Do We Remember Our Literary Ancestors?


WHAT’S the scope of the word “remember”? Are there any limits to it? One may start from the broadest possible connotation of this word: to understand, memorise and know their works and their life.  However, isn’t this too strict and too demanding of an approach?

For convenience and for being realistic, I finally limited the scope of the term “remembering” to just knowing the names of five prominent Kashmiri poets/writers; to my great surprise, most of the people I spoke to couldn’t even name five Kashmiri poets. Can you imagine the height of our ignorance towards our language and literature? This surprise is only augmented by the fact that our younger generation and a good portion of senior citizens are well acquainted with the western writers, urdu poets and poets from other languages in their translations.

There is no harm in reading the writers from other languages and it is in fact a welcome and positive development. However, to ignore or to forget poetic giants and towers of literary light back home is not only disappointing but reflects upon our deformed literary sensitivities.

Why is it important to remember our poets and literary stalwarts?

English may have many takers, and it certainly has, but for regional languages like Kashmiri. If natives don’t take pains and measures to preserve it, to celebrate its literary achievements and to remember those who have contributed to this language and its literature by dedicating their lives, nobody is going to take them forward and they will die a death of their own.

This question of remembering stalwarts has in fact lately boomeranged in the wake of scientific inclination of the present era and the technological dependency thereof. Pursuits like literature and fine arts seem to be the remnants of bygone eras and people don’t think there’s any “utility” in indulging, reviving and resurrecting the literary treasures of the past. To this class of thinkers, let it be briefly reminded that man is not merely a corporeal existence celebrating the captivity of the body. He has intellectual, social and spiritual faculties, whose celebration has equal claim in the affairs of human life, if life in its entirety is to be lived and felt. The wisdom traditions of this repository of literature is also of perennial importance in shaping human civilization and has a definitive role to play in making this world a better place to live.

While we lament the widespread culture of forgetfulness unleashed towards the literary heritage of Kashmir and the outstanding writers of Kashmiri language, we are implicitly bringing home the fact that Kashmiri language and literature deserves attention, remembrance and resurrection not only because it is our mother language and we are love blinded in its appreciation. On the contrary, our language has intrinsic merit and inherent legacy to it, which not only makes its literary heritage rich and complex, but also brings it a place of pride in the league of languages.

Western linguists and philologists like R.C.Temple, G. Greirson, M. A. Stein, Knowles and others who explored the subtleties of Kashmiri language were enchanted by its splendour and its nuanced literary tradition. So we are not mistaken in our claim that Kashmiri language and literature qualifies for revival and resurrection as it is a treasure trove of poetry, literary theories, aesthetics and classy literature in different genres. But shall not the state of affairs make one shriek at the state of apathy we have perpetuated towards our heritage.

Poetess of the stature of Lal Ded being not appreciated and evaluated the way she deserves is but a lingering mark of cultural insensitivity we are witness and a party to. While we cherish reading Sa’adi, his anecdotes and moral precepts, the precise and incisive moral and religious insights of Sheikh Noor Uddin Wali, garbed in his pithy poetic aphorisms, fail to move us, and despite all pomp and show staged around these icons of Kashmir, the seriousness is fleeing the discourse and at times the buzz captures nothing more than their name. Had the wisdom poetry of Lad Ded and Sheikh Noor Uddin, for example, been properly evaluated for and presented to the younger generation, it is no wonder that they would have been as living and  determining elements of our literary, aesthetic and spiritual landscape as Rumi, Iqbal or Ghalib are. The point in question here, it be reminded, is not about these two poets and nor is there anything wrong in reading Iqbal, Rumi or others. These two poets are just the exemplars of the ignorance and forgetfulness we have been talking about and invoking other poets, from other physical and linguistic geographies is only to bring our step-motherly attitude towards our language to the fore.

Till the last century, the Kashmiri poetic horizon was overcast with what is academically known as Sufi/Mystical/Bhakti poetry and in the garden of this tradition have sprouted poets like Mehmood Ghami, Shamas Fqeer, Wahab Khar, Samad Mir, Ahad Zargar and others. Their poetry is witness to the flexure, tenability and an inherent predisposition of Kashmiri language to accommodate and express sense and sensibility of hundred thousand shades and to hold in its bosom, the social, spiritual, religious and metaphysical themes with equal ease and elegance. But that shall not make one presume that Kashmiri language is suitable and apt for spiritual/mystical poetry only or that it is predominantly mystical. The scenario has changed during the past century and the corpus of literature produced in Kashmiri by Mehjoor, Rasul Mir, Amin Kamil, Rehman Rahi, Farooq Nazki, Shahnaz Rashid, Satish Vimal and other literary stalwarts has brought the themes, other than mystical into the corpus of Kashmiri literature. This exercise of thematic flex has brought with it the depiction of socio-political realities, naturalism, romanticism, cultural crusading and more down to earth, mundane, humanistic and real life sensitivities into the fold of Kashmiri literary tradition. But the question may again be asked: are people, the general masses who have any taste for reading and literature, in contact with the contemporary literary landscape and do they benefit or do they cherish the poetic creations of fellow Kashmiris? This is a question that can’t be settled on the basis of statistics drawn from surveys and in fact no such surveys and statistics are available. But the general trend, as referred to above, points to the ebbing of interest and engagement with the native language and the literary tradition thereof. Local authors have this recurrent complaint that books written in Kashmiri do not sell well and people do not show active interest in purchasing/buying these books –  the kind of vigour they show towards English or Urdu literary works. At a time, when people have distanced themselves from Kashmiri script – both reading and writing, we have little hope for the books in vernacular to pick up. With this abandonment of script comes the phenomenon of the decay and the ultimate decay of language itself, something which doesn’t concern us here, but which is an inevitable consequence of the remoteness from our linguistic roots.

The need and necessity for reviving the Kashmiri language and literature and the pathetic state of affairs to this end has been outlined above. Can we do anything to this end? Yes, a lot and like any other phenomenon of transformation, the charity has to begin at home. Let us first wake up to the importance of the preservation and perpetuity of our language and literature and having made a transit through this awakening, let us start with exploration of prominent and more accessible Kashmiri poets. A number of books/handbooks on Kashmiri language and literature have been scrupulously compiled and they are a storehouse not of mere information or data, but wisdom and literary jewels of superior quality.

Cultural academy – which has lately confined itself to closed door seminars has to rethink its working strategy and to produce collections/books which are in accordance with the needs of present day readers, books which take contemporaneity into account without sacrificing the originality and the authenticity of work/author under discussion. If it fails to ensure proliferation of literary sensitivities among masses, to stimulate their interest and to cater to their demands in terms of books or otherwise, it must realise that it is failing to its purpose and not attending to the call that it is obliged to respond to by the very fact of its existence.

It must be also mentioned in passing that institutions and organisations can do fine tuning and improve a thing or two, but the superstructure and the grander edifice has to come organically, growing out of people’s passion and priority and if Kashmiri language, its literary heritage and the attendant phenomenon thereto are not our priority, let we be reminded that world is under no obligation to remember people who don’t remember their own language – the language that forms the golden temple of our cultural ethos and shared intellectual, socio-spiritual and spatio-temporal heritage.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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