My father is well known for his pioneering work in poetry, literature, education and fight against social evils and nepotism. November 30, 1999, was the day when he left this world after a brief illness at home. Up to his death he was as agile as ever and making people smile. Many people do not know that his real name was Ghulam Mohi-Ud-Din Khan. As a young child he visited a hakeem sahib for severe respiratory infection. Along with other advices, he was given the ill advice of using a hookah to get the sputum out. After years of use, he gave it up in his late fifties with his sheer will power. Anyway, the hakeem sahib misheard his name and wrote Khizer Muhammed. When decades later he began writing humorous poetry in Kashmiri language, other poets gave him his pen name, Khazir Maghribi.
There were many dimensions to my father. I hope I will be able to cover all. Born in a humble family at Chotta Bazar, Srinagar, the in late thirties, his siblings rose to high positions, like his elder brother Shehzore Kashmiri or Muhammed Shafi Khan, known as a great administrative officer. My father was not initially sent to school but to a tailor’s shop, but one day he was seen in this shop by authorities who wanted to promote education and my grandfather was asked to send him to school, to which he reluctantly obliged. This shows how sincere were the authorities in promoting education. My father learned some skills at the tailor’s shop and would sometimes sew his own clothes, to our astonishment, at home. When we asked him why he did so, he would talk about the dignity of labour and Islam.
After receiving a scholarship for his school education, he passed Class 10 examinations with merit from Lahore University. He would say that among Muslims he secured the second-highest marks, and that only a girl secured more marks than him. But my father would always say that passing examinations was not important; hard work and a relaxed mind would always get better results in life. After his schooling and graduation in Geography, Persian, and Urdu, he was struggling to get a job. He would always make us burst with laughter when we asked about his job search. He would say that he ran so many kilometres and climbed so many mountains to get a job as a forester or as a policeman, but each time he was denied the job because he did not pay 5 rupees as bribe. Yes, 5 rupees. Finally after much struggle he got the job of a teacher, where he made his mark with his unique style of teaching. He wrote many books on Geography, History, Maths and English. He also opened a publishing house by the name of Ali Mohammed and Sons. His books sold like hot cakes, and till 1990 remained a big source for all students, especially those facing Class 10 exams in J&K. He would tell us that when he writes a book on Mathematics for a student of 10th grade, he thinks like a student of 10th grade.
His fight against nepotism and corruption led to his frequent transfers, the most famous being the ones to Rajouri and Poonch. He accepted them with grace and during his stay there, learned the Pahari language.
The life story of my father is complete without my mother. He always told us how they fought the battles of life together and remained steadfast during various testing times. My mother also started her career as a teacher and is from the Khan family of Gojwara. Much to the discomfort of society which believes in rituals and customs, even in 2020, their marriage was held in a simple way. Actually, my father had rented a car with a loyal Sikh driver who was told to be ready to go back if there were any signs of rituals or feast-like arrangements. Thankfully, all was done simply and as per the real traditions of Islam. But I do remember my relatives showing displeasure even after decades of the marriage.
There were reforms in education which started from 2010 nationwide, one of which was that no student will be declared as failed till Class 8. My father initiated this way back in the late seventies in a Batamaloo school, where on the result day it would be said, “Awli Peth Eethmis Taam Sarey Pass (From Class 1 to 8, all are declared passed)”. Whenever he was questioned about this, he would say, “Show me even one student of mine who is not doing well in life. My pupils include doctors, engineers, researchers, bureaucrats, businessmen.”
After getting married, my father was briefly transferred to one end of Kashmir and my mother to the other end. One day, much to the blushing of my parents, I discovered their love letters sent by mail or hand. One letter reads: “How I wish I become a singing bird and tell about my love”. We had preserved all these love letters and books till the 2014 floods razed our house to ground and nothing could be retrieved.
Talking about the books my father has written, a famous one is “Baaghi Arooz”. It is the first book published of its kind which talks about writing poetry and correct usage of grammar in Kashmiri poetry. It was published way back in 1970 and sold at Ghulam Ahmed book sellers, Zaina Kadal, and Kapoor brothers at Lal Chowk. His other books which became famous include Moti-Maala for children, and Gulshan-i-Khizer. My father was known for his humorous poetry. When asked the reason for it, he said, “In Kashmiri poetry except for Laddi-Shah we do not have humour. It is mostly sad, or bitter. So I thought of including humour to make people laugh as well as to motivate them to do well instead of lamenting for the past.” My father regularly featured in radio and TV shows including Natiya Mushayras (poetic tribute to Prophet Muhammed – peace be upon him). Most people do not know that my father has written a series of books on Sir Muhammad Iqbal – the series is known as ‘Gufto-Shineed’.
I end with the hope that the state cultural academy will be interested in further publication and circulation of his books. Some of them are already in libraries but now with internet and digital formats we need to move in that direction as well, not only with books of my father but also of other poets and literary figures of JK whom youngsters or new intellectuals do not know. I assure you, the list of such unsung literary heroes is long.
—The writer is the youngest son of Khazir Maghribi. [email protected]