The legend and legacy of a forgotten Kashmiri intellectual

A review of an anthology of Mohi-ud-Din Hajini’s Papers Ink-sights and Insights
"One was best advised to listen while he spoke as he spoke with rare authority, conviction and wit and made such use of language as resonated with people’s deeper selves."
"One was best advised to listen while he spoke as he spoke with rare authority, conviction and wit and made such use of language as resonated with people’s deeper selves."Special arrangement

Mohi-ud-Din Hajini has been a unique flowering of Kashmiri intellectualism – synthesising diverse thought currents. He is arguably the most informed prose writer of Kashmir. He wrote on scientific topics and history of certain ideas with rare confidence and presented many complex scientific and philosophical issues in chaste English, Kashmiri and Urdu.

Like Agha Ashraf Ali he wrote little but was a master of informal conversations. His legend lives by virtue of his “notorious” tongue that was sharper than sword and much feared.

One was best advised to listen while he spoke as he spoke with rare authority, conviction and wit and made such use of language as resonated with people’s deeper selves.

He was a Master of slang though there isn’t much use of it made in his scientific and historical essays. Prof. Shafi Shoaq is the most remarkable heir of him in penchant for science and non-fictional prose that covers scientific subjects.

Hajini was a rare man who could speak on relativity from the pulpit and write in a polished style and engage his audience from students to literary elite. It was long overdue that someone take up the ambitious and important task of translating him and help new generation to appreciate the art and work of one of Kashmir’s most interesting men meeting whom would have been a treat.

One wonders why Kashmiris and heirs at his own native place, Hajin, have done so little in terms of creating an institution that would help new generation better engage with multidisciplinary talent that he was and he was largely self taught in disciplines in which he has contributed essays in this volume cultivate a culture of science inflected prose and more informed literary critics who are able to engage with diverse thought currents – scientific and philosophical – in a scholarly manner.

Just a few remarks about the man whose work is subject of this translated volume.

Much of his terrific reputation was because of his impatience with non-sense and no hesitation to call a spade a spade in a manner that recalled crudeness and sharpness of spade. Hajini was raised in a culture in which shodi takyas had still some presence, people breathed poetry of all hues and there was not very clear distinction between many “polite” and “impolite” expressions that were invented with the increasing replacement of poetry by prose or metaphorical by non-metaphorical.

He witnessed, at the banks of Jehlum, in what has been a deserted or apparently God abandoned land, fury of flood and sorrows of people battling their livelihood, poor people denied the luxury of using very refined language, politics was far from being an affair where slangs were/could be avoided by either politicians or their rivals and their people.

He saw how people could mistreat others, including their trusted aides. He saw through the ideological veneer of many popular slogans. His moral standards were much higher than most of his contemporaries he had to contend with and thus he had much to complain about. And he chose scurrility.

And that has been the practice of many influential writers. His activism for Kashmiri language has, more recently, received mixed response but its impact is everywhere discernible and helped transform our literary and cultural landscape significantly. His larger than life image remains to contend with for his critics and admirers alike. He patronised a galaxy of younger writers and as such his footprints are indelible.

Regarding his attempt to comment on diverse thought currents a few more remarks are in order. Although his educational background and exposure to great teachers are noteworthy, there was hardly any culture of dialogue or great lectures by world experts on different themes or possibility of exposure to international figures in say philosophy and science and there weren’t great polymaths around with whom to interact.

It was not possible to get a proper peer review of his work. Hajini as such was largely self taught in most of area or disciplines in which he has contributed essays in the volume under discussion. In this backdrop one can appreciate achievements of Hajini.

Despite his limitations – he talked more and wrote less – writing makes an exact man or helps clarify one’s own thoughts – and didn’t bequeath us great comprehensive works in literary criticism or any discipline and didn’t write any piece of work that would break fresh ground or help reorient discourse and failed to complete or publish some ambitious projects such as the one on dictionary.

A few comments about nine essays prefaced and translated by Ameen Fayaz and co-edited with Inayatullah Parray may show wide scope of his work and his unique scholarly and literary gifts. Hajini commented insightfully on Sufi symbolism.

The first chapter “Quran and Fundamental Science: A Concordance” summarises previous scholarship on the debate and defends the thesis of compatibility between established scientific facts and Quranic injunctions while avoiding much of reigning conceptual confusions and operational anomalies. It shows his grasp of nuances of the debate and his care in avoiding the popular simplistic framing of the thesis that the Quran predicted scientific discoveries.

He is able to defend more sophisticated formulation of compatibility argument presented in much detail and much later by Maurice Bocaile in The Origin of Man. He doesn’t judge the case in terms of evolution or creation but puts it in more philosophical and mystical Iqbalian terms and aptly concludes with Sir Oliver Lodge that “Who it was who first realised the values of human spirit?”

“ We are obliged dramatically to conceive its appearance to some early genius of the race who felt that something had been forbidden who knew that he had the power of choice, who realised the meaning of good and evil. Such a man might well be called the first man, whether we call him Afam or not, matters little.”

The second chapter “Medieval Legacy to Modern Inorganic Chemistry” brilliantly defends concordance of alchemy and chemistry and toys up with little appreciated thesis of possibility of transmutation of base metals into gold by invoking non-chemical option of breaking and reconstituting the structure of atom.

He, however, misses profound treatment of alchemy in Jung and mythologists and some Sufis that is missed in popular historical account of alchemy as primitive/misguided chemistry. The Middle Ages were not dark as popularly claimed.

“There is no theoretical reason why gold should not be made, given large supply of neutrons. Hajini surmises that if we substitute neutrons for Jabir’s ingredients or Ibn Sina’s “components” we find modern Chemistry and Alchemy entirely agreeing in theory. Hajini brings in great wealth of allusions to little known works in the field of chemistry to show deep indebtness to so-called dark phase.

Another chapter “Religion in World Thought” covers vast horizon and embraces much of new scholarship though it fails to recognise key distinction between psyche and spirit and associate religion with the latter. It also mistakenly characterises Indian thought as pantheistic.

However, it is safe to assert that he is arguably the most erudite Kashmiri critic and scholar who chose to write on some philosophical issues in religion. Another chapter “Idealism and College Teachers” explicates the importance for aspiration for idealism. It doesn’t, however, make any remarkable point to add to the debate on philosophy of idealism. degeneration.

A comprehensive review of a work on education and philosophy follows that comments on contemporary lack of depth dimension and religious angle in education. He had well thought out views on education and its connection with other aspects of life.

A long and insightful, though at times wild, treatment of Hallaj and Iqbal follows in an important essay Allama Iqbal and Mansoor Hallaj. It is an addition to Iqbal studies and Hajini emerges as a critic of note from Kashmir who needs to be read by Iqbal scholarship and students of Sufism. The longish essay Wahab Parray is the most significant contribution in the book that deserves to be read by anyone interested in Kashmiri poetry and mysticism. Wahab has been presented for world audience in a compelling manner.

This is followed by “A Conversation with Myself” in which the author introduces his faith centric worldview in an interesting style but doesn’t succeed in making any remarkable point. The last essay on Macrocosmos explains a lot but again nothing noteworthy for scholars who are familiar with the idea.

Certain Orientalist fallacies such as describing Jesus as world denying and Upanisads as pantheistic have been imported into the work. Treatment of certain ideas is vague and simplistic. Such theses as the West is materialistic or declaring new science has vetoed arguments against theism also call for qualification.

Such assertions as “most of the great saints and sages couldn’t comprehend the macrocosm” are quite problematic. Asserting concordance between traditional and modern scientific approaches in terms of access to Metaphysics is simply incorrect. One can list many more problematic assertions in the work of Hajini. Translators have done, generally speaking commendable job but as Editors they haven’t commented upon problematic points. Besides occasionally reason and intellect have been confounded.

Hajini makes use of contemporary scholarship on various disciplines but many major thinkers such as Heidegger, Wittgenstein, writers like Joyce, psychoanalysts like Fromn and poets and philosophers of science are conspicuous by their absence.

It shows his cursory engagement with the best of contemporary Western scholarship and as such many clichés are repeated. Reason is faulted in a simplistic manner and generalised picture is presented which is hard to defend academically. There is also reductive treatment of key ideas and figures from Marx and Darwin to Freud and Einstein. However, what is remarkable is his adventure to engage with the Western canon and passing judgments that are often well argued and only occasionally wild and vague.

Ameen Fayaz and Inayatullah Parray have brought a neglected intellectual, scholar and critic to our notice and restored for Hajin and Hajini an enviable place in the annals of Kashmiri culture. Hajin is arguably one of the most fertile literary hotspots of Kashmir and its great luminaries from Wahab Parray to Mohi ud Din Hajini deserve detailed profiling and documentation for the benefit of new generation. I could spot very few grammatical errors or typos.

Post Script: Kitab Mahal has added yet another feather to its crown of publishing/reprinting important texts across disciplines and thus contributing to enriching our understanding of spiritual and intellectual legacy. Ameen Fayaz has made all Kashmiris indebted and added to his and his institutions’ profile by undertaking this translation.

Muhammad Maroof Shah is a veterinarian

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.

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