It is believed that when Adam (Pbuh) left heaven, the land of Kashmir emerged on earth. Once our patron saint, Sheikh ul Alam, said that the time he spent in Kashmir will be deducted from his stay in heaven. We have thousands of noted authors and travellers who have penned praises on the beauty of Kashmir. Very few however know that this land is not only renowned for its natural beauty. Its sons and daughters have won name for their bravery as well as poetry. We have had military generals like Lalitadatiya, Shahabudin, Tazi Chak, Rahman Mir, and poets and writers like Kalhana, Gani Kashmiri, Habba Khatoon, Rasul Mir, Mahmud Gami, Yaqoob Sarfi. One such illustrious son of the soil was Abdul Ahad Azad, a modernist poet of Kashmir valley.
Abdul Ahad Azad (1903–1948) is a relatively lesser known Kashmiri poet compares to Mahjoor and Rasul Mir. Born in the remote village of Ranger, Chadoora (in Budgam district), he received his primary education, like other children of his time, in a madrassa and at home. His father taught him Persian, Arabic and also Islamic mystical philosophy. Little is known about his childhood but we are sure that he joined the Dogra administration as a primary teacher at Zohama (next to his village). He was later transferred to Tral primary school. In that era it was almost impossible for Muslims to gain employment in the administration, so Azad must have had qualities that distinguished him. Azad, however, did not find himself suited for the job.
He once said that he cannot be anything but a poet. He started writing lyrics at the age of 18. His poetic name was Azad initially, then Janbaaz, and finally he used Azad again. Azad’s thoughtful nature proved detrimental to his health. Great men rarely have good health. He died at a young age owing to health issues. In 1948 the valley lost one of its greatest gems.
Although he died at young age, he was probably the greatest modernist poet Kashmir valley has ever seen. His modern outlook was based on events that happened in his age and before his own eyes. It is believed that events influence the man. It is certainly true in the case of Azad. During his short life, he witnessed the ravages of both World War-1 and World War-2. He also saw the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Great Depression of 1930, the rise of Indian National Movement against the British, and the rise of Muslim League against Hindu domination. Back home he must have been very much disturbed by the cruelty of Dogra administration, famines and poverty in Kashmir, rise of national consciousness in Kashmir, the revolt of 1931, the formation of Muslim League and its subsequent conversion to National Conference, the publication of Naya Kashmir Manifesto, etc. During this span of life he penned down his wonderful treatise, ‘Kashmiri Zuban aur Shairi’, and published his Kulliyat-e-Azad. The former is considered equal in importance to Brown’s ‘History of Persian literature’.
The poet was unfortunately sidelined given his radical ideas and Mahjoor’s closeness with the National Conference.
Azad and Nationalism
Kashmir valley has produced many philosophers who have exhorted its people to shun this world and labour for the next life. They have idealised the ascetic life and also poverty. This specific thought may have geminated because of repression and oppression throughout our history. Our history books are filled with pages of horrific famines, floods and wars that made our inhabitants especially the philosophers think of a bleak future. People find refuge in an idealised world when repression and oppression become common. Our books and literature are full of poems and essays that portray worldly life as deceitful, unreal and of no use.
Azad was a divergence from this trend. He tries to remove this pessimism from the minds of people. He loved every inch of Kashmir and advised its inhabitants to also do so. His keen sense analysed the causes of our horrible condition. He made people aware that our pathetic condition was neither permanent nor written in our destiny. The present condition could only be explained through evils like slumber of ages, injustice, superstitions and oppression in our society. He compared our present with our rich and glorious past. He asked in his poem ‘Sawal’ (The Question) how the people of Kashmir were not able to even feed themselves when this land was renowned for its wealth and prosperity. In the same poem he reminded people that the valley had produced the likes of Kalhan, Gani Kashmiri, and Yaqoob Sarfi. He wrote:
‘Kalhan, Gani te Sarfi Sehraab Kar yem Aaban, suy aab sani bapath zaher-e-hilal aasiha (Should the water (of Kashmir) be poison for us? The water reared talents like Gani, Sarfi and Kalhan for us).
In poems ‘Nala-e-Badshah’ (Lament of Budshah) and ‘Shikwah-e-Kashmir’ (Complaint of Kashmir) the poet lamented the condition of people of Kashmir. In Shikwah-e-Kashmir, he made it clear that the political, social and economic evils that have crept in our ways are responsible for our pathetic condition. In his discourse between Ishq (love) and Aqal (wisdom) the poet revealed his conviction that the innocent people of Kashmir had lacked political power. Not only did he make clear the reasons for our downfall, he provided the solutions to elevate our position. The solutions, he believed, were courage, love for one’s country, constant struggle, and scientific approach in life. In his poem, ‘Song of the Country’ (Tarana-i-Watan) he said: ‘Tulo kadam bahaduroo, karo hamesha justajoo; Jawan jawan dilawaroo, karo hamesha justajoo’.
In his poem, ‘My Country (Myon Watan)’, the poet showered praise on the valley. He said that the highest love was love for one’s nation. He wrote: ‘Yi azad bulbul tulan grez te shoor, chu kath pooshe thar peth karan bool boosh; wanan bulbulan gul te bulbul gulan, yi soone watan nunboone watan [the free bulbul creates a tumult, sings melody on a flowery bow; Bulbul to flower and flower to Bulbul speakth; the country of ours is all but beauty].’
Through these poems the poet encouraged people to love the valley. He praised its rivers, forests, lakes and springs. He compared the Jhelum river to fairies in heaven. He penned down poems like Wanyaar (Deodar) and Arwal (a flower found in forests of Kashmir).
Azad’s poem ‘Sawal’ (Question) is perhaps the most moving poem of his. It is dedicated to the youth of Kashmir. He writes:
‘Wae toos muhabatuk byool bari-toos may-e-lool, loolas under chu buod lood, hubul watan mubrak [Sow the seeds of love, fill the cups of love; Amongst such love, the best should go to your country].’
He wanted Kashmir’s inhabitants to shed the concepts of passiveness and be active in both private and public life. Poems like Taqdeer (Destiny), Be-Khudi and Khudi are embodiments of his thinking and philosophy. He was clearly against the evils of passiveness and destiny.
Azad was optimistic that even though his contemporary generation did not heed him, in future they might follow his advice. He said: ‘Aalam ha kari yaad Azad; Kuni saath vuchte yaad paway madanoo’.
—The writer is a scholar at Department of Economics, Aligarh Muslim University. [email protected]