On a shelf in my small study I have a beautiful book printed on glossy paper 'Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam', translated from Persian into our mother tongue by Ghulam Nabi Khayal. It was my second introduction to Khayyam, after having read translation of Rubaiyat by Edward Fitzgerald as a student of literature and parroted verses like:
"Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
Before Life's Liquor in its Cup be dry."
Many a critic of Kashmiri literatureconsiders Khayal's translation of Rubaiyat as one of the best in our nativelanguage. Long before, as a young student passing my leisure time inside abookshop in our Mohalla, owned by one of the then famed calligraphist MahajanSahib, I had seen the first edition of the translation and heard the story thatpoet had rendered 15o quatrains from Persian into Kashmiri during his days injail- like many others he also had been implicated in fabricated 'HazratbalConspiracy' case of 1958. The glossy edition on my shelf for past almost adecade and reprinted after forty years staring at me reproachfully about ourapathy towards our literature reminded me how jails had brought best in some ofthe inmates and how these had turned into seminaries and schools for some of mycontemporaries and classmates – and how thinking of some students hadmetamorphosed in the cauldron of ideologies.
I would have no idea if there were anystudents behind the high walls of the prisons in the fifties when translator of Khayyam's quatrains wasjailed. But, for a decade after 1965, thousands of students were sent to useCharles Dickens phrase to the 'melancholy house' to pass their 'weary days' inlong barracks and pace on metalled prison pavements like 'mourners at afuneral'. After freedom from jails, for years they recounted the horrificexperiences and shared tales how in the dismal scenario they saw a silverlining that changed their lives.
A couple of friends often talked aboutthe dedication of an inmate Master Abdullah Beg who taught them to readthe Quran and made them remember many aSurah of the Holy Book. In their childhood, they had not been to Quran Chatahall; there were stories thatafter 1947 the emergency administration had closed Chatahalls, and these were re-opened after 1953 only. Some receivedlessons on the Holy Quran from Qari Sahib one of the founding members of theJama'at-e-Islamia Jammu and Kashmir. It was their first-time introduction tothe literature on Islam by one of the greatest twentieth-century South AsianIslamic Scholar Abul A'la Maududi – it had changed their outlook for the restof their life.
Some friends often felt nostalgic aboutthe human qualities of Abdul Kabir, an unlettered communist leader, master institching clothes with a needle who visited various barracks to know from thestudents if he could be of assistance to them, including mending their clothesand fixing button in their shirts. In the mid-sixties, when G.M. Sadiq, acommunist was in power ironically many left-leaning students, perhapsprofessing Marxist-Leninist ideology was jailed. A couple of friends oftenmentioned that while visiting them in their barrack and listening to their discourses on works like Das Kapitaland Dialectical Materialism they for the first time learnt about Karl Marx andFriedrich Engels – and got influenced by the ideology.
In a place where over a period of hundred years people have been jailed, there are a plethora of stories suggesting that jails have been the cauldron of ideologies- that have metamorphosed detunes political outlooks- on occasions oscillated them from one extreme to another. The story of Engineer Sufi, a footballer and one of the founding members of Islamic Study Circle could be a classic example. Talking on student politics in Kashmir and remembering his days in jail, he told me that during his days in S.P. College he read communist literature and was actively associated with the Democratic National Conference.
He knew all prominent socialist leaders D.P. Dhar, Noor Mohammad and Sadiq, and as an activist of the party hawked party newspaper 'Hamara Kashmir' with another friend Ratinder Koul. In 1965, as a student of the Regional Engineering College, he was detained and lodged on the Central Jail, Srinagar. On the first night inside the jail in the evening, someone slipped a book into the barrack. He picked up the book; it was a collection of Iqbal's poetry. Next morning, a man introducing himself as Jahangir Khan asked the jailed students, if any one of them had picked up the book he had slipped into the barrack. Knowing Sufi had picked it up, Jahangir Khan suggested to him read Iqbal and try to understand him. Iqbal transformed Sufi; then he started reading Abul A'la Maududi. 'The second volume of 'Tafhimat' was the first work of Maududi, in barrack no 3, then he read one after another work by the Islamic scholar in the jail- and he left the prison as a learned man with a changed ideology.