He spent his life’s saving for the promotion of Kashmiri literature by distributing books free of cost. Shakir Mir sketches Gumgeen’sliterary journey and his love for language
When Syed Abdul Rashid Gumgeen, 68, a stage actor, poet and artist from North Kashmir went to Bangalore to enact a Kashmiri drama some years ago, he was impressed with the way locals invariably communicated in Kannada, regardless of the domicile of person they are speaking to. It simultaneously pained him when he thought how his own mother tongue Kashmiri was gradually fading away from the cultural landscape, ceding space to Urdu and English.
Gumgeen, a former Community Health Officer by profession, always had a consummate love affair with the Kashmiri language and Bollywood. During his youthful years, he dogged the vanity vans and crews of Bollywood movies who came to shoot in Kashmir. Hailing from Safapora village of Manasbal, Gumgeen graduated in Urdu and Persian from Aligarh Muslim University.
Even as Gumgeen’s job with the J&K government could have helped him sustain in well-off terms, yet his infatuation of Kashmiri language kept his restless. He used to enact stage plays across different parts of Kashmir and simultaneously reach out to people with messages of public interest. “As a result, I had the support of my senior officials as well,” he says with a grin. “Wherever I went, I used to advertise my department.”
Currently, he is the president of Manasbal Dramatics enacts Kashmiri plays across different parts of India including Allahabad, Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai.
“Even people in India used to watch keenly our plays. One of my colleagues wrote mimes that Indian audience used to enjoy,” he says.
Gumgeen prides himself for scripting 75 plays for Radio Kashmir and as many as 10 serials that have been telecast on Doordarshan. He has acted in almost 40 serials on Doordarshan and played the role of Director in hit Kashmiri language serials like Phutej andRishtanHyund Om Pan. He has won as many as 13 awards for his scripts.
Gumgeen rues how many knowledgeable Kashmiri writers have kept this language to themselves only and aren’t doing much to promote it. “I have gone out of my way to play my part,” he says with confidence.
Gumgeen has authored almost five books in Kashmiri language. Some of them are actually a compilation of his drama scripts while few are composed of biting satires that lampoons the societal ills prevalent in Kashmir including domestic violence, ostracization of parents by disloyal children etc.
“When it comes to Kashmiri literature, we are an orphaned lot,” he explains with expression emphasizing the gravity of his claim. “If we do not conserve and promote our language, it would inevitably dissipate in years to come.”
Gumgeen has been generous enough to lend copies of his books for free to many educational institutions and universities. He has no misgivings that his books aren’t read widely. “I donate these books in anticipation that someday they will be read,” he says. “I don’t want to live with the burden that I couldn’t do much to preserve my mother tongue.”
He is an avid reader of veteran Kashmiri writers and poets like Haday Kaul Bharti, Ali Mohammad Lone, Dr Shankar Raina, Sajood Salani, Showkat Shehri, Dina Nath Nadim and many others.
He scrapped his plan to perform Hajj some years ago and spent the earmarked money to donate his books freely. “If my efforts can contribute whatever little in the way of preserving my language, it will be no less than a Hajj for me.”
Gumgeen is a teacher as well and holds free classes for teaching Kashmiri to whoever wishes to. He believes that the departure of the Kashmiri Pandit community has dealt a heavy blow to the Kashmiri language. “We didn’t just lose them but parted from our mother tongue as well,” he says.
He recalls his childhood days when students used to study Kashmiri as a compulsory subject. “We had a teacher who taught us Kashur Reader which had some very nice stories like Raja Bram BramChok and Chu ChuKak. It had one poem as well which was very close to my heart.”
While reciting the poem, he intones: “Traw nazar ath aasmanaskun, tham rostuima kaan’as kun, athneelisjahan’as kun, wech’ tezotanlacch’e bed seani, athbanihealbalaskorkhotuk, khordedimaa.”
He laments that such robust and enthusiastic teaching of Kashmiri language has suffered demise and that the current method of teaching is “merely titular.”
“I don’t mean to say that English is not necessary but we should not throw our mother tongue to dogs either,” he bemoans.