Penman’s Peregrination

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Life takes a full circle, quite literally. Syed Asma talks to noted Urdu and Kashmiri essayist Prof Mohammed Zaman Azurdah to piece together dots of his life through partition, poverty and painful memories

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In April 2016, when Prof Mohammed Zaman Azurdah, 71, walked into Kashmir University’s Urdu department as guest faculty, it was nothing less than going down memory lanes. The best part, said Prof Azurdah, was when his former student, now HoD of Urdu department, introduced him to the students. “It was like homecoming after a break of thirteen years,” said Prof Azurdah.

An academician, essayist and short story writer, Prof Azurdah is known for his contribution in Urdu and Kashmiri literature. A recipient of Sahtiya Akademi Award (1984) for essays in Urdu, Prof Azurdah holds Ghalib Award (2011) for his contribution to Urdu, close to his heart.

“Unlike other awards, where you have to submit your work, Ghalib Award is given after selection is made by the academy itself,” said says Prof Azurdah. “It is the toughest to achieve.”

Born in a Rainawari based business family, Prof Azurdah’s father Mirza Abbas owned Pashmina business in Amritsar, Punjab. “I was born in a rich family,” said Prof Azurdah. “But riches didn’t last long after I was born.”

In 1947, at the time of partition of India, Prof Azurdah was two, when his father lost everything. “Though I was very young, I have some faint memories of those days,” said Prof Azurdah.

As per routine, recalls Prof Azurdah, one day his father, cousins and their household helper left for work when riots broke in Amritsar. Within no time situation turned ugly as rioters started looting business establishments. Fearing for her children’s safety, Prof Azurdah’s mother, took Azurdah (then 2) and his elder sister (then 5), to an unknown location. “There were many other Muslim women and children hiding in that camp,” recalls Prof Azurdah.

For next five days Prof Azurdah’s father could not trace his family. What they witnessed in Amritsar in those five days, made both Prof Azurdah’s mother and father hopeless of finding each other alive, ever. On day six, with heavy heart Prof Azurdah’s mother told her kids that their father and cousins are gone forever. “They are all dead,” she told them.

Pointing towards his forehead, Prof Azurdah says, “I started banging my head on the wooden door. I was shattered that my father is dead.”

Though the scar from his forehead is gone, fearful memories are still there. “That evening my father and cousins came back,” said Prof Azurdah, as if still feeling the pain of that era.

After their reunion, Prof Azurdah’s father decided to leave Amritsar and head back to Kashmir at once. “We left everything behind,” Prof Azurdah. “On way to railway station we saw looted shops, burnt houses and blood stained streets. It was painful.”

Almost seven decades later, Prof Azurdah still wonders if his father’s decision of returning to Kashmir was right.

“We could have gone to Lahore which was just 50 Kms from Amritsar, instead of travelling 457 Km to reach Kashmir,” said Prof Azurdah.

The only reason for Abbas to come to Kashmir was his wife’s association with her father, Syed Rasool – an artist.

After reaching Kashmir, Abbas regularly tuned in to radio to keep himself updated about the situation in Amritsar. “Everyday news of a new market set on fire broke his heart,” said Prof Azurdah.

This convinced him that there is no possibility of returning, so he decided to start his business afresh in Kashmir. But it didn’t work. “The failure of business sent us into extreme poverty. My father had to sell all the land we possessed for our survival,” said Prof Azurdah.

The condition was so bad that Prof Azurdah couldn’t manage Rs 17 to pay his examination fees for Class 10.

Later Prof Azurdah, who wanted to become a doctor, managed to secure 14th rank in medicine. “I could have easily got admission in MBBS, but it would have impacted my younger sibling’s studies,” says Prof Azurdah.

So, he consciously decided to leave studies, do a job and help his father.

“I still remember smile on my father’s face when I told him about my decision.”

Finally, in 1958, Prof Azurdah, then 14, was recruited as a stock assistant in Animal Husbandry department. After serving there for four years, Prof Azurdah decided to become a teacher.

“The only reason behind my switchover was my urge to study further,” said Prof Aadurda. The rule in vogue during those days said that only in-service teachers and women employees can go for higher studies, all others were barred.

Prof Azurdah’s first posting as teacher was at Gool Gulabgud, where he had to walk 36 kms to reach his school.

As a school teacher he was posted in far flung areas of Ramban, Uri and Bandipora, but it never discouraged him.

In 1971, Prof Azurdah registered for PhD and chose Mirza Salaamat Ali Dabeer as his subject. After seven years of research he came up with an 800 pages thesis on the poet known for his marsiya writing.

Prof Azurdah’s thesis was published as a book in 1981.

“The book was received well. A number of universities in subcontinent included it in their PG syllabi as a reference book,” claims Prof Azurdah.

In 1973, Prof Azurdah was appointed Kashmir University as Urdu lecturer. For next thirty years he donned many caps at KU. “I worked as professor, then was head of the departments of Urdu, Kashmiri and libraries,” said Prof Azurdah.

His understanding of languages got him offers of professorship from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi and University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (UAJK), Muzzafarabad, Pakistan. But he chose to be in Kashmir.

“Had I joined JNU, I would have returned as VC for KU,” feels Prof Azurdah, “I don’t regret my decision. If I have lost something, I have gained something as well.”

Prof Azurdah believes leaving Kashmir would have affected his contributions in Urdu and Kashmir literature.

Some of Prof Azurdah’s work includes Kashmiri essays like FikriHinz Tikir and Nuna Posh. In Urdu, he is known for Ghubari Khayal, Aur Woh Top Kar Gayee, Guldasta and Sun Tou Sahi.

In 1980, Prof Azurdah, along with his mother, travelled to Rawalpindi, Pakistan to meet his cousin who got separated in 1947.  “There a friend invited me to have an interaction with AUJK’s administrators. They somehow got impressed and offered me a job,” said Prof Azurdah.

At that time AUJK’s was still in its inception stage. “But it wasn’t destined for me,” he says with a smile.

After that Prof Azurdah visited Pakistan a number of times, but his visit in 1980 still evokes nostalgia. During that trip Prof Azurdah met Abdul Salam. “He was my father’s Munshi’s son,” said Prof Azurdah.

For all these years, Prof Azurdah lived with this fact that his father’s Munshi’s entire family was killed by Dogra regime’s firing squad in 1947. “I was shocked to see Salam alive after 40 years.”

Salam told Prof Azurdah, that he saved himself by jumping into the Ravi River, and successfully crossed over to Pakistan. “Everyone else in his family was killed,” said Prof Azurdah.

In 2015, Salam died leaving behind an unpublished novel Maa, for Prof Azurdah. The novel is dedicated to Prof Azurdah. “It is a gift he left for me.”

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