In college, he became friends with his classmate and well-known poet Dr Hamidi Kashmiri. In his company, he began writing in Urdu, Kashmiri and English. But writing in Kashmiri language came naturally to him. It was his first love. After graduating from SP College in 1952, he began his teaching career in 1953. He also did an honours course in Persian while he was in college. Besides teaching, he completed his MA in English Literature from Kashmir University as a private candidate.
When Salmani was pursuing MA in English Literature, he was highly impressed by an Athenian tragedy, Oedipus, written by Sophocles. Considered to be one of the greatest playwrights of the world, Sophocle’s Oedipus has been translated into almost all languages of the world. “I was fascinated by this play and I liked it so much that I thought of translating it into Kashmiri language,” saidSalmani who translated the play into Kashmiri language a few years back. Titled “Azelechhankel” (the chain of destiny), the Kashmiri translation was published as a 110-page book.
This was his first work of Kashmiri translation of a major literary work. “Though it is a three-thousand-year-old drama, even today it is relevant and has lessons for all of us,” the septuagenarian Salmani says. “The plot is weaved in such a brilliant way, and there are so many surprising twists and turns, that you can’t help but admire the writer.”
Salmani says this brilliant play is unparalleled in western literature. It’s an intricate drama that grapples with questions of identity as the main character at the end of the play comes to know that he was in fact married to his own mother. “The drama is about how he comes to know about this fact and how the character deals with questions like what he should call his sons now,” explains Salmani.
In order to translate the Greek tragedy into Kashmiri, Salmani searched for a writer who was equally proficient in Greek and English literature. “I was looking for the English translation of the play by a writer who knew Greek as well as English literature.” Then he found Gilbert Murray. “His translation of the play is the best. He knows Greek as well as English. He is the master of Greek. Other English writers could not do justice with the play,” says Salmani who translated the play from Murray’s English translation, as it is considered more faithful to the original Greek play.
Salmani did not stop at the translation of the Greek tragedy. While he was writing in Kashmiri, he was also at work on a dream project— translating great plays by Shakespeare into Kashmiri language. After ten years of labour, Salmani was able to finish Kashmiri translation of twelve best plays of Shakespeare recently. The book is being published locally soon.
Titled “Tarkenhiund safer” in Kashmiri, the book, in 210 pages, is a summary translation of twelve best dramas of Shakespeare. The works chosen for Kashmiri translation include plays like Othello, As you like it, The Winter’s Tale, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet. The foreword for the book has been written by Dr Hamidi Kashmiri in which he says that the text does not feel like a translation.
Salmani, who writes under the pen name “Shaheed Salmani”, says he wanted Kashmiris to know the great works of Shakespeare. “When I would talk to educated people here about Shakespeare, I felt they had a superficial knowledge of Shakespeare and were unaware of his great works,” he says. “I wanted the common man to know and read the great works of Shakespeare in his own language.”
It took Salmani ten years to translate twelve plays of Shakespeare into Kashmiri. “I don’t think anyone else has translated the great works of Shakespeare into Kashmiri language,” he says. “I wanted to fill this vacuum.”
Salmani translated the plays into Kashmiri prose so that the translated work read easy. “While translating the plays, I kept the Kashmiri background so that people could relate to it culturally. I did not change the name of characters and retained the essence of plays,” he explains.
Salamani says Kashmiri literature is in dire need of prose writing. “A lot of Kashmiri poetry has been written but we need more Kashmiri prose writers,” he says.
In his illustrious career, besides being a teacher, Salami worked in the education department on various administrative posts. He rose to many positions from the headmaster to district education officer and finally retired as Deputy Director of Education in 1986. Before setting up the Alfalah middle school in 1998 (which he presently heads), Salmani worked as principal of Iqbal Memorial School for 12 years from 1986 to 1998.
He feels the government institutes like Cultural Academy and department of libraries is not doing enough to market books written in Kashmiri language and says the state institutes like Cultural Academy has laid out strict conditions for writers, making it difficult to get a book published there. “They put too many rules and hurdles for the writer, and they also interfere with the manuscript,” he says. He feels marketing facilities must be made available by institutes like the Academy, School education department, libraries department, and by Kashmir University. “If they don’t encourage writers, who will do it?” he asks.
“I did not approach the cultural academy with my books,” he says. “I had to spend my own money to get my books published by local publishers. And then there is no money to be made. Most of the time I give out my books to people for free,”Salmani said. “Besides, there are no takers for books written in Kashmiri language as people find them difficult to read.”
He is also unhappy with the new script brought out for the Kashmiri language. It has made the reading and writing of Kashmir more difficult than it was earlier when it was written in Urdu or Persian script. “Even I as a Kashmiri writer find the new script difficult,” he says. “Although it’s a good attempt, but on the whole Kashmiri reading and writing has become difficult.”
Recently, Salmani also published his collection of Kashmiri poetry titled “Haetharetal”. He is now working on translating the work of Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani RA (Dasgeerseab), “Fatuhul Gaib”, originally in Arabic, into Kashmiri language. “I am translating it into Kashmiri because I think it holds great lessons for us. His teachings are still relevant to us,” says Salmani. “In this book, he also talks about how to resolve various issues in life and it should be read widely by all Kashmiris.”
Another tragedy, says Salmani, is that writers here are remembered only after they die. “Then they publish their books posthumously,” he says with an ironic smile. “But why do they neglect them while they are alive?”