THERE’S a pervasive but damaging tendency characterising human behaviour universally; those who should have inspired the realms of thought and action are oftentimes placed too close to divinity. In so doing, they are removed so farther away from the human realm – the realm they essentially belong to, that they cease to be the sources of inspiration and guidance for our lives and are instead transformed into quasi-divine characters befitting only unlimited awe and unqualified reverence. It has been said, not in a jest, that to kill an idea or individual, it is enough to sacralise it, for sacralisation creates a psychological chasm whereby mortal humans, with all their contingencies, find it difficult to imitate the idea or individual under discussion. This is one – an important one, but not the sole reason that Sheikh Ul Aalam Sheikh Noor UD DIN Wali is not only escaping our discourse and the ideological horizon, but has somehow ceased to play the catalytic role in our cultural construction and the definition of our mores it earlier used to play and the role it successfully played for centuries of our history. Lall’e Vak (The Vaks of Lalleshwari) and Sheikh Shruki (The sayings of Sheikh Ul Aalam) were emblematic of our socio-cultural identity and were the warp and woof from which was derived the fabric of our existence as people and nation. This happened long before the compilation and codification of their wisdom poetry at the hands of experts and scholars. The rich and nuanced oral tradition had made them to float in the air, to permeate the very pores of our being and shape our collective consciousness. There are a number of reasons that have lately separated us from the world and wisdom of Sheikh and there are equally more reasons to reclaim his legacy and to rediscover his wisdom for contemporary times and this is what shall concern us here.
Sheikh is not a poet in the ordinary sense of the word, whose sole ministry is to juggle words or to speak of abstractions and imaginary worlds removed from mundane human existence. He is rather the poet of life, of the various facets accompanying our terrestrial sojourn, of the different social, psychological and spiritual vexations that accompany each of us and that posit us like twigs against the tornados of time. In each of these affairs of human life, his insights are neither superficial nor abstract, they are rather firmly rooted in reality and accompanied with wisdom and insight that is characteristic of life lived to its full and the sagely character which inspires to face the worldly tribulations in high spirit and looking for light even in the darkest recess of life. While we are witnessing our shelves and minds flooded with “self-help” books and the market filled with “life-coaches”, who more than often turn out to be failures in their personal lives, it is unfortunate to ignore and forget and look past somebody like Sheikh, who not only bestowed us with his doctrinal nuggets, but demonstrated to us a praxis of inspiring order. What has just been said might appear trivial or unworthy of mention, but that only reflects our poor sense of reflection and reveals to us the ease with which we approach the most pressing concerns of our life or let them glossed over by ignorance, indifference and artificiality. Sheikh and his poetry arbitrates our socio-religious realm and he, in the long history of our cultural evolution, stands tall as master definer and the grand designer of our religious sensitivities, cultural aspirations and social propensities. It is true that society or culture is neither the creation of a single individual nor do they sustain at the behest of individual characters, but the rationalisation of social mores, the theoretic preservation of cultural norms and awakening of people to their socio-cultural consciousness is often the task of individuals and poets and artists play a role in this process of promulgation more than anybody else. It is thus no wonder that the English world immediately reminds us of Shakespeare, the Persian world of Rumi and Sa’adi, the world of Urdu flashing before our eyes Iqbal and Ghalib and for other cultures and languages alike. It is thus indispensable and inevitable that any attempt at our cultural rediscovery, social reconstruction and historical recollection has to recount Sheikh among its pioneers. In this era – the era that sociologists and philosophers define as the era of identities, no better understanding of Kashmiri identity is possible in absence of the proper understanding and revaluation of Sheikh. In fact, the readers might have already witnessed the fact that when people today associate an idea or ideology with Kashmir, they take care to trace it back to Sheikh or his likes. Any cultural or ideological construct is tried, to the best of options available; to be supplemented and attested by the couplets of Sheikh and the practice itself bears witness to his pivotal character in almost all the aspects surrounding Kashmir – from Politics to Spirituality. This statement is no anti-thesis to what we have said above that Sheikh has ceased to be a defining factor of our discourse for the difference lies in prospective application and retrospective appropriation.
The local reasons calling for the revival of Sheikh and his poetry can be stretched beyond what has been said above, but there are global and universal elements to his poetry adding to his contemporaneity and justifying his recast. If the Nichomachean Ethics by Aristotle, The Republic by Plato or the Gulistan of Sa’adi qualify reading, revaluation, discussion and scholarly engagement, so do Sheikh and his works. His poetry, in a single sweep, covers the metaphysical loftiness, the religious sympathy, the ethical injunctions, the environmental consciousness, theological discussions and call to truth, universal justice and the beauty that permeates the whole of existence. Seers, sages and poets like him aren’t a regional or national possession, but they instead belong to the whole of mankind and deserve to be read and evaluated trans-nationally. But there are a number of factors hampering the access of local and global readership to the message of Sheikh – linguistic, historical, scholarly and political too. One doesn’t know of any coherent and comprehensive English rendering of Sheikh’s kalam except the earlier “Alchemy of Light” by G.N. Adfar and the latest “Nund” by Shafi Shauq. The lack of thorough English translation for decades and centuries tells upon the culture of indifference perpetuated throughout the ages towards these towers of light and wisdom. A thoroughgoing biography, situating Sheikh in his historical and social context and sifting the veil of hagiography from the kernel of history is still waiting.
Television and radio could have played a catalytic role in bringing Sheikh and his importance back to our discourse but that obviously seems not to be a part of their mandate and mission. University could have not only produced quality literature but should have produced some quality documentaries in sync with the ideas and idioms of modern times, but that too seems to be too big a dream. Documentaries are gaining so much popularity and have proven useful as a means of disseminating information and generating interest in a particular subject. Same is true of podcasts and other digital audio visual means of depiction, but as a matter of misfortune, these avenues haven’t been tried in expanding the understanding and expanding the reception of Sheikh. The young, affluent in technology and means of modern day communication can always harness the wisdom and information available with our elderly scholars and Sheikh Ul Aalam experts to create an archive of information and stir the stagnant airs of discussion and discourse. Translations have to be made easy, accessible and multi-lingual in any attempt to globalise the life and teachings of Sheikh and this task is something which is both incumbent upon the Kashmiri folks men and scholars and this is the task that is in continuum with the preservation of Kashmiri language, literature and culture.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author is a Srinagar based columnist
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