Naji Munawar: A poet whose heart beats for children
GK Photo

Naji Munawar: A poet whose heart beats for children

The interactions with children and his own personality drove him towards children literature. Before him, poets like Mehjoor and Mahmud Gami had written few poems for children, but Naji took it to another level.

Along the banks of a cold water stream, surrounded by lush greenery in a non-descriptive Kapran hamlet lay a small house that is often teeming with people coming to express gratitude, receive counselling or just acquainting themselves with knowledge. The lone occupant of the house, a man in his 80s meets everyone with a smile. The voice is so soft that its sweetness sometimes distracts listener from concentrating on the valuable words.

Among the literary circles and art lovers, the house is no alien place as they know it as the abode of famed writer, poet, linguist and critic Naji Munawar. The house is like a small world in itself. Naji has maintained the surroundings by planting varieties of trees that inturn often attract beautiful birds not seen anywhere. Inside the house Naji has stocked the house with rare books, journals and manuscripts. To add to the value he has been stocking the ancient artefacts, terracotta pieces, stone tools etc further adding the value to the house. 

"I call it a museum," says Naji 84 with a chuckle, adding that it has everything that a museum needs to have.

He has just finished one of his valuable works on Sheikh ul Alam (RA). "This book is how I have come to understand his sayings. There are some things which he has said and nobody has understood it. I felt that I have understood them and have elaborated on the same in my book," said Naji. He is also working on a novel in addition of few other books.

Naji was born in 1934 in the house of Munawar Lone, who himself was well versed in Persian and Arabic, and cherished education. He wanted his children to have best education. When government was looking for establishing a school in the area, Munawar offered his house for the school. The family adjusted themselves in a nearby single room. Naji became the first student of the school and excelled.

He later went to Government High School Shopian made out of amalgamation of National High School and other schools. The school had one of the best teachers and Naji studied along side students like Shameem Ahmad Shameem, Mohammed Yousuf Taing, Narendra Nath and others. It was a perfect atmosphere for emergence of Naji as a scholar. After graduation he was appointed as a teacher and first served in Ladakh for three years. His conduct, intelligence and method of teaching made him a popular teacher wherever he served. 

The interactions with children and his own personality drove him towards children literature. Before him, poets like Mehjoor and Mahmud Gami had written few poems for children, but Naji took it to another level. He started writing in the genre in sixties and soon came out with his first children's book Mokhte La'er (house of pearls). At the same time another writer Avtar Krishan Rehbar also came out with a book for children titled similarly but Naji's book was termed as being far more richer in quality.

In early 1970s, he published the two volumes of his Shurein Hind Baith and in 1974 he published his collection of verse entitled Bata Katha. Both the volumes of Shurein Hind Baith were hugely very popular at that time.

According to Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature: A-Devo, "these books amply reveal his mastery in writing for children. Naji has developed an insight into the minds of the child and has understood child's inmate liking for rhythm. Without curbing the inquisitive mind of children by didacticism, he writes everything in such a way as to tickle their emotions, and imagination. Naji uses every stylistic device, particularly alliteration and repetition, to produce an enchanting melody. Bata Katha is in fact a versified rendering of some of Aesop's fables."

Naji also translated the famous poems for children by Iqbal into Kashmiri. These poems have been published in Partavi Iqbal by J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages. He later went on to translate selected tales of fantasy and imagination from various languages of the world. They were published under the title Dun'yihchi Dalila (tales of the world 1979). 

Naji has the distinction of enriching age old literature of riddles. He stimulated the brains of children and even adults by challenging them with 102 new riddles in his books. The fun to read riddles force the children to think hard, use their intellect to solve the question and emerge as an intelligent person. He also collected early 55 riddles in collaboration with Moti Lal Saqi. The contributions have made him the most successful writer of children literature in Kashmiri.

In other genre, Naji also made his mark starting with Kashmiri translation of Jawahar Lal Nehru's Letters from a father to his Daughter.  The work received praise from the Prime Minister of India itself.

In 1974 he came up with his poetry collection Naag Raat that established him as a romantic poet too. It was an era of progressive literature but the elements of modernity had started making inroads. "His poetry was a unique blend of cultural symbols, aspects, how we see our women, our society etc. And there is a refined humour in his poetry," says Prof Gulshan Majeed historian writer and friend of Naji. "He is a different kind of romantic poet. He takes us away from male female relation though he uses same symbols and puts us in the midst of Kashmir society. He enhances the possibilities of a language, so that they become more pregnant with more ideas and ways of doing things." 

His biggest contribution to Kashmiri literature came through his research into other legends. For two years Naji went from village to village in search of manuscripts and writings of Mahmud Gami. He purchased the manuscripts that many people had kept in the balcony or as a cover to windows or leaking roof. He wrote Kulyat e Mahmud Gami, a 557 page magnum opus on the legendary poet utilising the evidence of a number of unpublished manuscripts. The book also contains short biography of Mahmud Gami. This work made him addicted to more research and became the reason for his valuable collections.

"As of now I have around 300 manuscripts which cannot be found anywhere else in the world," said Naji contend with his contribution towards preservation or heritage.

During the course of research Naji discovered a forgotten poet. "I had a manuscript Mansoor Nama. I gave it to the cultural academy and everybody including me thought it to be be Maqbool Kralwari, however Naji on analysing the manuscript revealed it to be another poet by the name of Maqbool. He named it as Maqbool Amritsary as he had lived in Amritsar for a long time. He explained with proof how he was different from Maqbool Kralwari," said Prof Gulshan.

Based on his findings Kulyat e Amritsari was published in 1990's. He also discovered the huge contribution of Mohammed Abdullah Baihaqi, a poet of high calibre. 

He discovered many more poets which were forgotten by the society. He wrote a concise history of Kashmiri literature in which profiles of Kashmiri poets are given in a simple, dispassionate and lucid style. Purely resting his work on facts, Naji refrains from legends and myths in his biographical writings.

His book Pursaan, consisting of series of research articles on lost poets and other aspects of culture garnered Sahitya Akademy award. 

Together with Shafi Shouq he wrote Kashiri Adbuk Tavarikh (history of Kashmiri literature 1976) covering whole gamut of literary development particularly in the post-independence period. 

His translations of King Lear,  Julius Caesar, Oedipus and Sophocles are a treat to read.

Even at this age he continues to patronise literary organisation like Bazm-e-Adab Shopian, Maraaz Adbi Sangam and Bazm-e-Adab Kapran. In the later brought together all the writers of his vicinity, handheld them and inspired them to achieve more.

Surrounded by books, analysing and deciphering the manuscripts, Naji rarely takes a break. "I have been getting invitations from other districts to other countries, but I desist from travelling," said Naji, while giving finishing touches to his new book.

When asked how many books has he written, Naji answers modestly, "I don't know maybe 10, 20. You can say around two dozen."

Related Stories

No stories found.
Greater Kashmir