Kashmir's Everlasting Voice

Professor Rehman Rahi, a noted Kashmiri poet and scholar, has given a beautiful title, ‘saut-i-kashmir’ [Kashmir’s Voice], to late Ghulam Rasool Ghayoor who was killed fifteen years back at his native village, Ratnipora, by some unknown gunmen. This was revealed to us at a function held on the fifteenth death anniversary of the deceased at Pulwama on 22 October 2020. Rahi has said: “sokhanvar, qalamkar, Ghayoor zaav/korus rahiyan ‘saut-i-kashmir’ naav”. In absence of any institutional mechanism, Rahi  seems to be following the past tradition when poets and politicians have been given titles without really making them official, though some persons who gave the titles did hold power to get them officially endorsed. For instance, Mehjoor was called ‘shayri kashmir’ by Sheikh Abdullah when he was in power as the PM of Jammu & Kashmir State, but it was never officially endorsed as far as my knowledge goes.  He was himself called ‘sheri kashmir’ [The lion of Kashmir] by an outsider, God knows why?  Mehjoor was jailed when he, perhaps, had spoken against the government. He was rewarded with a title when the powers that be needed him. In politics, Kashmiris are familiar with many such titles. However, in the literary tradition of Kashmir, there was never any official or unofficial forum constituted that could decide about conferring a title to a litterateur in recognition of his/her contribution to Kashmiri and other literatures.  Therefore, Rahi’s title too will be accepted with a pinch of salt by all, as they know that titles given by private parties mean very little in Kashmir. It would have been good if there was an official organisation that gave titles to various writers after assessing their works as is done in many parts of the world. We don’t have Nobel Laureates here, but there are writers and scholars who have done a commendable work  in different fields and their work should have got official recognition by way of titles like the one given by Rahi to Ghayoor. These problems notwithstanding, I think by giving the title ‘Kashmir’s Voice’ to Ghayoor, Rahi has, in a way, pointed to the official apathy towards our creative writers. I don’t know whether Rahi really meant what he has said, or if he has said this to appease the very loving and obedient son of Late Ghayoor—Showkat Ghayoor—who has been relentlessly pursuing a noble mission of publishing Ghayoor’s creative writing—poetry and prose—posthumously; late Ghayoor didn’t make his works public during his lifetime. Without contesting the intentions of Rahi, I would like to point out why this title has a meaning when we look at the life and works of this son of the soil who had dedicated himself to the people of Kashmir, especially, his area where he had earned a name for his noble deeds.

Ghayoor was shot dead in 2005 for ‘crimes’ which he seemed to have committed for his own people. Listening to his close friends and colleagues at the function, it became clear that he had wanted to be a freeman so that he could serve his people better. That is why he bunked the Government service and committed himself to the cause of the downtrodden. One of his former colleagues who, later on, had become a bureaucrat informed us that Ghayoor wanted to live an independent life where he neither gave commands nor receive any commands. The former could have been rather difficult, but the latter did make him somewhat uneasy as it snatched him his freedom to work on his own terms and conditions. In a job one is always at the beck and call of one’s immediate officer which very often conflicts with your instincts if you have decided not to receive any diktats. Ghayoor’s freedom-loving nature had therefore made him a kind of revolutionary who didn’t compromise self-respect, dignity and honour—neither of himself nor the common people. Naturally, you are bound to see a man who is more humane, caring and ever ready to work for his people and, at times, at the cost of his own family’s time and care. Was he killed for that? Allah knows better, but what we learn about him is that he was a social activist, an educationist, a scholar and, above all, a great writer having an equal hold on Urdu, Kashmiri, Arabic, Persian and English.

His works published posthumously by his illustrious son, Showkat Ghayoor, are mainly collections of his poetry—nazms, ghazals and naáts—in Urdu and Kashmiri. He has also to his credit a prose collection entitled fikri zaviye nathri khake which is an anthology of essays written in an unmatched style. I won’t be exaggerating if I call these essays free verses, more poetic than poetry itself. Here is a sampler:

That garden—

Where flowers are—with no fragrance

That desert—

Where there are only oases.

That heart—

Which has paint in it—

[But] no beating.

That existence—

Which has—no friends

Nobody can say that this is not poetry. I have somewhere else written, “Gayoor’s unique style has enabled him to deal with issues of great significance. He has written on Nature–Morning, Evening, River etc; Society—Women, Poverty etc; Life—Patience, Shrewdness, etc, and Religion.” See, how he treats women:

Woman

Nature’s beautiful—and matchless gift.

An interesting riddle—

Solving of it is life’s occupation.

Woman

When she comes to revenge—is heedless.

When she comes to loving—is a pleasant friend.

Woman is entirely ghazal,

Who deserves—respect and attention.

Ghayoor was a voice for the masses and died for them. The cruel hands of the killer did snatch him physically from Kashmir, but he/they couldn’t silence the voice that he had given to the aspirations and wishes of the people. Ghayoor is living an eternal life through his creative writing:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see.

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Professor (Dr) Mohammad Aslam is former HoD English, KU