and their massive contributions to prevail longer. Like in the case of Habbah Khatoon and Lal Ded where translations of their work were made from Kashmiri into Urdu, Urdu into Farsi and so on, thereby creating a flow and exchange of thoughts and hence the personalities who created them. But due to certain possible lags by our educationalists after partition, possible mismanagement in these forms of arts is one of the reasons of the major contradiction arising in Arnimal’s existence too”
Further accentuating how research based studies necessary on these personalities can evade the confusions that may arise if any, questioning about creators or their creativity, he added “Penning down the penned down work is how history is relocated. Kashmir has a written history of 5500 years where many of our prominent figures have been lost in this history. This is the reason as to why these personalities could not come on to the surface. Scholars and researchers must thereby put efforts forward to conduct their studies on such topics. That’s how Arnimal’s existence too can come to the forefront like Habbah Khatoon and Lad Ded”

“Arni rang gom shraavana heeye Kar yeeye darshun deeye”

I was a summer jasmine, with an ivory glow Without lustre, wan and pale I wait When will he come and show me his face?

Arnimal’s sentiments through her words voiced the sufferings of the suppressed Kashmiri women of 18th century. Her work reminds the current generations about voicing out those miseries endured by women behind closed doors even today. The need to tribute and document the contributions made in Kashmiri literature by such a great poetess can thereby fulfill the greater need to aware the people of Kashmir about pain, longing ness and tragedy suffered by women of the then and today’s era both at the hands of domestic abuse, abandonment and dark realities.

(Translation by Neerja Mattoo from, ‘The Mystic and the Lyric: Four Women Poets from Kashmir’)