Gulshan Badrani, the cultural activist unearthing literary treasure of Kashmir

As a child, Gulshan Badrani always found himself surrounded by poets, artists, musicians and people of similar genre. The Badran area of Magam, Budgam was the hub of theatre groups and musicians. At home his maternal grandfather Mohammed Ramzan Beigh’s image loomed large. He was a poet, intellectual and a known personality of his era, whose friends included legends like Mahjoor and Samad Mir.

The atmosphere deeply influenced Gulshan and he was automatically was drawn towards the field of art. He approached one of the many theatre groups and got readily accepted as a child artist.

 “Pre 90s was the golden era of art, culture and literature. I had the privilege of witnessing it in 1980s,” said Gulshan who was born as Mohammed Akbar Dar in 1969 in Badran, Magam, the area which was taken over by a wave of cultural activities at that time.

“Our theatre group used to go to rural areas and the day of play would be a day of festivities for that entire village. People would come on foot from as far as 15 kms to watch the play that used to continue till 11-12 in night. Locals used to prepare special dishes as they knew that on that day their relatives would visit to see the play.”

The onset of 90s saw the end of almost all cultural activities and Gulshan’s routine also got limited to studies and some occasional literary activities.

To cope up with the vacuum, Gulshan took up the pen. Be it at home or during his degree of Master in Kashmiri literature, Gulshan studied the treasure of Kashmiri poets and writers.

One of things he discovered during his discussions and research was that there are numerous Kashmiri writers who had written brilliant set of works in different genres, but their name has remained unknown.

In 90s Gulshan established a cultural organisation Gulshan Cultural Forum to work on the promotion of art and culture, and also undertake research to unearth the hidden gems of Kashmiri literature.

Gulshan was instrumental in bringing forth the great work of Ghulam Hassan Shahbaz, who besides being a poet was an accomplished researcher. Shahbaz, a government teacher, who passed away in 1989, was way ahead of his times.

To his credit is the first zoology book in Kashmiri, which he wrote while travelling all around Kashmir. Gulshan compiled and edited the scattered unpublished work in the shape of a book titled Zou Zaetch (animal kingdom). The book is a must for anybody who wants to understand the fascinating world of animals in Kashmir.

 “Shahbaz was highly intelligent and workaholic person. The book contains description of hundreds of  animals found in Kashmir. He has documented almost every living being right from an ant to a buffalo. He then has described their life cycle and their behaviour. For example in the case of horses, he has described that over 100 species of horses, most of which have become extinct now much like other animals. He even has written how the horses walk,” said Gulshan.

In the book Shahbaz has taken on the subject of mythical and paranormal beings too. He has described traditional Kashmiri ghosts like Tasruf, Raantas, Troonch etc and written their characteristics too. On some occasions he has even detailed the address where he has heard that a particular kind of ghost can be found.

Gulshan was instrumental in highlighting the unknown aspect of Shahbaz. “Once I took Rahman Rahi to his library. Gulshan recounts that after reading his work, Rahi said that “I feel too small before Shahbaz. He has done enormous work in poetry, spirituality and other subjects”.

Gulshan also edited and compiled poetry collection of Shahbaz by the name of Kulyat-e-Shahbaz, ten year after the death of the poet.Shahbaz’s work has found its way in Kashmiri Encyclopaedia through many rich entries. His other work includes research on Medicinal plants of Kashmir and Ayurvedic treatment of ailment like Breast Cancer and kidney stones.

Central Institute of Indian Languages Mysore was impressed with his proposal on Shahbaz and they financed the entire project, so that world can know about the forgotten poet and researcher.

In continuance with his research work, Gulshan was selected by Jammu Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and Languages to write a monograph on old Kashmiri poetess Arnimaal. The existence of the poetess has been subject of debate over the years, with some terming Arnimaal as a fiction of imagination and other vouching for her existence and work.

Gulshan sought to end the debate by producing a 100 page monograph on her. “In my research I have found strong evidences in favour of Arnimaal. She was a poetess who lived in Palhalan Pattan. Even now there are various places in her name, like there is a spring called Arnimaal Naag. I have quoted the elderly persons of that area, who told me how they have learned from their forefathers about the poetess,” said Gulshan. “In addition to it I have given historical references from various books too.”

One of the extensive works of Gulshan has been his book Saazas Dimou Mizraab, a research oriented book on folk tunes of Kashmir. The 225 page book describes the musical genres like Ladishah, Baand paether and other types in detail. The book, which is a valuable addition to the musical literature of Kashmir also highlights the present status of musical legacy in Kashmir. “It was the work of my two year research  as part of fellowship from union department of culture,” said Gulshan. The work was later turned into a TV series of same name by Gulshan

Besides being a researcher Gulshan is also a poet, writer, radio presenter and TV anchor. His strength lies in hosting and producing  literary programmes. He has been presenting weekly Gandhi Katha based on Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings on Radio.

He has also written Zune Gaashas Manz,  a poetry collection which has been received well in literary circles. He has also written four dramas that also includes impressive drama Modern Noush sponsored by Sangeet Natak Akademi.

Till date he has edited around a dozen books and many more are in the offing. He also compiled Dag Chi Kuni, a translation of selected poems from around the world and translated by Satish Vimal.

One of the best things about Gulshan has been his continuous dedication with the cultural world. At a time when scene of art and literature is yet to regain its status in Kashmir, Gulshan Cultural Forum has been continuously organising various programmes like drama performances, poetic symposiums and art festivals.

Their yearly annual cultural festival of Samanbal has given his native Village a new identity. Even a place where the artists and writers from the State meet and discuss, is now known as Samanbal. “From Rahi saheb to young poets, the event gives platform to all. It has been now going on for a decade,” said Gulshan. The union department of culture actively supports Gulshan in this endeavour.

Though the situation is pessimistic but Gulshan is always in search of a hope, even a fainter one.

 “There was a time when we used to stage plays in open, in villages and even during night. People would come in thousands with no issue,” said Gulshan. “Nowdays we have to stage a play inside a closed door auditorium of Tagore Hall that too before a select and trustworthy audience. Theatre and music has become Shajr-e-Mamnooa (the forbidden fruit). In our village barring few persons, the entire theatre and musical legacy has gone extinct.”

Gulshan feels the field of art and culture needs to be de-politicised, only then the situation would change.