On ‘Dolmut’

Dolmut is a polysemous Kashmiri term, and it is typically used as an informal noun: a lunatic, a crazy person. It is also used for someone who is a non-conformist. Moreover, the term is often employed as an exclamatory expression, similar to telling someone admonishingly: “Idiot!” And yet, this phrase or expression has a range of other uses. For example, imagine you send a long slipshod piece of writing to your busy friend for her feedback and she opens the document and quickly skims through it. She whispers to herself, “Dolmut!” Here, the expression implicitly means: how come the sender expected that I will waste my valuable time reading such a long, tedious, and badly punctuated text. Yet, one more example: two friends calculate expenses of their recent trip. One of the friends, who is little clumsy, says the total expenses incurred on the trip were ten thousand bucks. The other friend, a smarter fellow, snaps back: “Tse ma dolmut!” reminding him that he forgot to include the hotel rent. Here the expression is a context-dependent locution, specific to close interpersonal relationships; it is analogous to: “Dude, are you crazy!”

To be frank, my interest in the term Dolmut was spurred by the controversy raked by Kashmiri author Mir Khalid’s interview in Kashmir INK (27 Nov 2017). After Khalid made rather unflattering comments about the emerging Kashmiri writers of English, whom he dismissed as “vectors for an epidemic of sloppy writing,” and called their efforts “a pathologized literary trend,” a verbal skirmish ensued. In a joint riposte to Khalid, two Kashmiri students of English literature—Towfeeq and Sahil—from Jamia Millia Islamia criticized Khalid’s blunt remarks, which as per them, betrayed an orientalist mindset. They wrote: “one must ask Khalid here if the western authors who have provided an overview of the ‘general human condition’ are the ones like Conrad, Kipling, and Eliot. One wonders why even after reading so many ‘serious’ western authors, Khalid has missed a book as important as Edward Said’s Orientalism,” (Kashmir INK: 4 Dec). However, in a rather curious case of riposte-against-the-riposte, Imtiyaz Assad, an occasional contributor to Greater Kashmir, defended Khalid’s remarks in his article published in Greater Kashmir on 15 Dec 2017. After taking down Khalid’s young critics, he rhetorically said: “Why should it get on our nerves when it is purely in our better interest and likely to act an impetus to the active breed of writers to give birth to something great and set a glorious example? We celebrate mediocrity, and make holy cows of our local authors who are yet to step out of their narrow orbits and shed their goddamn hubris.”

While not about the controversy per se, this essay was certainly inspired by it. Because what I observed in the whole episode was that one side was telling the other: “You are Dolmut, dude!” For Towfeeq and Sahil, Khalid was dolmut, because he didn’t conform to the prevailing ‘consensus’ regarding the literary merit of the emerging Kashmiri writers of English, and betrayed certain orientalist tendencies in his interview. For Imtiyaz, the young literature students, Towfeeq and Sahil, were dalmit (plural), for, as he put it, they were “glorifying the half-baked stuff.”

Let me clarify. This piece is not to pour scorn on any side, nor do I intend to assess the merits and demerits of what each side said. Rather my attempt in this short essay is to present a nuanced understanding of the expression Dolmut than its colloquial usage might suggest.

A Few Illustrative Anecdotes

On the fine morning of 3 September 2017, on Eid’s eve, I told my family that I was joining the Eid prayers at Tanchi Bagh (local name of a sports ground). Traditionally, our family performs Eid prayers either in Eid Gah or Jamia (of Pampore). Little surprised, my father, otherwise a moderately ritualistic man on religious matters, said, in an authoritative first-person plural: “We are not going there, pray quietly in your own mosque.”

“Why? What is wrong praying there?” I asked him, in a light-hearted manner.

My father gave me a rather pithy, but allusive, reply: “Se’yat Yii.”

Now, Se’yat Yii is a remarkably complex phrase, and difficult to pin down to its literal meaning. In its rough translation, it could mean: “You might invite divine retribution!”

I fully understand why my father would use that expression. Firstly, our family has remained closely associated with sufis and shrines. Though well-traveled, my great-grandfather was a little whimsical man—his only picture shows him sitting cross-legged on a lawn chair, lost in thoughts over a hookah. Around his middle age he had started religiously following a godman called Ahad Bab, who, for some time, also lived in our home. My great-grandfather was a devoted disciple and did what all good disciples do, which naturally endeared him to Ahad Bab. Their association didn’t break even after death; they are buried near each other: Ahad Bab is buried under a modest Pagoda-style stone-and-wood tomb, and my great grandfather just near the tomb’s entrance. My father was the favorite kid of my great-grandfather; and from very early age, he was introduced to the mystical world of Sufism by him. I remember, during the mid-1990’s, when people would dread walking through Frestabal, the bastion of notorious state-backed militia leader Papa Kisthwari, my father took me, a shy and gauche ten-year-old kid, with him to attend a Sufiana mehfil (Sufi recital) at his sister’s home in that neighbourhood; it was evening time and we briskly, and gingerly, crossed Papa Kishtwari’s guarded residence. Father loves Sufiana music, and, like his siblings, he is also a shrine goer. So, when he said Se’yat Yii, he meant he didn’t want me to stray from the tradition.

Secondly, from the last decade or so Tanchi Bagh (the sports ground) has emerged as an alternate site where Eid prayers are organised by Jamiat e Ahl-e-Hadeeth, a religious organisation relatively new to our town, and whose negative image has been contrived by its rivals which has stuck in the minds of old school people like my father. The organization is viewed as anti-saints and anti-shrines; and its adherents are pejoratively termed as “Badd Ateqaed” (badd: bad; ateqaed: faithful).

However, despite my father’s half-hearted advisory, I went to Tanchi Bagh. I was perhaps the first person from our family to break the long tradition and pray in Ahl-e-Hadeeth Eid congregation; probably, I was the first person from our neighborhood lane to do so. But my decision to join Tanchi Bagh Eid gathering was simply guided by my curiosity to see how different it would be. After praying on a fresh blue tarpaulin, spread on the gentle turf of the sprawling ground, I went to meet a friend Sartaj, who also comes from a traditionally Barelvi leaning family. At the cusp of his adult life, however, this friend had embraced the Ahl-e-Hadeeth school of thought. Of course, his family was not pleased with this ‘conversion’, but they soon got used to his views and practices, and whenever he tried to assert his opinions, they waved them aside with a good laugh. Though, his cousins and other relatives taunted him and told him half-jokingly: “Tse chukh koett’i baneomut,” (You have become a koett’i; the term koett’i is a pejorative metonym used by some people for a person of Ahl-e-Hadees school of thought).

If their views regarding Sartaj’s conversion—from a traditionally Barelvi to Ahl-e-Hadeeth—were mildly disapproving, there were others who had a rather harsh opinion of people like him. I had a chance to have a long conversation with such a person. One of my neighborhood acquaintances, Jamshid, a man in his mid-thirties (who also has a deep interest in English literature), terms people like Sartaj as ‘Dolmut.’ For Jamshid, not only people associated with Ahl-e-Hadeeth but even the adherents of Jamaat-e-Islami are actually “Watti Dalmit.

Here, the expression Dolmut assumes double meaning: lunatic (a noun) and strayed (an adverb). It is in this double sense that the expression “Waati Dalmit” can be understood in relation to Sartaj’s ‘conversion’ and the adherents of the school of thought he follows. Watti means from the path and Dalmit (plural noun/adverb) means having strayed.

In such seemingly banal situations, Dolmut is not simply an innocuous colloquial phrase shorn of any underlying political or ideological meaning. Rather Dolmut has definite characteristics of what Steven Poole calls Unspeak. As Poole (2006:3) explains, “It represents an attempt to say something without saying it, without getting into an argument and so having to justify itself. At the same time, it tries to… [erase or silence] any possible opposing point of view, by laying a claim right at the start to only one way of looking at a problem.” Thus, within itself, the expression Dolmut (or Dalmit) carries an ideological violence by accomplishing naturalization of one ideology and demonization of other. That which has strayed from the path has strayed from which path? Of course, the mainstream path. And, mainstream path does not need to be explicitly spelled out, as it is already assumed which school of thought is the mainstream. Since it has a taken-for-granted status, it is the prevailing ideology, or what Gramsci calls hegemony.

However, since you being Dolmut means you have strayed from the path, you still have a chance to salvage your position to get back into the mainstream fold. This also means that by joining the other school of thought, Dolmut is but a naïve and immature person, if not one who is bereft of faith. Though, interestingly, when I broke the news to Jamshid’s uncle that I had Eid prayers at Tanchi Bagh, he responded with a sardonic smile and said, “Near’ kalmi par naiyee masjid manz!” (trans: go and declare kalima anew in the mosque)—when he said mosque he gestured to a nearby Hanafi mosque.

While the expression Dolmut is employed in a range of situations with varied illocutionary force, I have heard it more dramatically used by a journalist friend from Srinagar. He often uses the expression to sneer at his political opponents. But, characteristically, to augment its smirking effect, he adds a slang to it: “Hah’r”. Thus, his way of denouncing, say Minister Drabu’s latest statement or irritating news anchor Arnob Goswami’s ranting, would be “Dolmut Hah’r” (this bastard has gone crazy!).

For the prosecution, and the society at large, Meursault, the protagonist of Albert Camus’s novel The Outsider, was Dolmut because he showed no remorse on the death of his mother. The right (or appropriate) thing was to say I felt sad, devastated on her death. But for him, his mother’s death was more of an annoyance, or so it seemed to him when he faced the reality of her death. That he didn’t feel sad or devastated was one thing, but it was socially blasphemous to declare so. And it is here, in this specific situation, that he was accused of being Dolmut. Because he had strayed from the path of social codes. In the foreword to the novel, Camus writes, “Lying is not only what isn’t true. It is also, in fact especially, saying more than is true and, in the case of the human heart, saying more than one feels.” Paradoxically, for being true to his feelings and expressing their state in an unadulterated manner, Meursault received reprobation from the society.

What endows the word Dolmut with its certain illocutionary power is that it is essentially a metaphorical expression. For Aristotle, metaphor is a decorative linguistic device which serves a purpose in rhetorical discourses: to persuade. But Nietzsche takes a different line and sees a metaphorical expression as the fundamental human impulse. “To be truthful,” says Nietzsche, “is to employ customary metaphors…this is the duty to lie according to a fixed convention, to lie with the herd and in a manner binding upon everyone.” A rational being, thus, is the one who behaves and acts as per the conventions of society and its definition of a literal truth of things; one acts rationally when one acts as per the conventional metaphors. Even if Meursault had lied to himself and publicly said in the court that he felt sad or devastated on his mother’s death, he would have been ‘truthful’, because, as Nietzsche says, “Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions.” His untrue statement—untrue because he didn’t feel it inside—would have been, though, a manifestation of his being rational because only by playing by the (metaphorical) conventions of the society, by expressing the ‘truth’ that society wants to hear, one is considered rational. Acting otherwise threatens the self-image of the society, and the social order itself. But, by forgetting that he was supposed to forget his truer feelings and only express the ‘truth’, Meursault strayed from the conventional path and became Dolmut, an outsider. ♦

***

First published by the Wande Magazine on 27 May 2018: http://www.wandemag.com/on-dolmut/

Advertisements

Book Review: Doors to Future

Through media we have seen how clasping a few rags, desperate migrants and refugees, forced by excruciatingly hard circumstances, boarded those brittle crafts and rubber boats and embarked on perilous sea journey; many drowned on the way and many succeeded in reaching the safe shores of Fortress Europe. Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West while tracing the complicated journey that migrants surmount after fleeing their home countries, recreates the complex universe of their experiences and the convoluted emotions and tensions of separation from one’s homeland and the dear ones. His vigorous novel, thus, is the story that media images cannot tell us.   

The novel is timely: it is about refugees or migration. It is more about migration actually. “We are all migrants through time,” Hamid tries to tell us. And, as we travel from the war-ravaged — unnamed — country of Saeed and Nadia, the protagonists, to the Greek island of Mykonos and then to metropolitan cities of London and San Francisco, where they end up after passing through mysterious doors, their intimate migrant experiences, albeit inflected by their varying temperaments, is revealed to us in its attendant complexity.

“It was said in those days,” says the narrator of Exit West half way through the novel,“that the passage was both like dying and like being born, and indeed Nadia experienced a kind of extinguishing as she entered the blackness and a gasping struggle as she fought to exit it, and she felt cold and bruised and damp as she lay on the floor of the room at the other side.”

This brief passage through a rectangular dark door, which mysteriously takes people to faraway places, is all there is about the journey from the home country to the country of refuge. But this brevity is deliberate, as it serves to keep the narrative focused on subjective experiences of migration rather than its outwardly, almost Homeric, image of courageous sea journey — what in media we have seen umpteen times already. However, even within this minimalist description, we can feel those dramatic elements that mark a migrant’s arduous travel: Nadia’s “gasping struggle” and her exit from the door as “cold and bruised and damp.”

Saeed (an adman) and Nadia (an insurance agent) have a dissimilar attitude towards life. If Nadia is pragmatic, Saeed has a stronger sense of nostalgia. He is attached to his family, while Nadia has left hers and lives a rebelliously independent life. Despite being somewhat different people, they find love for each other. But, as they are forced by circumstances to flee their country, and get enmeshed in the vagaries of migrant life, they begin to drift apart and become emotionally aloof — as if they just happen to share a common shelter. Yet, Nadia tells herself, Saeed was “just out of rhythm with her in this moment.”

Nadia is a strong character who wills to life, and this becomes starkly apparent in her attitude to the very mundane. When Saeed turns nervous and impatient because Nadia had taken too long in the washroom of a London house where they had ended up and asks her “What the hell are you doing?”Nadia holds her ground, and we see: “What she was doing, what she had just done, was for her not about frivolity, it was about the essential, about being human, living as a human being, reminding oneself of what one was, as so it mattered, and if necessary was worth a fight.”

Nadia’s pragmatic attitude would allow her to tackle the roughness in the house which they were sharing with many other migrants because Nadia believed that “in life roughness had to be managed.” And this roughness emanated from prejudices and suspicions within the migrant community as much from the white natives, whose social landscape was disturbed by the sudden intrusion of foreigners. If it was not Nadia, Saeed would be lost in this new situation, because his nostalgia for his homeland never really left him, and Nadia realised that the more they moved away from their country of birth, “the more he sought to strengthen his connection to it, tying ropes to the air of an era that for her was unambiguously gone.”  

This pain of separation from one’s homeland and grudging adjustments to new reality borne out of migration is the main theme of the novel. And yet, under Saeed and Nadia’s bitter-sweet love story runs a parallel current: universality, or inevitability, of migration. Through this idea, Hamid seeks to counter what he, at a public talk, called “nostalgic political impulses,” which animates the mushrooming nativist parties in the western countries. Hamid wants to affirm that “everyone is a migrant — even people who are in the same place because that place changes over decades.” For me, this idea conjures up Ludo, the protagonist of 2013 novel A General Theory of Oblivion which I had read over the last summer. Ludo, a Portuguese woman, bricks herself in her apartment in the wake of the Angolan war against the Portuguese authorities, and she sustains in that apartment for thirty years, all the while receiving news from outside in bits and pieces. In these three decades, Luanda, the capital city, has changed, the world has changed. And thus, even though staying in the same apartment for three decades Ludo had migrated through time.

Among the brief vignettes that Hamid adroitly places in his narrative, there is a story of an old woman from Palo Alto—who “lived in the same house her entire life”—which conveys this message of migration through time.    

But there is a dystopian angle to migration as well, or so it seems, as one moves toward the later part of the novel: the white natives rise against the migrants, the government beefs up surveillance, and pushes the migrants from city spaces to its peripheries. Though ethnically diverse, the migrants also organise themselves and fight back. This is a scenario, a worst nightmare which Hamid forces us to visualise beforehand, perhaps to underline its inevitability, and, at the same time, by constructing it in a certain way, anticipating it as less alarming.

“Harrowing photographs,” writes Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others, “do not inevitably lose their power to shock. But they are not much help if the task is to understand.” It is narratives, then, that help. For a telling example, one can safely juxtapose the heart-rending picture of lifeless toddler Aylan Kurdi and Exit West: the former really haunt us while the latter attempts to make us understand. If the poignant picture of Aylan Kurdi moved us, stirred our conscience and sympathy for refugees, Exit West has potential to make us understand their complex lives. So, to slightly misquote Sontag, “To understand is, more and more, not to call up a picture but to be able to recall a narrative.” In the context of the recent refugee crisis, one can name Exit West as that defining book.

On a certain Friday night, when I sat to write this review I counted, just out of curiosity, the number of orange sticky flags I had expended during the reading of Exit West. It was exactly twenty. Re-reading those marked pages after one month immediately revived the moments and feelings in which they were previously read. That I could easily, almost seamlessly, reconnect with the plot and the storyline of the novel speaks of its brilliance. Hamid’s understated eloquence is almost poetic and his style of description sparse yet compelling.

***

This review was first published in Kashmir Narrator on 29 Mar 2018: http://kashmirnarrator.com/book-review-doors-to-future/

A Bloody Night in Pampore

Don’t tell me Papa Kishtwari looked ferocious,
And his eyes had all the fire of terror;
That his hairs were dyed dark ginger
And he walked with intimidating airs.

Tell me about that January night in 1996,
Which was the Night of Salvation,
When his armed pack of savage men,
After having slain a man at the door of a mosque,
Dragged a saffron trader from his home and tied
Him to an almond tree in his own courtyard.
And set his house on fire, his elderly mother still inside.
In her trembling pleas to Papa Kishtwari,
What did Samad’s wife tell him?
Did she faint terror-stricken
And sank to the January’s cold ground?
Or did she run to save
Her husband’s elderly mother,
Who was trapped
Inside the slowly burning house?

Tell me what she did when Papa Kishtwari shot
Samad Dar in front of his sons and daughters?
And rendered her a (yet another) widow of the dirty war?
Did her eyes freeze in the womb of that darkest night
And made her a piece of cold stone?
Did she feel the burning steel rip her heart?
And she was blown in the whirlwind of death?
Or, she untied her husband’s blood-soaked body
Off the almond tree which they had planted years ago?

Note: The poem is based on a true incident.

 

***

This poem was first published by Kashmir Lit in Mar 2018: http://www.kashmirlit.org/bloody-night-pampore-mohamad-tahir/.

 

Zulmich Shaam

Yi zulmich shaam ti zahn samsaar gasya 

Zanh gasya mazloom yemi naar nish azaad

Ja’abir jabr ti karri ti insaaf ti karri

Yi appuz wanan woal ti zahn sharmsaar gasya 

Zanh gasya yuth ki dimav naad andri

Ti peathi ababeel wassan 

Zahn ti wan tiuth walgaaar gasya 

 

Yemis bujjaras do’kh ti ruud na waen

Yemis acchen gaash ti nivukh

Yemis lokchaar ti maklyov qe’d khaanan manz 

Yemis wizi wizi yaad pevaan wanduk sua mokur anigott

Yemis kuthi manz mahraaz nivukh 

Su naad di kamis, su gasi kottt

Su baavi kya su bavi kamis, ga’r zaanan manz

Yi yemis tengul peov jigrass

Temis ti su zahn baar wasya…

Mushkil Wattan Manz

Yelli shab zuul mutzraai
Kul asmaan wasith gasi
Nabb feari rang ti gowher simaab gasi
Dazzan waar waar kainaatik raaz
Yelli su akh sitar khasith gasi

Lar traavi darwazas, kalle bari fernas andar
Pati andri andri kath karaan, akhir pris’es:

Ay! Gaash tse mitzrakh na wani ghand
Tse karakh na azaad
Tim pareshaan makeen
Yim fasith gamit wandhkis mandhlis manz
Yim dilf’ett banith mushkil wattan manz
Rattith cheani aaash har dam chi asaan
Yim dil daarith chi wuchaan asmaan
Patti wizzi wizzi baraan dham chi asaan
Yelli ti kahn prisaan chukh
Tim wanan, chuss aadam wumaid chum
Beyi kuss sahari aasem gar yitti na ro’zem
Yelli kahn prisaan chukh khayaaluk dhokhh akhir ti kuuta
Tim wanan, agar na kehn ti ro’zem, bus akh khudai ro’zem…

Naari Wathh (Path of Fire)

Aaz soonch aechh bandh karith
Traav dil ken khayaalan manz goant
Lithhi lor kar dil ken khubaban
Naar zaal pannis ashqikis makaanas

Yuth dazzi jigras nov armaan
Tithuu paraan paraan gas
Andri gallith gass, magar wuchaan gass
Gar mushkil chi naari wath, pakaan gass

Bozaan gass larr travith darr-e-zindaan
Yelli raath dalith aftab khassi challith asmaan
Tse naad di temis, su aalav wapas diiyin ya na diiyin
Na suui yee na tse gasakh kun, magar pakaan gass
Wuchaan gass kya chua’nni naari watti pakaan pakaan…

Letter to Young Kashmiris

In this letter, I will try to explain how we acquired our language: Kashur/Kashmiri. But, before telling you particular story of Kashmiris it is better, for a broader perspective, to understand the general picture of the evolution of human language; because our (Kashmiri) language did not develop on its own.

We, as hunter-gatherers, must have used gestures (like Chimpanzees and Bonobos do) to communicate with each other, and then those gestures must have evolved into a crude form of verbal communication (like cries, hoots, grunts, whispers, and other sounds). Later, over many centuries of demographic, social and cultural changes and outside influences, our crude verbal communication system must have evolved into a full-fledged language. (Before I proceed further, it is important to mention that there are many theories and speculations on how humans acquired language, but there is no record or direct evidence available to conclusively prove any theory. And, it is a very difficult subject area which was once considered as “unsuitable for serious study.” So, what I will tell you in the remaining part of this letter is not absolute truth but only a reasoned speculation).

According to researchers, we the modern humans (homo sapiens: ‘wise man’) originated in Africa, from where we begin to leave around 60,000-70,000 years ago and migrated around different parts of the world. Due to great climatic changes, a lot of us had died, reducing our population to around 10,000 people. But after improvements in climate, our population grew and some of us migrated, in different groups at different times, through Bab-al-Mandab Strait, which separates African continent and Arabian Peninsula. This theory is based on scientific studies on fossils of modern homo sapiens (found in Ethiopia), DNA testing on present-day populations, and examination of sea cores (Though recent discoveries of fossils of earliest homo sapiens in Morocco, China, and Israel may change or modify this theory. But till that happens let us go with the one I have just told you.)

Some 50,000 years ago, one of the migrant groups from Africa had settled around the Middle East and southern Central Asia and it was probably some people from this group who later entered the Kashmir Valley and made it their home. Since we come from the same migrant group our languages have similarities. This is found by many philologists also who have developed a language model called Proto Indo-European (PIE), which is considered as the oldest common language spoken by people around 4500-2500 BC (Neolithic Age). The word Proto comes from Greek protos meaning ‘first’ (also: primitive or original) and Indo-European indicates languages covered in geographical distance from the Indian continent to Europe. Thus, Proto Indo-European means primitive language spoken from Europe to the Indian subcontinent. Some theorists say PIE was mainly spoken around Eastern Europe and as some speakers of this language migrated (thanks to the domestication of horses and wheeled carriers) to other parts their dialect underwent a change over the years. So, from this common language (PIE) has derived many other languages called Indo-European languages. Philologists use comparative method to tell us the commonalities between languages. For example, the German word for father is ‘Vater’ which sounds similar to English ‘Father’, Greek and Latin ‘Pater’, Sanskrit ‘Pitr’, and Persian ‘Pedar’. Similarly, we can see resemblances in the initial consonants of the following terms: Vidya (Sanskrit), Idea (Greek), Videt (Russian), Videre (Latin), Vedere (Italian), Vedea (Romanian), Ver (Spanish), Voir (French) Witen (old English).

Is Kashmiri language part of Indo-European languages? Yes, indirectly. Because Kashmiri language belongs to what is called Dardic languages, and Dardic languages belong to the Indo-Iranian language family, which is derived from Indo-European languages. Dardic languages are spoken in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kashmir, and they are further divided into three sub-groups: Western, Central and Eastern. Kashmiri belongs to the Eastern Dardic group, and it is the only language within Dardic language family to have been “used extensively for literary purposes.” Over the centuries, Kashmiri language received influences from other languages, like Aramaic, Sanskrit, Punjabi, and Persian.

Sanskrit, which was spoken by Indo-Aryan people who are said to have come to Kashmir around 3000 BC, had a major influence on Kashmiri language. Since Sanskrit already had a script, Indo-Aryan settlers used their script (Sharda and Devanagiri) for Kashmiri language, as they gradually learned it and started speaking it in everyday conversations. But they used Sanskrit for religious and literary purposes; for a long time, Sanskrit literature flourished in Kashmir.

The earliest literary composition in Kashmiri language is attributed to great mystic Lal Ded, who wrote her ‘Vaakh’ poetry (Lal Vaakh) in the 14th century. After Lal Ded’s Vaakhs, another great mystic Sheikh-ul-Alam or Nund Rishi wrote his ‘Shrukhs’ in the 15th century. Thus, Lal Ded and Sheikh-ul-Alam introduced literary trend which influenced generations, both intelligentsia and common people. Among different literary genres, poetry has remained the high point of Kashmiri literature.  Though fictional prose has been written in Europe since the 17th century (like Cervantes’ Don Quixote), it was only by the mid-20th century that Kashmiri writers also started writing short stories and novels. In 1950, Somnath Jutshi wrote, “Yelli Pholl Gash” (When Dawn Cracked), which is considered as the first short story in Kashmiri literature. Seven years later, in 1957, Akhtar Mohiuddin wrote the first Kashmiri novel “Doad Dagg” (Sickness and Pain).

Today, over 5 million people speak Kashmiri, in its three main dialects: Kishtwari, Poguli, and Rambani. Kashmiri Muslims write it in Perso-Arabic script, while as Kashmiri Hindus prefer Sharda letters. Due to many factors (especially westernization), contemporary parents from urban middle-class families do not encourage their kids to speak in their mother tongue. Some schools also discourage conversation in Kashmiri. But, from pre-historic times to the 21st century, Kashmiri language has traversed a long history, witnessing many changes on the way. It will continue to change, and continue to grow. Some are apprehensive it may disappear if newer generations continue to remain indifferent to it. But, the language is still spoken in larger parts of Kashmir and outside, hence it is unlikely that it will become extinct in the near future.

[P.S: In my previous letter, based on the information from Khalid Bashir Ahmad’s book Kashmir: Exposing the Myth Behind the Narrative (2017), I had written that first humans existed in Kashmir around 7.8 lakh years ago. But it seems incorrect after I researched more about it. As archeologist Ajmal Shah told me, “The evidence of earliest human existence in Kashmir has not gone beyond 20,000 years BP [before present].”

 

Yours truly,

Muhammad Tahir

Dublin

 

______

First published in Greater Kashmir on 15 Feb 2018: http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/opinion/letter-to-young-kashmiris/275763.html