Decaying Literary Culture

Muhammad Maroof Shah

Kashmiri literature has witnessed a paradigmatic shift in orientation in last century which has been further accentuated in last two decades as a response to changing socio-political realities. Traditionally from centuries Kashmir literature had mystical orientation and its most important and representative poets and thinkers have been characteristically mystics.

The situation has been significantly changed with the rise of modernist and progressive ideas across disciplines. Stormy political developments have lately precipitated a movement in literature that can well be described as a literature of lamentation.

The themes of social justice and economic reform that were the order of the day in the heyday of progressivism gave way to more subjective themes that are a response to frustrating socio-political order. It is largely a variety of elegiac literature, a literature of empty revolt. Minor narratives of mystical and romantic poetry have continued. But the space for great literature seems to have greatly shrivelled.

One wonders what has remained of the traditional literary identity in current Kashmiri literature. Neither mystical nor metaphysical principles that have provided foundation and identity to Kashmir literary tradition are now given heed. The commitment of progressive writers for socio-political transformation and a more humane order too is missing now. Some quality literary documentation of conflict, lamentations, satires, light poetry, romantic songs or gazals, some good translations and short stories, don’t constitute the great literature that older generations bequeathed Kashmir.

Kashmir needs to rediscover its tattered identity and lost soul. Great vision, great commitment and great imagination is needed in a suffocating atmosphere where medium of instruction is still not Kashmiri, where most of the youth don’t know Kashmiri at all as it had not been part of their curriculum, where Persian and Urdu that had shaped their religious and literary culture stand largely unpatronized, where much of the traditional culture has been rudely thrown overboard with the advent of cheap media entertainment culture and where there is little organized effort for promoting literary culture on the part of civil society.

 Our modernist critics would seem to miss deeper meaning of romantic love and have little inkling of what Sufi poets mean by ishq or divine love. Their failure to appreciate Rasool Mir as a Sufi poet is a case in point that illustrates their misreading. The centrality of love to poetic experience or vision can’t be understood by those who are strangers to rah-o-rasmi aashiqana.

Modernists refuse to be converted to the religion of love that Ibn Arabi (who has been quite an influence on Kashmiri Sufi tradition) described in these words in his TarjumanuI Ashwaq: “I follow the Way of Love, and where Love’s caravan takes its path, there is my religion, my faith.”

“The business of prophets is to preach and my business is to dance” said Rumi.

Soch Kral seems to allude to something similar in “Soch kral karan tas marhaba/yus gow zaeny dewani” as does Ahad Zargar in “Nar madi gindnae wasluk zar.”

Kashmiri Sufi poets are all schooled in the ancient, universal, timeless School of Love. The vision of love as the path to Truth or the Truth itself is presented in great Sufi poetry which is premised on the claim that God created out of love and love is the cause of every movement, every longing, every endeavour in the universe. The question is what do we do to teach new poets this doctrine of love? Or are we doomed to a shallow vision of romantic love that our modernist or postmodernist or progressive poets know? When shall shallow Mushaira culture give way to redeeming poetry that soothes and uplifts? When shall we learn to appreciate deeper aspects of such poets as Rasul Mir? And restore to poetry lost gravity and sheen?

Kashmiri literature has witnessed a paradigmatic shift in orientation in last century which has been further accentuated in last two decades as a response to changing socio-political realities. Traditionally from centuries Kashmir literature had mystical orientation and its most important and representative poets and thinkers have been characteristically mystics.

The situation has been significantly changed with the rise of modernist and progressive ideas across disciplines. Stormy political developments have lately precipitated a movement in literature that can well be described as a literature of lamentation.

The themes of social justice and economic reform that were the order of the day in the heyday of progressivism gave way to more subjective themes that are a response to frustrating socio-political order. It is largely a variety of elegiac literature, a literature of empty revolt. Minor narratives of mystical and romantic poetry have continued. But the space for great literature seems to have greatly shrivelled.

One wonders what has remained of the traditional literary identity in current Kashmiri literature. Neither mystical nor metaphysical principles that have provided foundation and identity to Kashmir literary tradition are now given heed. The commitment of progressive writers for socio-political transformation and a more humane order too is missing now. Some quality literary documentation of conflict, lamentations, satires, light poetry, romantic songs or gazals, some good translations and short stories, don’t constitute the great literature that older generations bequeathed Kashmir.

Kashmir needs to rediscover its tattered identity and lost soul. Great vision, great commitment and great imagination is needed in a suffocating atmosphere where medium of instruction is still not Kashmiri, where most of the youth don’t know Kashmiri at all as it had not been part of their curriculum, where Persian and Urdu that had shaped their religious and literary culture stand largely unpatronized, where much of the traditional culture has been rudely thrown overboard with the advent of cheap media entertainment culture and where there is little organized effort for promoting literary culture on the part of civil society.

 Our modernist critics would seem to miss deeper meaning of romantic love and have little inkling of what Sufi poets mean by ishq or divine love. Their failure to appreciate Rasool Mir as a Sufi poet is a case in point that illustrates their misreading. The centrality of love to poetic experience or vision can’t be understood by those who are strangers to rah-o-rasmi aashiqana.

Modernists refuse to be converted to the religion of love that Ibn Arabi (who has been quite an influence on Kashmiri Sufi tradition) described in these words in his TarjumanuI Ashwaq: “I follow the Way of Love, and where Love’s caravan takes its path, there is my religion, my faith.”

“The business of prophets is to preach and my business is to dance” said Rumi.

Soch Kral seems to allude to something similar in “Soch kral karan tas marhaba/yus gow zaeny dewani” as does Ahad Zargar in “Nar madi gindnae wasluk zar.”

Kashmiri Sufi poets are all schooled in the ancient, universal, timeless School of Love. The vision of love as the path to Truth or the Truth itself is presented in great Sufi poetry which is premised on the claim that God created out of love and love is the cause of every movement, every longing, every endeavour in the universe. The question is what do we do to teach new poets this doctrine of love? Or are we doomed to a shallow vision of romantic love that our modernist or postmodernist or progressive poets know? When shall shallow Mushaira culture give way to redeeming poetry that soothes and uplifts? When shall we learn to appreciate deeper aspects of such poets as Rasul Mir? And restore to poetry lost gravity and sheen?

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