Article: Amid dwindling readership of Kashmiri literature, Ganderbal youth publishes a Kashmiri novel

Bhat Yasir/ Syed Muskan

Srinagar, August 09 (KMS): A Kashmiri youth from Ganderbal’s Dodurhama, who’s also pursuing a master’s degree in Kashmiri literature, recently rose to the limelight after his novel ‘Khaban Khayalan Manz’ got published last month. We talked to him about the dwindling readership of Kashmiri literature.

The youth Asif Tariq Bhat, who’s a student at the Central University of Kashmir told The Kashmiriyat that he began writing the novel in October 2021. It was months later towards the end of May 2022 that the novel was published.

Kashmiri writers, authors, poets, and other artists have gained global recognition and hold worldwide records in their composition of literature. The age of the literature in the valley can be traced back to the texts of Sanskrit and to the mystic medieval pioneering poets like Lal Ded.

Kashmiri language is as old as English and since medieval times, the language has had many writers with passionate readers but the readership started declining with the changing times. However, today, the language rarely sees any guidance for its people. The majority of the parents prefer that their children speak in Urdu or some other language.

The language hardly finds any guidance on the internet as well. There are only a few social media platforms where the language has a presence and is taught in one way or the other.

The literature in the valley started its bulk in the native language ‘Kashmiri’ with the divine poetry of Lal Ded which is remembered as Vaakh. This was followed by the period of Sufism or the eternal era of Alamdar-e-Kashmir (‘Flag Bearer of Kashmir’), whose work highlighted the religious themes and calls for peace. Sufism gave birth to what the world remembers as Lyricism which left its mark with the Nightingale of Kashmir, Habba Khatoon. Khatoon’s legacy lives on with one of her unmatched notable works Loal.

Kashmiri literature stepped into the world of Romanticism with Rasool Mir’s initial ghazals in the Kashmiri language. Literature continued with the continuing production of masterpieces from notable writers like Mahjoor, Lal Aragami, Dina Nath Nadim and Mir Ghulam Rasool Nazki to name a few.

And, from 1940s onwards began the modern age of literature in the valley. This included novels, translations, poetry and books on valley’s conflict.

The literature did start and continue in Kashmir’s native language but with time, the language started getting less attention and the readership eventually decreased.

With time, the valley saw unprecedented changes, as writing in Kashmiri shifted to English, the readership pattern changed. Although much of the work still exists in Kashmiri but how literature is now recognized globally is the work done by some famous Kashmiri writers whose expertise lies in the English language.

Curfewed Nights by Basharat Peer is one of the most well-read books of this time. Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator, Feroz Rather’s debut fiction novel, The Night of Broken Glass and Farah Bashir’s Rumours of Spring are some books that have made a mark among the readers. While these books and the writers are getting recognition, there’s hardly any recognition of writers writing in Kashmiri language.

Language losing its readers

There are many claims as to why the language lost its readers with one of the prominent being the lack of bulk of literature in the respective language. The present generation witnesses a huge bulk of literature in English Language. The literature is preserved but not practised in its language.

There are just 12–13 novels that have been written in Kashmiri. Only Kashmiri scholars and a small number of language lovers are familiar with the majority of these books because the majority of Kashmiris cannot read the text.

The English version of Kashmiri author GN Gowhar’s own book, Argi Ashud, was published. Torch Bearer in Dark Circles, which is the English version of the novel is only available in the market.

Shafi Shauq, a renowned Kashmiri scholar, has translated Gul Gulshan Gulfam, another Kashmiri novel by renowned dramatist Pran Kishore, into English. This book was made into a successful TV series on Doordarshan in the 1990s.

The Kashmiriyat asked Asif his thoughts about the dying culture of reading Kashmiri literature, to which he responded by saying that a language never dies. In Kashmir, there’s been an impact of Sanskrit and Persian in the past and currently, English and Urdu are quite dominant over the linguistic scenario.

Pointing to the current scenario around Kashmiri literature shared on social media, he says, “In Kashmiri language, prose is scarce, but you will come across people writing haiku. People have no time for lengthy prose writings like novels and short stories. Whenever I post haiku over social media, I receive a good response, but seldom people will have the time to read my short stories and novels.”

He says that he’s of the philosophy that after one completes a work of art, it is the responsibility of the reader to give it their own definition. “I believe in the philosophy of ‘Death of the Author’ but there’s a lack of people who speak Kashmiri and it is quite obvious if there are not many Kashmiri speakers, how will you find the readers of Kashmiri language?”

“Our language has met this fate since we’ve been ruled by various rulers in different eras. Our language became the first casualty of their rules,” Asif feels.

He asks, “Why can’t we develop a system, wherein we have Kashmiri as our official language?”

He shared an anecdote. “I was, once, travelling and I came across a kid who was insisting that his mother gives him a chocolate. She readily gave him one. He asked for a chocolate again, and she gave him another one. However, on the third time, when the mother denied giving him a chocolate, the kid’s response was bone chilling. He told his mother if she doesn’t give her the chocolate, he will start speaking in Kashmiri. I was shocked when I came to know our identity has been turned into a matter of disgrace. The idea of preserving our language has begun from our households,” he said.

He believes a child’s parents to be the first institutions who can encourage the child to speak in their mother tongue and make them feel privileged in speaking it.

Sharing another anecdote from his own home, he says that there were two kids at his home who are yet to learn Urdu or English. “I once asked one of them why he wasn’t taking off his shoes and he responded in a typical Kashmiri expression ‘Ye chu gachan pate kudur lagun.’ I was bamboozled by the fact that he used the word ‘kudur.’ The word was an alien thing for me, and many elders won’t b able to give meaning to this word.”

“It is our duty that we give importance to Kashmiri language in our households and share the stories of our own with our children,” he concludes.

Courtesy: The Kashmiriyat

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