Saturday, 21 February 2009



“It’s snowing here!” Acclaimed Kashmiri poet Rehman Rahi sounds excited like a child from his Srinagar residence. The beauty of his land --- Kashmir --- clearly echoes in the octogenarian’s voice; so does his love for the Kashmiri language and Kashmiriyat.

Over the decades, Professor Rahi has been a champion for the cause of Kashmiri language. “It’s sad that youngsters, specially those from the displaced families (from Kashmir) are not well versed with the language,” he laments as I mention the disconnect that I have seen in many young people, from the State, from their linguistic heritage. “Thankfully, for the students in the State, the language has been re-introduced in the curriculum,” Professor Rahi informs.
Winner of Jnanpith Award (2004), Professor Rahi has been instrumental in setting up the Kashmiri department at the University of Kashmir. “Language is like mother and no education can begin without the mother. Kashmiri language is our identity. I was happy that the Jnanpith award recognised the heritage of Kashmiri language.”

I mention to him the little information many of us have about the Kashmiri literature. “It’s one of the finest languages in the world. The script was different from the current Persian-Arabic one. Our literary heritage is more than 2500 years old and the language is often compared with Sanskrit and Persian,” he says, adding, research works are on that are studying connections between Kashmiri language and other ancient languages. He then promises to talk more when we meet in Pune during the Kashmir festival titled Voice of the Valley organised by the group Sarhad.

Keeping his promise, Professor Rahi meets me just before the event and we start again from the point we left. Talking about the core creative inspirations of Kashmiri literature, he mentions folklores. “The folklore-based Kashmiri literature is rich. You wouldn’t find folklore-based literature in Urdu.” He then refers to folklore-based literature in Hindi and other Indian languages and says there should be more interaction between Kashmiri literature and that in other Indian languages. “Translation is the only way to ensure literary exchanges. But, there haven’t been much effort to translate Kashmiri literature in other Indian languages”. However, the richness of the literature has reached to the readers in English and Urdu, Professor Rahi informs.

Professor Rahi, who was associated with the Progressive Writers’ Association in the 1950s, is often hailed as the ‘Voice of Kashmir’. We ask how does he define his works.
“I see everything in the context of human history. My poetry has always been about the world around me. For me, it has been a search of my universe, my country and reflection of everything that I enjoy,” Professor Rahi says. “There’s no mysticism, but reality.”

When asked to pick his favourite among his own works, he mentions two of his poems: Zante Akh Nazm (As if a poem) and Nairakh hai jaamow (Could you strip yourself?) “The first is about today’s world while the second one is about unmasking oneself. You can say these poems represent my progression from the era of Progressive Writers into modernism and post-modernism,” Professor Rahi says.

He then tracks the phases of Kashmiri poetry. “Following my generation came the modernists who lamented about the happenings of the world. There was a sense of alienation from the immediate cultural setting. But for the post-modernists, it is preferable to accept the world as it is,” he explains.

Professor Rahi then dwells on the modern Kashmiri literature; “I am very optimistic about the future of Kashmiri literature. We have been able to preserve our language and literature despite overwhelming presence of other languages. If you ask about the current situation, I’d say, that from short stories, poetry to literary criticisms, our literature has been going strength to strength in recent times,” he says. When asked, Professor Rahi fondly refers to the works of Kashmiri writers Dina Nath Nadim, Abdul Ahad Azad, Akhtar Mohiuddin, Rattanlal Shant, Harikrishna Kaul, Ayub Dilkash and Shamim Ahmed among others.

We delve into the troubles in Kashmir Valley and its impact on literature. “The reality of Kashmir has been that of turmoil, devastation and helplessness. Though direct references are not usual, still writers in Kashmiri language do not avoid it,” he asserts.