In 1934, adjacent to the shrine of Sheikh ul Alam (RA) in Chrar e Shareef, a child was born to the house of Haji Mohammed Akram Mukim. Though to a common eye nothing seemed unusual about the boy, but when a saint who was known to the family visited them, he saw something special in the boy. He told Haji that "tohe chu Gowhar Khonne Manz" (You have a jewel in your lap). It would be many years before the prophecy of the saint came true and the small boy Ghulam Nabi Muqeem became famous poet, writer and researcher Ghulam Nabi Gowhar.
After his initial education at Chrar e Shareef, Gowhar did his graduation from Gandhi Memorial College and later went on to complete LLB at Aligarh Muslim University. Gowhar, a restless soul, was always on the lookout of doing something big. He started his law practice in Budgam and with deep interest in politics decided to contest elections. Before the elections itself, he cleared the judicial exam and was appointed as a judge. He went on to work at different positions in different districts and ultimately retired as Sessions Judge.
Running parallel to his legal career was his literary journey. During the day he was writing hard judgements and during night he would often spend time on soft poetry and novels. It is said that being a judge Gowhar was able to watch society closely along with all its evils, properties, human beahviour which ultimately groomed him into a nuanced writer.
In 1969 Gowhar came up with his first book, a novel titled Mujrim (The Guilty). Everybody right from D N Nadim to Habib Kamran had written a novel and people thought it would be similar one off experiment of Gowhar too. But Gowhar didn't stop and went on to write half a dozen more novels, a feat that made him first novelist of Kashmiri literature. "Gowhar was a proud Kashmiri. He was always in awe of the fact how rich our literature has been. Perhaps he knew that we only lacked novels and he took upon himself to fill that gap," said critic and poet Prof Shad Ramzan. "He is undoubtedly the first Kashmiri novelist who regularly published novels that too of high calibre."
In 1973 he wrote his second novel Meoul (Union) and then came his third novel Paap ti Punye (Vice and Virtue) that was also broadcast on Radio Kashmir in weekly episodes. For this book he received Sahitya Akademi award in 1988.
Gowhar took the novel writing in Kashmir to next level by blurring difference between fact and fiction. "He wrote novels but hidden in it was the history of Kashmir that had remained undocumented. His novel Arg-e-Ashud is in reality the history of Kashmir from 1947 onwards. And another novel Gilnavith Kath tells the history of Kashmir before 1947. He tells us everything what our leaders did wrong, who backstabbed us, who reneged on promises and how people were deceived all in the form of characters. It is a beautifully written book," said Ramzan. "For a person who wants to understand Kashmir politics or wants to write anything on those events, his knowledge will be incomplete without reading these took novels."
During a book release function in 2012, Gowhar while delving into the circumstances which gave him the theme and inspiration to write this novel said that he wanted to narrate the eventful era from 1930 to 1990, and the sufferings of the people of his motherland. The novel was the fruit of decades of his literary research.
Its English translation 'Torch Bearer: In Dark Circles' has been published by Raider Publishing International, New York. The 1183 page novel.
The story starts with romance of Areg, daughter of widow maidservant and Ashud (Asad), a poor Mashali (torchbearer) at a marriage party. Ashud enchanted by beauty of Areg believes she also deserves to be a queen but suddenly remembers:
"We Kashmiris by now have no royal families, we have since that last monarch ceased to be rulers we are now only subjects to be ruled."
He even brings references of historical happenings like Mongol invasion or magnificent Sultans, which attest to his thorough knowledge of history.
Gowhar was a multitalented person who showed equal quality in his poetry too. In foreword to his poetry collection legendary poet Rahman Rahi says that Gowhar is Harmukhuk Tentol (Top of mighty Harmukh mountain) in poetry.
Even in this genre Kashmir loomed large on his mind. Author Mohammed Yousuf Teng says that if Gowhar had just written one poem, his stature would still be huge. The poem is
Vansa keetis gassie kasheer kinai
Zoo kinai zev kinai zameer kinai
Saasi firri yus kunum lachas grahakas
Katri molle hekh ti seer seer kinai
Loosely translated as
(Tell me how much will you pay, should I sell you Kashmir
Will sell life, will sell voice, will sell soul
Thousand times I sold it to lakhs of customers
Will sell it for penny, should you buy it brick by brick)
His religious poetry took Kashmir by storm and even to this day one of his famous Naat e Shareef reverberates all around the mosques and shrines in Kashmir.
Saal e yee Aalamuk Nawab Yim Shab
Arziayan dee me rut jawab yim shab
"Gowhar was a versatile genius. No matter in which genre he stepped into, he made his mark into it. Once I interviewed Raj Begum to know which songs made her famous. She told me that the song of Gowhar saheb Kya Kya vanai ae dost chey, Kam Kam Sitam vatrai me, made her todays Raj Begum. This song took her fame to zenith," said Inayat Gul, a film producer who was close associate of Gowhar and has made a documentary on him too.
"At Doordarshan whenever I had to do some programme on any new book. I would approach Gowhar and he would finish reading the book in a day or two and then give his expert opinion on it. He had great memory and would quote line by line from the book and discuss what it means and often relate it with history. He was a treasure of knowledge," said Inayat who has entire collection of Gowhars books at his home. "He could talk on any topic with references."
Gowhar wrote 60 books and some of them are still in print. He never stopped writing and on an average he has written one book every ten months since his first book in 1969. And almost all of the books are well researched manuscripts some even exceeding thousand pages.
In literary circles it is a fact that if Sheikh ul Alam (RA) was rediscovered by anybody it was Gowhar and Assadullah Aafaqi. These two completely changed the way Kashmiris had been looking at Sheikh ul Alam (RA). "Till some years ago and even now, to many people, Sheikh-ul-Alam (RA) was a mystic poet who probably lived in caves. But Gowhar proved with his research that Sheikh-ul-Alam (RA) was more of a literary genius and who established a university and worked for transformation of Kashmir with education. His Tsat Korre (women disciples) were not just obedient students, they were in reality women teachers entrusted to teache women of various areas," said Prof Shad Ramzan. "And he proved it with evidence."
Gowhar was one of the biggest experts on Sheikh-ul-Alam (RA). He wrote number of well researched books on the great saint including Sheikh Noor-ud-din Wali (Nund Rishi) RA, Kalam e Sheikhul Alam, Saheef-e-Noor (three volumes) etc. "He was able to decipher the poetry of Sheikh ul Alam. He only only gave summary of every couplet Sheikh Ul Alam (RA) wrote but also researched the background too. When was the particular couplet, known as Shruks, written, what was the background story and in which context," said Inayat.
His knowledge of Persian helped him connect various dots in literature. He wrote in Kashmiri, Urdu and English. Regarding his non-fiction, the books are equally important for every Kashmiri student to read. He was not the one who could remain witness of importance events as a bystander but he took the pen to go on the front.
He documented Hazratbal siege and Chrar -e-Shareef operation in his two important books Hazratbal – The Central Stage of Kashmir Politics and Military operation in Kashmir : insurgency at Charar-e-Sharief. The two books give a gripping account of the two most important events of contemporary Kashmir insurgency.
Gowhar who passed away on June 19th will be remembered for a long time for his huge contribution towards Kashmiri literature. For the last eight years he was no dialysis but that never deterred him to do his work as a writer. Be it his Kashmiri translation of Constitution of India, poetry of Iqbal and Bankim Chander Chatterjee or rediscovering and editing work of Kashmiri poet Ghulam Nabi Aariz, he enriched the Kashmiri literature in an immense way.
At times of his career as a jurist he would feel conflict between the two sides of his personality. But he would resolve the conflict by the merging the poet with a judge. Once when the poet became heavy on his personality while delivery a verdict in some case, he wrote the judgement in the shape of a beautiful poem. Everybody was amused as the justice was delivered in a rhythm. Only Gowhar could have done that.