Remembering Amin Kamil

Amin Kamil, the poet, the novelist, the researcher, the critic, the organizer, is no more. Yesterday ended a colourful and significant chapter in Kashmir’s cultural history. Gone is a special chapter in the literary history – the great decades long battle of ideas, of perceptions, of sensibilities between giants of Kashmiri literature – Rahi and Kamil intellectual duo is now history.  Without judging in ideological terms, and press for adbi fatwas, at least on aesthetic plane, we could enjoy proceedings of literary exchange between “rival” schools of Kashmiri literature.

As a student of philosophy and literary criticism, I would draw attention to a couple of points on this day when we are shocked by the absence of a grand man of letters.

Our current tragedy – political and cultural – is partly attributable to our amnesia and disowning our best writers. Most of the elderly writers we ignore and leave them to die suffering is a bitter sense of ingratitude from our side. Since how long have we heard Prof. Agha Ashraf and Prof. Rashid Nazki – to name only two important personalities in cultural events? The more age and experience of a person, especially of a man of letters, more visible he should be with time for people to get benefitted from. We have no chairs or mini-chairs in the government devoted to any of our recent or contemporary giants in literature or culture. So much so that we have to look to few centuries back for as if culture is dead, as if no Rahi has come, as if no Kamil has come, as if no mystic poet, no important scholar in any discipline has been produced in last few centuries. New generation has heard something of Sheikh-ul-Alam and Lalded and even they are not being understood because of alienation from language and cultural background of their work – and reads mostly literature of the West. And people are talking about Kashmiri nationalism while all the time they watch the very foundations in language and culture getting eroded. Our tragedy is we have not been able to identify and project our new heroes. For instance we have world class mystic poets that we have never ceased to produce but have not even translated in major languages or even properly introduced to world audience. The most serious scholars here today complain of deliberate veto to their work on part of major organizations that could make the difference.

We are also great leg pullers. Historically conditioned to distrust – and victims of sponsored campaign to instill distrust between people, discredit local voice, and muffle potential “deviants” – we are smart in picking up loopholes, both real and imagined. We have a counter-narrative to all success stories. Genuine people are believed to be products of some behind the scene force, to serve some agenda. Good writers fail to publish or sell works and much of mediocre literature is in libraries. Getting awards is generally perceived to be an art that requires extra-literary skills like better advertizing one’s commodity or pleasing those who have a say in giving awards.

Amin Kamil’s journey is to a significant extent attributable to his own efforts and one can only lament the irony involved in seeking State sponsorship in a corrupt world for a writer who could be much more creative and beneficial to society if he had independent means of livelihood. Only the likes of Iqbal could afford to leave even prestigious professorship to satisfy conscience and be free to express themselves. We are lesser mortals. If likes of Rahi and Kamil were fully supported by community rather than state resources we would perhaps have better works to show to the world and claim our writers without any scruples. In traditional Islamic culture education was not a public sector undertaking in the sense it is today. It was not controlled the way it is today. Scholars did often need some patronage but community or people rather than the State was the real force to direct to nobler higher ends.

We die having this or that grudge against our important literary figures. What a tragedy! When will the day come when we are free to be writers, unmindful of awards or not needing patronage that often comes at great costs to freedom of spirit and creative activity that great literature requires. When will we own our writers as our writers, our conscience keepers? Will we work to create institutional structures and strengthen community spaces to facilitate their growth and development?