A brief assessment of ‘The Poets of Kashmir’ edited by Dr Zubair Hamid
Literature plays a significant role in preserving and disseminating the language, culture and intellectual heritage of a particular region, nation, ethnic group or community. Of the multitude of literary genres, poetry has found extensive use as an instrument of literary expression. Contributions made by the literati (in vernacular as well as transnational languages) belonging to different regions/nations have enriched the global literary tradition. Likewise in Kashmir, known as ‘heaven on earth’ for its beautiful climate and landscape, there exists a rich literary and poetic tradition.
Notable literary works of historical, cultural, political, religious and linguistic significance composed in antique Sanskrit and medieval Persian (poetry/prose) have embellished the literary history of Kashmir. Besides, the litterateurs of Kashmir have made significant contributions to Hindi, Urdu and English literature (prose/poetry) as well and the tradition continues unabated. The production of literary works in certain foreign languages signifies the impact of those languages on Kashmiri society in its different epochs of political/cultural history. Apart from these languages, Kashmiri or Koshur, the native language of the valley, has served as an able instrument for literary expression and pursuit.
Poetry has emerged as a distinctive genre of Kashmiri literature and its history spans over the medieval, pre-modern and modern periods. Social/religious reformers, religious scholars, mystics/Sufis, political and social activists, liberals and academics have all produced poetic compositions, thereby not only enriching the literary traditions in Kashmiri language but also sustaining the lingual and cultural identity of the valley. Over the recent decades, a pressing need has been felt in the academic/ intellectual circles of re-connecting or relinking the current/ young generation with the lingual, cultural and ethnic heritage/ legacy, especially to the legendary poets of Kashmir. Appositely, this goal is achieved by bringing the biographies and literary works of the Kashmiri poets/ writers to limelight through the compilation and circulation of books/ pamphlets, articles/ papers (in the popular languages of the subcontinent like English/ Urdu) apart from organising seminars, symposia and conferences.
Connecting the modern mind with the traditional lingual legacy would help in preserving the Kashmiri language and ensuring the preservation of the distinct identity, tradition and culture of Kashmir. ‘The Poets of Kashmir: A Connection with Patrimony’ edited by Dr Zubair Hamid appears as a fine example of serving this purpose of connecting and familiarising the modern-day generation with the native poetic tradition of Kashmir. The compilation contains biographical notes and brief discussions on the contributions and poetic skills of thirteen legendary poets of Kashmir encompassing about seven-hundred years of the history of Kashmir.
Initiating with a conceptual discourse meant to define the rationale behind the compilation of the work, Ashok Dullu’s ‘Kashmiri Language Script-Synchronic Digraphia’ attempts at evaluating the evolution, development and changes in the scripts used in Kashmiri language. His discussion appears unprejudiced as he encapsulates the complexities revolving the usage of scripts and pleads that both the communities (Muslim and Pandits) need to work collectively for the preservation of Kashmiri language as a “cultural marker” and a “common heritage”, by producing Kashmiri literature in any prevalent script with wide currency.
Two consecutive articles, ‘Knowing Lal Ded’ by Vinod Dhar and Ashok Dullu and ‘Lala Ded-II’ by T. N. Dhar Kundan bring Lala’s life and poetic skills, respectively, under limelight. However, the authors have tried to portray her as an exclusive Hindu reformer and promoter of “Saivite philosophy” while surprisingly discrediting any influence of the Islamic weltanschauung on her thought and ideas. Analysing Lala’s Vakhs/ verses, Kundan accepts the influence of Islamic mystic or Sufi influence but hardly gives any attention to explaining the reason behind it. Although the articles carry significant details pertaining to Lala Ded the mystic (who has been claimed of having accepted Islam by some authors), yet the discussions seem prejudiced.
The compilation would have remained incomplete (in delivering its purport) without the discussions on the eminent figures like Shaykh Nur al-Din Noorani and his Shruks/ verses (14th century), Habba Khatun (16th century) and her revitalising contribution towards Kashmiri language, and the pioneering Sufi poet of pre-modern era, Momin Shah (17th century). They played a remarkable role in preserving and sustaining the Kashmiri diction in a period dominated with Perso-Arabic medium. Of substantial significance is the introduction of Prakash Ram Bhat and Arnimal along with their momentous contribution to the revivification of the Kashmiri literature (through poetry) during eighteenth century.
Equally important in understanding the different stages/ phases of the development of Kashmiri language and literature (especially poetry) is the tradition of Sufi poetry as developed by Momin Saeb. Hence, the discussions on the poets of this creed like Soch Kral, Naima Sahib, Rajab Hamid and Waaz Mehmood are of considerable significance (with regards the study). However, the discussions lack a uniformity of content, as some articles hardly relate any poetic verses to the context and end up merely as short biographical notes. In addition, it is surprising to observe that the work lacks the mention/ discussion of Kashmiri bards (of Sufi tradition) like, Wahab Khar and Ahmad Batwaer.
Finally, the work brings into consideration the contribution made by the latter-day literary doyens like Mehjoor, Azad (by the editor, Dr Zubair Hamid) and Rahman Rahi towards the preservation and dissemination of the Kashmiri language and literature through their striking additions to the literary tradition of Kashmir.
In an overall assessment, the work acts as a sheet anchor in stimulating and re-linking the current-day Kashmiri youth with their glorious literary heritage inviting the intellectuals, academics and researchers to explore the hidden literary treasure of the snow-laden valley. The content makes an indirect appeal to the modern-day ‘techno freak and busy minds’ of the valley to make efforts to revive this tradition of preserving and sustaining the mother tongue, Koshur/ Kashmiri, to ensure the preservation of their unique ‘cultural and lingual’ identity of being Kaeshir/ Kashmiri. This book is a must read for the Kashmiri youth and for all those interested in exploring the beauty of literary Kashmir.
—The writer is a doctoral candidate at AMU. [email protected]