Ghani Kashmiri, the legendary Persian poet from Kashmir, of trans-national fame, best symbolizes how deeply entrenched has been the Persian language in Kashmir’s collective unconscious.
Persian language is one of the important elements of Kashmir’s cultural imaginary, defining much of Kashmir’s cultural ethos. Kashmir’s historical connections with Persia predate the arrival of Islam in Kashmir and are an extension of Iran’s ancient connections with the Indian subcontinent in general.
The fact that Iran and the Indian subcontinent have been having strong connections – cultural, religious, linguistic, and otherwise – since times immemorial, is a direct inference from the geographical proximity between the two regions.
Medieval historical phenomena strengthened the already existing relations between the two contiguous regions, leading to an enhanced cultural exchange that continues to flourish to this day. Generous patronization of the Persian as official language by the Mughal court led to a cultural and intellectual bloom that is unsurpassed in medieval and modern history of the world.
Mughal India’s poetic culture, territorial expanse and courtly glamour turned it into a fabled destination. For three consecutive centuries, Persian enjoyed a courtly patronage no other language could imagine of, thriving exponentially in terms of linguistic area, popular base, scholarship and intellectual industry.
Kashmir was no exception to the influence of Persian language as it grew from mainland India to its surroundings. Scholars from Kashmir regularly enrolled for studied in religious seminaries in different parts of the country and returned with their scholarship of the language.
The phenomenon led to the emergence of a linguistic elite in Kashmir that swelled in its own poetic scholarship, innovative techniques, intellectual aptitude and stylistic experimentation.
Ghani Kashmiri emerged in the same cultural context and rose to prominence among his contemporaries including his adversaries. Not much is known about this legendary poet who symbolizes Kashmir’s remarkable contribution to the Persian poetic tradition.
Even after the lapse of several centuries, Ghani is still rated as a signal poet in the genre of what is contemporaneously referred to as the art of “plurisignation” (mani aafreeni), earning tributes from his successors like Mirza Saib, Mir Taqi Mir, Ghalib, Iqbal, etc., besides inspiring the generations of vernacular poets in Kashmir like Mehjoor and Azad.
Ghani has always been engaging the intellectual minds in Persian since his own times. Though fairly popular in his lifetime, details about Ghani’s personal life remain unknown. Despite having a popular tradition of historiography, Kashmiri historians too have not been kind to this genius.
His poetry too has not been catching the popular attention as it deserves, barring some individual attempts, prominent among them being Mir Ghulam Rasool Nazki’s outstanding explanatory notes on his select verses, published by the Information Dept of J&K Government in 1960’s.
With so scanty a scholarship and exegesis available on Ghani’s work, Dr Mufti Mudassir Farooqi of Dept of English, Kashmir University embarked on the stupendous job of translating him into English, in the beginning. The translated work was published as a Penguin classic in 2013, probably the first and thus far the only Kashmiri to be in the list.
During the course of this translation, Dr Mudassir realized that Ghani is still not available in Urdu translation in a befitting manner, thereby restricting his readership.
He took up the job of translating his poetry into Urdu as well and the result is a magnificent book and a marvelous work of Urdu translation. The book comes with a comprehensive Introduction, delineating the details of the poet’s life, his poetic pursuits and a critical evaluation of his thematic engagements and technical accomplishments.
Introducing Ghani as a votary of the Sabk-i-Hindi style of the Persian poetry of medieval times, Mudassir defines it as a term coined to put down the Persian poets of Indian origin for their apocryphal scholarship of the language.
However, Mufti turns the tables on its critics and substantially proves this style to have been a reactionary literary movement aimed at infusing a fresh lease of life into a decadent poetic tradition.
Interestingly, Mulla Tahir Ghani Kashmiri’s poetry proves him to be true to his historical name. The prefix Mulla, as was the wont among the religious scholars of those days, shows that he was formally initiated into the traditional Islamic scholarship. The same is proved by this verse of his;
Zi sher-I mann posheeda fazl-o danish-I mann
Chu meewa ki bamand bazeer-i bargh-I nihan
(My verses hide my scholarship
as leaves hide fruits of a tree.)
Similarly, the word Tahir in his name also refers to his piety and righteousness. One of his contemporaries, Muslim, as reported in the Introduction of the book, is said to have composed this verse on his death;
Neest wafatish juz inteqal-I makani
Kana taqiyyan wa tahiran wa naqiyyan
(His death is nothing but his transfer from this world
He was pious, righteous and virtuous.)
His pen name, Ghani, literally meaning self-sufficient, refers to a dominant motif in his poetry, reflecting his disdain for royal courts and royal patronage and his deliberate choice for a life of solitude and indigence. These verses are illustrative of this quality of his person;
Ghani aghar che faqeer ast himmati darad
Fishanda ast bikawnain dast khali ra
(Ghani, though destitute, harbours courage
That has made him dust off the world from his hands.)
Zi mann aanchi deedand yaran rawast
Dareen khana juz mann mataee kujast
(What friends have seen of me is true!
Nothing save me is precious in this house.)
Mudassir has done a commendable job by translating the poetry of an iconic poet of Kashmir who also symbolizes the Sabk-I Hindi style of Persian poetry, reintroducing Ghani Kashmiri in modern times in a marvelous manner.
The Urdu translation beautifully tries to capture the art and expression of Ghani, superbly catching the qualities of mani aafreeni as epitomized in his verse. The translation is all the more important for having brought to life those aspects of cultural life of the medieval Kashmir that hold key to several of our modern travails.
Though originally composed in rigorous metrical verse, Mufti’s periphrastic translation successfully captures Ghani’s meaning and metaphor in chaste Urdu with its felicitous use. The resulting idiom opens up Ghani to scholars and general readers alike.
Ghani is an exceptional poet in more than one sense. He is one of the few Persian poets who never composed panegyrics for patronage, something even Ghalib could not hold himself back from.
The translation is enriched with brief explanatory notes to difficult expressions, words and motifs, adding to the value of the book. A poetic tribute to Ghani’s poetic genius by Tanveer Tahir at the end of the book has also significantly enriched the book, indicating to the huge influence Ghani continues to wield even among the literati of the contemporary Kashmir.
A bibliography at the end is conspicuous by its absence.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.