Green poet

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Zarief Ahmad Zarief is known more for his poetry and flamboyant Kashmiri critique than his social activism like his passion for saving Chinars. Majid Maqbool unravels the green poet.

He maintains a dairy of Chinars he plants. It lists the date of the plantation and the spot. Zarief Ahmad Zarief says it helps him look after the Chinars he has panted at many public places in the last 21 years. He visits the spots again and again.

“The shade of these Chinars will be with me till the end. It feels good and soothes my eyes when I see the Chinars that I planted over the years grow in front of my eyes,” he says.

Zarief’s love for trees began early. “In my childhood, I heard a hadith of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that if a person nurtures a tree it is recorded as his good deed. And till the time the leaves of the tree he planted are consumed by animals, the benefit goes to the person who planted it.”

He spent his childhood in Zainakadel area of old city, around the green environs of the shrine of Sufi saint and poet Kwaja Habbibullah Attar Saeb.

His activism also began early. In 1987 Zarief, then an employee in the cultural wing of Information Department came to know about a Chinar being felled near the radio station building. He rushed to the spot, stood close to the tree trunk and raised voice against its cutting. His friends from the nearby radio station and Doordarshan joined in. It would mark the birth of an environmental movement that the 64-year-old poet continues to lead today.

“We raised a lot of hue and cry that day against the cutting of the Chinar trees. The radio people came and television people also brought their cameras and it was shown in the news that evening,” he recalls. Zarief was made the president of Boen Bachav Committee (Save Chinar Committee).

Since then, with any news of an axing Chinar from any corner of valley, Zareef rushes to the spot. “As years progressed, more people joined the Save Chinar Committee. Both Pandits and Muslims participated in this environmental movement,” he says.

Recognizing their work, the government would invite the committee to attend different meetings on environmental issues. In 1988, the floriculture department launched a separate Chinar Development Office. Save Chinar Committee was brought under the aegis of this office. And every year on March 21, a drive to plant three Chinars was launched. Zarief Ahmad would be asked to plant one of these Chinar trees.

Over the years he has planted Chinars at many public places, from airport road to Nishat garden, from schools and colleges to public parks. Many of these have grown to glory. His diary tells it all.

Zarief says he learnt from his elders that greenery is the color of nature, and “this greenery has to be preserved”.

He says the elder generation, unlike the present generation, was illiterate but they knew the importance of preserving their environs. “They were not educated like the present generation and they had not studied environment. But they had studied Islam which gives a lot of importance to nature and environment,” he says.

Zarief’s social concern is not limited to the environment. He is as eager to save Kashmiri language and culture. He is the founder chairman of a Valley Citizen’s Council, formed some years back to address social issues. “It is not an NGO or a political organization. We don’t get aid from any agency. It’s a voluntary organization and we spend money from our own pockets,” he says. “Even people from foreign countries like Germany come and take part in our environmental activities like Dal cleaning.”

“We shouldn’t lose what was kept preserved for us for thousands of years by our ancestors.”

This year Reliance Dhirubhai Ambani brought out a calendar profiling the work of selected people in India who are making efforts to preserve their heritage.  Zarief Ahmad figures in the calendar, prominently. In recognition of his efforts to preserve heritage sites of the valley, he was selected from Kashmir.

Zarief lives at the foothills of Hari Parbat hillock in Srinagar.  In 2004, Zarief Ahmad Zarief was instrumental in forming the Naager Nagar Coordination committee. The committee works for the restoration of Naager Nagar heritage site, which comprises of 18 localities surrounding the Hari Parbat Fort Wall, generally referred to as Kalai. “We wanted to preserve what is left of this heritage site now. We contacted the archives and Archeological department for its preservation. The restoration work in Naager Nagar is in progress,” he says.

Besides being a perennial humorist, Zarief is an eternal optimist, too. “My blood group is B positive,” he says with a smile.

“Don’t see what others are doing. Start from your own self,” he says. “Don’t say nothing will happen by your efforts. What is left now of our heritage and environment has to be preserved.”

Zarief wants the environment to be included as a subject from primary schools to university level. Environment finds space in his poetry, too.

Agarnae azete paek payas,
bane kya
Rafiqa mae chea chuye dayas, bane kya
Karuth doedwaen che paneneas sabze zaras
Kula mae kaeh chae rauchuth sayas, bane kya

(If you don’t pay heed now, what will happen?
There is no mainstay to fall back upon, what will happen?
You set your meadows on fire
You didn’t plant any tree for shadow, what will happen?)

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