When the noted writer and critic late Prof Hamidi Kashmiri, propounded a new theory of criticism in Urdu literature, Iktishafi Tanqeed, it created a storm in the Urdu world. The new theory upended the criticism in vogue in the South Asia. There was a fierce reaction to his theory but Hamidi stood his ground.
Once at a function in Kashmir University, Hamidi said, "in poetry I don't see for example where he has put Kashmir or nature or poverty. We have to see how this fiction takes us to a wonderland. Until we don't get surprised, or wonder, after reading it, we cant get any kind of aesthetic pleasure."
While explaining his ground breaking theory another critic and writer Prof Gulshan Majeed says "Hamidi Sahib propounded his theory of revelatory criticism to emphasis the power and energy which the words and their arrangement in a verse carries irrespective of their societal or accumulated meanings. It was like Bergson's 'elan vital' – the energy which helps the ' body of words' to release itself of all the bondage's. It is unconditional study of poetry or rather a study free from any preconditions which otherwise try to intrude into field of poetry from without.anything more tell me."
Prior to it nobody had thought on such lines in Urdu world, though there were similar looking attempts. Hamidi got both brickbats and bouquets for the theory.
For fifty years years he researched and wrote about the theory. He had studied all theories of criticism in art all around the world and he knew which theory had what limitations. Whatever questions were raised he answered them with the confidence of his immense knowledge. His books and thoughts ultimately forced the Urdu giants to take notice and come around. The renowned poets of South Asia requested him to write about their work based on the theory.
Abdul Samad, a known Urdu writer of Bihar, was one of them. And once when Hamidi wrote about his work the feedback he received was unforgettable. Tears trickled down the eyes of Abdul Samad as he read the interpretation of his own work. "I had not written any new about him or brought any new revelation, yet the impact was huge," said Hamidi at the KU event.
It is one of the reasons that renowned critic Rafiq Raaz had placed Hamidi in the league of top three Urdu critics of India. The other two being Shams u Rehman Farooqi and Gopi Chand Narang.
Hamidi always thought that critics are very important for the world of literature as it is they who lead the evolution of higher level of literature. In case there are no critics, people will be deprived of those higher levels and also simpler meanings of that work for a layman, he would say.
"There are hundreds of books on Iqbal describing his strategies yet fewer ones describe what his poetry means. What is in the words, what does the poetry say. What gives aesthetic pleasure. How it satisfies our curiosity," he said.
Becoming a top notch critic was not on his mind when he took up writing. He was in college when he came across Urdu magazines with beautiful poetry and short stories. He was impressed and thought, "hey I can write it too, this is interesting." He started with fiction and his every story was received with applause.
His first novel in Urdu was Waadi Ke Phool, which revolved around the freedom struggle of Kashmir. The novel beautifully highlighted the struggle in the aftermath of 1931, the oppression of Dogra rulers and the suffering of people.
"He came to limelight with his urdu book, Urdu Nazam par Europy Asraat. This book took him from margins and placed him in the centre of Urdu world," said Prof Gulshan Majeed, a renowned writer, who also worked with Kashmiri in the University. "He had MA in English too and had extensively studied English literature. He could easily trace the influence of best European poets on the progressive and modernists Urdu poets. Urdu world started to take notice of him after the book."
Hamidi wrote thought provoking books on Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir and Iqbal. He presented them in an altogether new light. After 1970s, Hamidi also started writing extensively on Kashmiri literature, attesting to his authority in Kashmiri too.
In his literary career spanning over many decades, Hamidi wrote around 70 books. These included Iqtishafi Tanqeed Ki Sheryat, Ainame Ibraaq, Mahasir Tanqeed, Riyasati Jammu Aur Kashmir Urdu Adab, Jadeed Kashir Shayeri and Shiekh–ul-Aalam Aur Shayeri.
He has to his credit more than 20 books on Urdu criticism alone.
He was once asked why he stopped writing Kashmiri, to which he said that he didn't. "The demand for Urdu was so much that Kashmiri took a back seat. I always wrote in Kashmiri but I kept hoarding it to be published at a later stage," said Hamidi. "One needs to have passion and love for language to write. I had them both and my dedication never decreased."
So was he immersed in his work that once Hamidi completed 29 Ghazals in a single day starting in morning and ending by evening.
He dabbled in most of the writing genres and even wrote radio dramas.
A down to earth man, Hamidi was born in 1932 in Bohri Kadal. He had his education at SP College. In 1958 he obtained degree of MA Urdu from Punjab University. He did his PhD with his path-breaking thesis "Jadeed Urdu Nazm aur Europee Asraat," which was later published as book also.
He started his career as lecturer in SP college and later became Assistant Secretary in Jammu Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and Languages.
He joined Kashmir University as lecture in 1961 and held various positions. In between his work and teaching students, he published on an average of almost one book every year.
He was always immersed in his work. He has a huge following in the shape of students who went on to make careers in both literature, education and other fields.
His numerous awards include Sahitya academy award, Bihar Urdu Academy award, Bengal Urdu Academy awards. Ghalib Award, Imteyaz e Mir award from Mir Academy Lucknow and JKAACL awards. He was bestowed by Government of India with the third highest civilian award of Padma Shri in 2010.
He was a down to earth and never has anybody recalled any incident of his being angry or raising voice. Writer Farooq Nazki once addressed him as a dangerous man who has no enemy in entire population of the State. A disciplined man, Hamidi had the habit of doing his work at home by himself. Be it polishing his shoes or ironing his clothes he always did it himself, even when he had a dedicated help.
Hamidi was in awe of Kashmir and intellect of Kashmiris. Had it not been uncertain times and oppression over the centuries, he would say Kashmiris would have accomplished a lot.
His taking of pen name Hamidi Kashmiri has its root in him being proud Kashmiri.
"Once in Delhi there was reception for me. I was fresh from university and hadn't much exposure of public speaking. So I mustered some courage and thanked the audience in few sentences. After the function a person came to me and told me that 'You are a Kashmiri. I got it by listening to your typical pronunciation of Irdu,' in a condescending way. I replied 'yes the pronunciation comes from my Kashmiriat and I am proud of it. I am from Kashmir," recalled Hamidi.
At that time writer Ali Mohammed Lone told him to take a pen name of Habib Hamidi, but Hamidi left Habib out and modified it to Hamidi Kashmiri, to keep Kashmir in it for all time.
His biggest test came when government approached him become Vice Chancellor of KU in the turbulent era of 1990. At first he declined the delegation which comprised of Prof Riyaz Punjabi and Hamidullah Bhat, by saying that he has backache. But the delegation persisted and wanted him to save the KU at this critical juncture.
Kashmiri became VC of Kashmir University in the aftermath of killing of Mushirul Haq when nobody from outside wanted to come to Kashmir University. The responsibility of becoming its VC was placed on the shoulders of Kashmiri.
"It was a lawless period when copying was rampant, and everything seemed lost. He reined in deterioration in education. He never compromised on his principles and kept a check on the menace of copying as well as corruption," said Majeed. "The result was that government even started conducting college exams in KU, as they trusted Kashmiri that he would ensure fair practice."
Around 150 incidents related to the situation happened with him and he had tough time getting himself safe. But he completed his job with satisfaction and never complained.
He was an optimistic person and never thought Kashmiri or Urdu was going extinct. "We had legendary poets like Ghani Kashmiri who wrote classics in Persian but at home they spoke Kashmiri. So they took along both languages. Similarly government tried to demolish Urdu, yet it is still alive be it in films or media," said Hamidi.
The legendary critic died after a prolonged illness in the intervening night of 26-27 December 2018, but his work will be there for a long time to inspire new talent.