Mohiudin Reshi: A story teller presenting society in a new light

Whenever Kashmiri writer Mohudin Reshi takes to podium at the fiction writers guild in Srinagar, the audience sitting on the floor often outnumbers the limited number of chairs available in the hall. The guild holds a function every Saturday sometimes at Abi Guzar and at other times at Hotel Shahenshah. But one thing that has remained consistent is the dedicated audience that makes it a point to reach the venue and cherish the stories narrated by Reshi and others.

Though the short stories genre in Kashmir is a recent one but the writers who have donned this mantle have produced some of the best stories which highlight everything from the decay in society to politics to the ever-changing landscape of Kashmir. Reshi has carried forward the legacy of story telling in his unique style. His use of suspense and drama in the short stories compels the reader to complete the story in a one go.

Born in 1951 in Aali Kadal Srinagar, Reshi was fortunate enough to be raised in a house where writers, intellectuals and poets would assemble regularly. “It all started with my uncle Mohammed Siddiq’s application to Information Department seeking job as a Qatib. It was the time the legendary editor of Aftab newspaper, Sonaullah had returned to Kashmir and approached Information Department for registering his newspaper. At the office he saw the beautifully written application of Siddiq and requested the then DG Information Janki Nath Zutshi to give Siddiq’s address to him so that he can employ him in his newspaper. Sonaullah later came to our house to meet my uncle and offer him the job,” recalls Reshi. “Since then Sonaullah became a regular visitor to our house and so came other stalwarts like Mohammed Yousuf Teng, Meem Meem Siddiq, Shamsudin Shameem and others.”

The association of Reshi’s family and Aftab was strengthened as most of the uncles of Reshi got associated with Aftab newspaper. “Aftab at that time used to publish fiction stories which was a hit among public. Writers all over the Kashmir would submit stories for publication. My uncle used to get all letters to his home to edit and publish and I would often sneak in to read,” said Reshi.

It was all but natural to be influenced by such an environment and Reshi too succumbed to the desire to write short stories. He was in class 8 when he secretly wrote a short story and mailed it to Aftab under the name Mohiudin Mahmood. “I didn’t dare to tell my uncle about my passion. After 15 day when the mail reached our home I twice kept it on the top so that my uncle would notice it. Unfortunately my story was termed as below par and it was rejected. I was heartbroken and it killed my passion,” said Reshi.

But one thing that kept him in touch with literature were weekly meetings at his house in which Shameem Ahmad Shameem, Sonaullah Aftab, MY Teng and other would attend and discuss varied topics. Sonaullah had a huge circle of friends and he had an aura to turn every meeting into a vibrant intellectually stimulating discourse.

Meanwhile Reshi completed his graduation and he applied for a post in Information Department where he was selected. He worked on  Khushnavis, translator and editor posts and at various places until he was given responsibility to edit Aalav magazine.

“It was in 1997 when the situation was very bad in Kashmir and all literary activities had stopped. Even Jammu Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages had ceased to function by way of organising cultural events and publishing literary journals. The then Chief Minister had asked the Information department to start a literary journal. Unfortunately nobody agreed to accept the responsibility until somebody recommended my name and I ready to do the job,” said Reshi. “I am highly indebted to noted writer Rahman Rahi, who encouraged me and gave his submissions to be published in the magazine.”

Reshi even came up with the name Aalav (The calling) for the magazine.

The magazine achieved new heights and authors would make a beeline with their manuscripts. The work also reignited the passion of writing in Reshi. Once when he showed his short story to writer Amar Malmohi, he got a tremendous feedback, which encouraged him to publish it in Aalav.

His first short story Bocche was published in 1997, which was duly appreciated. Since then he continued to regularly publish short stories in Aalav and other magazines.

From 1997 to 2009, Reshi worked relentlessly as editor Aalav. Reshi took it to new heights and even one special Nazm number of the magazine was so popular that it was included in the syllabus of MA Kashmiri, thus adding another feather to Reshi’s cap.

One of his short stories ‘Nakh’ (pall-bearing) has been included in the text book of 10th standard by J&K Board of Secondary Education.

Ironically Aalav died a silent death when reship retired in 2009 and nobody could shoulder the responsibility of its editing.

With demands of more, Reshi started compiling the short stories in a book and in 2009 he released his first book of Kashmiri short stories titled Aena Aatash. The book was received well in academic circles and he became one of the few persons to have bagged the prestigious Sahitya Academy award for his first book. The award was announced in December 2013. It was a bitter sweet end to one of the most tragic years of Reshi. In the July of same year he lost his young son to a tragic accident in Udaipur. It changed Reshi’s life forever, which is evident in some of his stories written after that.

Reshi took the genre of short stories writing to a new level in accordance with the changing tastes of younger generation. He has even shortened the short stories without losing any of the elements of the plot.

The biggest USP of Reshi’s stories in his start of the short story. He starts right with a bang with an element of surprise. Like in one story he starts with a man shouting “where  are the children?” Followed by quick response of characters wife that they are at tuition class. Just reading the first line makes reader to think something must have happened. He doesn’t lose time and words in trying to build a plot. “In today’s world nobody has time to read so much of stuff. Younger generation has less attention span and that is why some of the stories are just one paragraph long and people love it,” said Reshi while agreeing that the biggest challenge facing Kashmiri literature is lack of reading by youngsters. “Even at our Fiction Writers Guild, I try to encourage the young writers and readers. With my stories targeting at them i feel immensely happy if I influence even single person,”    

Reshi’s favourite writers have been Saadat Hassan Mantoo and Munshi Premchand. Most of his short stories are highly influenced by Mantoo, which a reader can easily get right from its title to twisting plot.

The writer has also not shied away from writing on the political and other topics that have engulfed Kashmir for the last twenty years. He has also targeted society and its evil practices. Be it challenges of an unmarried girl who just wishes she will marry even a handicap person or a relationship between a childless woman and puppy or even the tension between sister-in-laws and mother-in-laws. The politics and its different shades of grey have been duly highlighted in various stories.

The book of short stories written by Reshi has been highly acclaimed by various circles in and outside the state. Besides, several of its other short stories have received commendation from critiques like Prof Rehman Rahi, MY Taing, Prof Mohammad Aslam and others.

Many of Reshi’s short stories have also been translated and published in different classical and international languages., including Arabic. One of his story Bramm (Illusion) has the privilege of being translated and published in prestigious Transfire journal published from Tamil Nadu. Transfire usually publishes some acclaimed work from all around the world.

Recently Reshi also wrote his second book Nethnaeni (The stripped). The collection of short stories has hit the society left right and centre much like his earlier work, to which Taing says that the stories create a certain kind of pain in the heart. It forces the readers to think and see their society in a new way. “Reshi’s stories are like a beads in a rosary. Together they give a compact picture and even if one bead is removed entire picture is distorted,” writes Taing. “His themes are Kashmiri but easily connected to a global  level.”

His stories have been broadcast from TV and Radio. Till date he has written around 70 stories with more in the offing.