2010 was the year, that was a turning point or a generational shift for the millennial in Kashmir. Growing up in strife-torn country, where violence and death were normalized. That year, I stumbled again on Malcolm X.
The last time I had read about him was in middle school. An abridged biography of the man from Brooklyn New York. That spoke little of this man, an important Muslim voice of the 20th century. And one of the most important Black nationalist activist during the days of civil rights movement in the States.
Over the years, his speeches and his autobiography have had a great influence on my life. Especially, the aspect of decolonizing self from the enormous occupation that is built to make it a part of your life and thinking.
Last year, a brochure was passed around at workplace. To my surprise, Ilyasah Shabaz daughter of the man himself was coming to a conference close by. And obviously, I couldn’t stop myself from not going.
On the day of the conference, I was on a look out. A radar for the X’s daughter. Ilyasah herself is a formidable activist like her other sisters.
I was walking up and down the alleyway, and there she was, the reflection of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Tall like her father, and the words measured and precise. It was overwhelming to just see her there.
Somehow I mustered the courage, while my heart was beating like crazy. I walked up to her, only for others to collect around her. Oh, of course Malcolm X has not only influenced me, but so many people around the world. So I became the photographer for everyone else. Until I had to ask someone to click mine as well.
Her assistant said that time was over, and that she had other engagements for the day. But I had to speak to her. About her father’s influence on my life and on so many youngsters back home. I wanted to tell her, that reading about his life had made me value my own struggle back home. It not only had added a sense of pride to seeking strength in my principles and struggle, but also to not bullshit around facts and pain.To not sugarcoat the pain and oppression, to appease someone, but to say it like you mean it. How his speeches were introduction to public speaking, and taking cues from them before I would deliver a speech at international conferences or university protests.
He taught me how to speak to power.
Anyway, Ilyasah was speaking to her assistant. And I was standing right next to her in the lobby. And she looked at me, and I muttered an awkward “Hello”
Ilyasah: Hello. How are you?
I am fine, I just wanted to talk to you for a minute. If you have time.
I am Faysal, from Kashmir…
Ilyasah: Where’s that? Can you tell me?
Well, it’s a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, and the people have been fighting for their freedom since seven decades.
Ilyasah, giving me a patient listening, nods her head.
Basically, I wanted to tell you how much I have admired your father, and your family’s struggle. (Ilyasah asks her assistant to record my conversation with her)
I wanted to tell you that people across the world, in a corner of the Himalayas have been inspired by your father. And despite years since his martyrdom, he continues to inspire us through his speeches and words. That he still lives in the struggles of the marginalised not just in Kashmir but throughout the world.
I was nervous, and maybe it was a reflex to talk without any inhibitions. Because that man had inspired so much in me.
Ilyasah, shook my hand. And expressed her solidarity with Kashmir and its people.
I bid goodbye to her, as she had to leave for other stuff.
To meet her in those five minutes, was like meeting Malcolm X.