How Sonawari’s Literary Spirit Is Sustaining Kashmiri Language
In the land of Alim, Adab and Aab, Sonawari has emerged as a stronghold of Kashmiri literature.
Outside his window, as Jhelum meanders through the Chinar-dotted landscape, Aadil Mohidin breaks into a thoughtful remark: “Ye wyeth roze pakaan (Jhelum will keep flowing).”
This typical Koshur watchword might be a regular—yet resilient—reply from Kashmiris caught in travail, but for Aadil it’s the sign of being true to his identity. There’s an uncanny spirit about it making his hometown Sonawari a hub of Kashmiri literary works.
“Sonawari has always produced and will always keep producing the contributors of Kashmiri language,” Aadil says, with a certain beaming pride. “It’s all about making choices to contribute for the cause that’s losing its meaning for others.”
The totem town is sticking to its old guards as a matter of choice and conviction. Even as the former sparkplugs have now gone silent in this serene settlement now, the bustling bazaars give away vintage vibes by housing a community of wordsmiths — the silent servants of native language facing amnesia as well as assault.
But Hajin in the Sonawari belt known for its flagged past is fighting back by producing sons of the soil with literary sense and sensibility. Among them is 31-year-old Aadil Mohidin — an award-winning poet, critique, writer and contributor of the Kashmiri language.
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Aadil is the first graduate in his family and the first gazetted officer in his village Parebal, Hajin. In his childhood, he was surrounded by people whose mode of communication was pure Kashmiri. It carved him into a contributor preserving the Kashmiri language through his writings, research and criticism now.
“I always wanted to become an actor from childhood but when I went to Kashmir University’s Kashmiri Department, my views changed,” says Aadil, an Assistant Professor. “I gradually started taking interest in criticism, poetry and prose.”
Apart from becoming one of the youngest writers to win Sahitya Akedami Yuva Puraskar in Kashmiri Literature in 2016 at the age of 25, Aadil became a lecturer in the Department of Kashmiri at the University of Kashmir in March 2018. He joined the department soon after completing his PhD.
“Every Thursday I used to attend ‘Adbi Mehfils’ at the varsity and while attending those mehfils I also thought to write and present my words before everyone there,” he continues. “Kashmiri Department of Kashmir University gives every student this stage to showcase their work.”
After being brought up in his hometown’s literary ecosystem, Aadil’s grooming in the campus proved to be a shot in his arm. He recalls the campus debates inspiring him to become an eager participant.
“One day someone presented a Makala on Fazil Kashmiri and I felt it was a bit weak. I went to Fazil Kashmiri’s daughter the next day and asked her to provide me with some of his writings. She gave me a book and while reading an essay from that book, I felt it’s clear injustice to Fazil Kashmiri’s description of personality.”
From that point in his life, Aadil started taking interest in a particular field of criticism. He wrote about a Kashmiri literary figure shown as Sufi and presented his arguments in the Adbi Mehfil of Kashmir University. “Luckily,” he says, “Margoob Banhali was attending the Mehfil along with other professors of the department.”
When that literary event concluded, he recalls Shad Ramzan, former Head of Department, Kashmiri Department, University of Kashmir, appreciating him by kissing his forehead. “Everyone started appreciating me and that pushed me to the new heights of success.”
Prof. Shad Ramzan even quoted Rehman Rahi to phrase this Hajin boy: “A teacher’s true heir is his student and you’re the heir of teacher’s literally world. Because through you, a teacher like me will always be alive.”
For any other scholar in his shoes, that moment might’ve been a regular campus feat, but for Aadil it was a demonstration of his hometown’s literary DNA. And with the rise of another Koshur academic from Hajin, the Hazratbal campus soon became Aadil’s dream run.
For the first time in his life, his words were published in the university magazine, Gulala, where he wrote an essay on Fazil Kashmiri. He eventually became the first young writer who’s the international external examiner for PhD thesis.
His literary world started gearing up and he started working with Kashmiri newspaper Sangarmaal, Radio Kashmir, DD Kashir.
“I started hosting a program Yuva Wani on radio and for the first time, I earned an amount of Rs. 580 via cheque,” he remembers with a gush of emotions.
In 2015, he first started appearing on TV as a panelist along with the host late Prof. Aziz Hajini. The programme was based on the Kashmiri language. After that, he started appearing as an anchor for a programme called Anhaar on DD Kashir. “My first show was telecasted three times and I started appearing before people frequently,” he recounts.
For Aadil, it was always his dedication towards his short term goals that lead him to achieve better things in his life. His rise was the rise of a Kashmiri language’s new-age torchbearer. And that made it even more celebratory for many. He shortly found many mentors behind his back.
“Majroh Rashid Sahab, Shad Sahab, Talashi Sahab, Bashar Sahab and Aziz Hajini Sahab played a great role in my life,” he says.
With time, the Hajin boy came of age and authored his first book— Zoal Dith Sadras (Pearls from the deep sea). It was based on criticism. “Farooq Nazki remarked that this is first and best aesthetic treatise ever written in Kashmiri literature,” Aadil’s eyes brighten up with recollection.
His second book Ayaz Qadre Khud Bishinas (Ayaz knows what he is) was published in 2018, three years after his debut book. Based on the literary contribution of Ayaz Rasool Nazki, the book is a compilation of essays.
Born on 1 January 1989, Aadil believes that the Sonawari area of Kashmir has always produced many unsung literary heroes from the very beginning. His grandparents used to tell him the legend of many mystic poets of the area. “The unusual activities and events speak about the power of literature is enough to go deep into the ocean of knowledge,” he says with a certain emphasis on the class of people that remain under the shadow of their unassuming personalities.
“There were numerous contributors from Sonawari but they were not projected before people,” he says. “We had a great Sufi saint named Mohammed Ramzan Phophu. He had great spiritual powers and contributed greatly with his Sufi poetry. But it’s very unfortunate that we have very less of his works present in the shape of pamphlets.”
Mohammad Khar has been another poet and spiritual personality of his time from Sonawari. His contributions are also behind the curtain. “Mohammed Khar, the best poet in my opinion of 20th century, was not appreciated and his contribution to this world is unfortunately not known to people.”
Revisiting the contributions of these people, Aadil asserts, is much needed. And to show it to the world, more and more translators are needed.
“One of the best translators from Sonawari is Ahmadullah Hakbari. He has translated many stories and poems from Persian to Kashmiri.”
Likewise, Ghulam Mohammad Khan, known as Parvan Ashmi has written a book Wahadat in which he has mentioned “Shastra”.
“After Shamas Fakeer, Parvan Sahab is the best writer of Shastra,” Aadil says. “He has a great hold on Shaivism and his poetry reflects it.”
Another literary icon from Hajin lost in translation is Rahim Sabe Safapor. He has been not only a poet but holds a great value in people’s lives even today. Wahab Parray, who started his journey from the banks of Jhelum and Walur, to the deep oceans of literature and language, is another name in this list. He has written thousands of poems and is one of the best writers and translators of his era. He translated many Russian books into Kashmiri in his lifetime.
“This era is the era of translations,” Aadil says. “We need quality writers, poets and translators. Quantity is less of an issue. It’s necessary for survival and to live in a particular culture and tradition. It’s only due to translations that the Kashmiri language can be read and become literature with a vast readership.”
Aadil feels that Kashmiri people are often multilingual. “But everyone doesn’t show interest in translations which could’ve been a great contribution to the Kashmiri literary world. We have a good name in Radio Kashmir Satish Sahab whose translations are justified. Kashmiri literature needs more multilingual personalities like him.”
Recently, the Kashmiri language became one of the official languages of Kashmir among five other languages. And this, Aadil feels, makes the job even more responsible now.
However, keeping the spirit of the language alive, Sonawari celebrates Prof. Mohidin Hajini Day each year. As a symbol of Kashmir identity and a great contributor to the literary world, Prof. Hajini fought cultural onslaught and exploitation till his last breath.
“Dr Aziz Hajini was another literary figure who gave his best to preserve the Kashmiri language,” Aadil says.
Dr Aziz Hajini was a former Secretary J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages who retired on 31 March 2019. He belonged to the Hajin area of Sonawari.
“Hajin is currently cultivating a new crop of Kashmiri literature writers,” Dr Aadil said. “It’s necessary to keep the second line of contributors ready.”
It’s not only the English language that has always created Shakespeares, he argues. And it’s not every time that Urdu has created Ghalibs. “We had Darul Tarjuma wherein tons of books were translated into Kashmiri and those are the real heroes who translated those books.”
On the opposite banks of river Jhelum, lives Dr Reyaz-ul-Hassan. Aadil and Hassan share the bond of literature since 2010 when they met at an Adbi Mehfil in Hajin.
Born on 30 October 1972, Dr Reyaz published his first book, “Adbe Markaz Kamraz, Akh Tanzeem Akh Tehreek” in 2015. This book is based on 35 cultural units of the federation, Adbi Marqaz — one of the biggest federations in North India that was established by Prof. Mohidin Hajini in 1972.
Dr Hassan has translated a number of books till now including Dr Aziz Hajini’s ‘Vitasta ki Sear’ as ‘Vetha bathe bathe’ in Kashmiri. In 2017, he also translated Mohammad Alvi’s Urdu poetry collection ‘Chautha Asmaan’ in Kashmiri as Choorim Asmaan for Sahitya Academy, Delhi. “It’s a book about river Jhelum and its origin,” he says.
In the year 2020, Hassan authored the monograph of Mohammad Ahsan Ahsan for Sahitya Academy Delhi. Due-e-Yateem, a famous religious novel by Mahirul Qadri, has also been translated by Hassan. He has also edited a few books and written a series of books for primary schools. Hassan is more into the fiction part of literature.
He was also awarded as best director drama by Indian Council for cultural relations (ICCR) Ministry of External Affairs, in the year 2011. He was also awarded the state young personality award.
At present, Hassan is the president of Wahab Cultural Society and has a number of research papers published under his name. “I’m more interested in Radio and TV,” he says. “I was in 12th class when I passed a drama audition. It was the year 1997 when I started working in DD Kashir. I’ve worked in Kashmiri serials to becoming a news-reader. I’ve seen many phases in the Kashmiri literary world.”
He joined Radio Kashmir in 2006 again as a Kashmiri news-reader and continued his journey of being associated with the Kashmiri language.
At 49, Hassan believes that without Dr Aziz Hajini, M.A Ahsan, and Prof. Shad Ramzan, a “science with mathematics” student couldn’t have achieved what he has in the field of literature.
“I’m the panelist of Sahatiya Academi’s recommendations of books for awards and I feel this is the great contribution from Sonawari towards the Kashmiri language.”
On the same Jhelum bund, barely 2 kilometres away from Dr Aadil Mohidin’s place, lives Shabaz Khan, also known as Shabaz Hakbari. The breeze slowly guides one to the narrow alleys of Shabaz Hakbari’s house, where one gets beautiful reflections from the clear water of the river. In a typical Kashmiri traditional and preserved cultural values, his lawn holds the beauty of crackling sounds of red chillies, spread for sun-drying. One can see walnuts spread for the same traditional drying while stepping on the stairs.
In his room bereft of any decorative items, he sits in one of the corners. The beam of light falls directly on the floor making a natural art that enhances the simplicity yet beauty of his room.
This former mathematics professor was in Class 12 when he first got interested in poetry. “I got an infection of poetry and started living with it,” he says. “Hajin that time had already produced many big names in the field. The air of my area already smelt poetry and literature, and that was the reason I started liking it. I felt literature is the way by which I can do good to myself as well as to the society.”
He met many people who were into poetry at home. Not knowing much about the Kashmiri language, he learned it while travelling on the bus each day to the college.
“I didn’t read Kashmiri during my school or college but I was introduced to it by M.A Ahsan,” Hakbari says. “We both used to travel together to Srinagar every day, and he used to teach me Kashmiri script while sharing the same seat. While laughing and making fun of each other on the bus, I learned the script of Kashmiri and I felt interested in Kashmiri poetry and prose.”
Hakbari, 58, started his Kashmiri poetic and prose journey from that bus only. With time, he felt more inclined towards Kashmiri rather than Urdu or English. And later, his language cause and contribution won him many awards. “Since the Kashmiri language runs in our blood, it feels easy to express our thoughts in Kashmiri only and that is why I started writing in Kashmir,” he says.
Since Kashmir is also known as Sharda Peet—the seat of learning—Hakbari got inspired by the celebrated works of Sheikh ul Alam, Lal Ded, Shamas Fakeer, Mehmood Ghami and many more.
“The great personalities and contributors of Kashmiri language are associated with Sonawari in one way or other, and that’s why the place is considered as the hub of Adab,” Hakbari says.
In Mathematics, he says, there’re a few concepts that connect one to spirituality. “My domain of writing is based on that. For example, those who try to know zero and one will know themselves. I write about it and around it in the shape of poetry and prose.”
Hakbari has also evaluated the Sufi poetry of Sheikh ul Alam and talked about it in a radio talk show, “Ha Zouvo Payas Peto”.
“While doing the radio talk show, I once got a call from Anantnag and the caller said, ‘Till now Sheikh ul Alam was a spiritual personality for me, but from now and because of your extensive work on him, he is a scientist for me’.”
As a poet, Hakbari’s thesis ‘zero is equal to one’ on spiritual grounds of Sufi poetry, has been approved by the state and is under review at the national level. “Kashmir University has awarded me with the valid certificate that ‘zero is equal to one’ and the thesis is in the Kashmiri language. Now, very soon, I will complete its translation.”
Among his books are ‘Chemne Kyehnas Grand Evan’ (I am not able to count zero), two biographies on the life and works of Sufi poet, Abdul Ahad Zargar, ‘Nooruk Nabi Chu Bemisaal’, ‘Kashre Sakafatek Nund Baen Anhaar’, ‘Number Games’ and ‘Zargar Zooms Zero’.
He’s associated with many cultural academies that try to preserve Kashmiri culture and the Science foundation is one of those academies where he serves. In Mathematics, he has been awarded a National level resource person.
But as someone who has touched many literary milestones in his life, Hakbari believes, “the quantity of Kashmiri language contributors is increasing but we are lacking in quality that needs to be revived.”
Conscious about the same quality, Sajad Hussain Dar, 25, has emerged as a budding bard from Sonawari today. He’s a protégé of Dr. Aadil Mohidin.
Sajad believes that the Kashmiri language inspired him from his childhood when his parents and grandparents taught him pure native language.
“Rehman Rahi and Shad Ramzan’s poetry inspired me from the very beginning,” Sajad, who goes by his penname Sajid Sajad, says.
The turning point in his poetic career came when he attended a seminar, where he read a few lines and got appreciated for that. He’s now working to publish his first book on Kashmiri poetry.
As an emerging literary figure from Sonawari, Sajad believes that the Kashmiri language badly needs translators for relevance and growth.
“I once attended a seminar in Kargil and presented my Kashmiri poetry there, but they couldn’t understand a word of it,” he recalls. “I feel we need more translators so that everyone becomes known to our great literature.”
As a new-age Kashmiri poet, Sajad has already won many awards at State level poetry competitions and is upbeat about the future. “I want to inspire the young generation through my poetry,” he says.
Sajad along with his few friends start reading their poetry every evening and later discuss the same.
In wake of any confusion, he often consults his mentor Aadil for guidance. While expressing happiness over his growing tribe, Aadil is himself looking for more milestones in his literary journey.
In order to popularize Kashmiri literature, Aadil had attended a literary fest in Mumbai along with other award-winning authors in 2019. “A person in that literary fest told me: Till now, I only knew that Kashmir is a beautiful place but today I came to know that Kashmiri language and Kashmiri people are as beautiful as its land.”
Later, Aadil went on to write numerous dialogues in the Kashmiri language for one of the best directors of the era, Sudhir Mishra.
He credits his hometown for everything he has achieved in life. “People of Sonawari,” Aadil says, “are very conscious and celebrate their glorious past. We will never forget our reality. We the people of Sonawari are very proud of our ancestors and literary legacy.”
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