Silenced Yet Still Resonating

Ali Mohammad Shahbaaz, a revolutionary poet, a satirist, a philanthropist and an educationist was a strong poetic voice that was silenced 15 years ago. Mudasir Majeed meets his family and found out that this legendary and brave son of the soil still resonates among his people.

Highly admired by Allaman Iqbal,a great poet of all times, the Kupwara district has the privilege of producing some exceptional people who have contributed immensely in different fields.Allama’s admiration for this place finds an expression in the lyrical, bold and brave Kashmiri poet, Shaheed Ali Mohammed Shahbaaz’s words.

Born on May 01, 1939 in Shat Gund, a hamlet four kilometers away from North Kashmir’s Handwara town, Ali Mohammed Qureshi, nom de plume“Shahbaaz”, was a legendry poetof Kashmir. His father, Ghulam Mohammed Qureshi was a cleric, who died when Shahbaazwas in his teens. However, he was fostered by his uncle Ghulam Ahmad Qureshi, a highly acclaimed preacher, who later also became his (Shahbaaz’s) father in law.

Ali Mohammed Shahbaaz had his primary education at Islamia Model School Kalamabad and matriculated from Higher Secondary School Handwara. Later he was appointed as teacher and was posted at SarmargRajwar. But the journey of his education continued. He persuedmasters in Urdu, Kashmiri and Persian from the University of Kashmir.   

Shahbaaz turned to poetry at a very tender age after his poetic flair was recognized and emboldened by his teacher, Sham LalBahar.

“He would often ask Aba Jaan(Shahbaaz) in morning assembly to speak, who would obey without any hesitation and start caroling his poetry ad-lib,”Nazir Qureshi, the only son of Shahbaaz, remembers the family elders telling him.

Call Shahbaaz a revolutionary poet, a satirist, a humorist, a philanthropist, a calligrapher or an educationist, every quality finds relevance as well as existence in his literary, societal and academic contributions. He was aman who depicted every aspect of day-to-day life poetically.

“Whether it was praising Sheikh Abdulla’s rule which at some time every Kashmiri was proud of or denouncing his role in bringing army here, my father’s words would never give in to tradeoffs. He would hail as well as lash out with criticism,” Says NazirQureshi.

Shahbaaz has written travelogues in poetry about places he visited. Among the places he has poetically pictured are Trehgam, Lolab, Waterkhani, Nathipora and HarilMawar.

“Abba Jaan would always praise Trehgam, because he regarded the place as a vibrant, brave and intellectual quarter,” says Nazir. “Shaheed Maqbool Bhat was a person Abba was highly influenced by. He has written about Maqbool Bhat’s sacrifices in many poems. His poetic art voiced the sufferings of Kashmiris.”

Ali Mohammed Qureshi was known for being a bold, daring and a fearless person. Voicing the plight of distressed people who were subjected to cruelty used to be the truism of his speeches.A neighbor of his says“againstall odds he (Shahbaaz) would fight for the rights of the defenseless and against the cruelty caused to them.”

Shahbaaz was profoundly disheartened by the bloodshed caused after armed struggle erupted in Kashmir. His son says, “My father would often lean against the wall, cup his cheeks in his palms and keep thinking about the ghastly bloodshed caused ever day everywhere in. Innocents were getting killed relentlessly which had deprived him of calm and peace.”

After observing the violence and fear on the streets,Shahbaaz’ssufi poetry gave way to poetic encouragement for those who had taken up arms.

Most of the time, Shahbaaz kept himself busyreading and writing. His devotion and attachment to books and poetry kept his interaction with his family to a minimum. He loved to spend time interpreting Persian, Urdu, Arabic and Kashmiri literature.

“He would read AllamaIqbal’s, Moulana Jalal-u-din Rumi’s, Hafiz Sheraazi’s and Dr. Iqbal Mohidinnibn Arabi’s literature. Besides he would also read Gazali’s philosophy. Moreover he had read bible and Granth too,” says his son.

“One day, when he was the Principal at Government Higher Secondary School,Handwara, he was told by my mother to get rice from a shop as we had nothing to eatfor thatevening. When he returned from duty, there was nothing with him, except a set of commentary editions on the Quran. When he was asked why he didn’t get rice, his reply was: “When I reached Handwara, I saw a newly arrived set of Tadabur-e-Quran. When I enquired about the price, it was 1000 rupees. I had only 800 in my pocket. I borrowed 200 rupees from a friend and bought the Quran,” and then said, ‘I got my food. You can look for your own.”
Islamic literature was his main interest. He also used to deliver sermons on Fridays.

Shahbaaz’s poetry has won laurels for presenting Kashmir’s political situation, people, their sufferings, culture and beauty.

“He has written three poetry books under three different genres, which include elegy poetry (HussainiMarthiya)“Khooni Khoon”, “Natiya Poetry” and a collection of Gazals “CheaniDrei”.

Well-known Kashmiri singers have sung most of Shahbaaz’sgazals. One of his famous gazals, which croons on radio Kashmir almost every morning, is“Poshimateoninderpayem—chaengazalgewaangawaan”.

Shahbaaz’s son, Nazir is a government teacher and is also associated with cultural academy. He has bagged many awards for serving the cause of promoting Kashmiri language. He says that of the three poetry books one is ready for publication.

“Among the three poetry books, “Naatiya Poetry” will be published soon. The other two books will be out later,” says Nazir.

The family of Ali Mohammed Shahbaaz has been living in distress ever since he was killed. Shahbaaz’s grandson, Amir was suffering from a mental shock for several years, after he saw his grandfather lying in a pool of blood.

“It was July 04, 1996, when some people entered our compound. Abba Jaan would often stay in the shackadjacent to our house, reading for whole night. On that fateful day, he after taking dinner went there. At around 10 pm, his door was knocked, some men asking him to accompany them for some important work. Half an hour later, we heardgunshots. Next morning some locals brought his bullet- ridden body,” recalls Nazir.

“Thousands of people from different walks participated in his Namaaz-e-Janazah. Everyone condemned his killing. But none could find the culprits,”Nazir says.
“When Abba Jaan was alive, the radio was the main source of entertainment at home. Everyone in the family was attached to Kashmiri songs.

Our houses would resonate every morning with Kashmirisongs played on Radio Kashmir, Srinagar station. Our eyes would brightenup when we would listen to Abba’s gazalssung by some beautiful voices. But since the day he was killed, we haven’t switched on the radio. Whenever we did, there were only tears and loud cries but no smiles.”

Among the family members, his poetic legacy is inherited by his son Nazir and grandson Amir Nazir Qureshi. Amir writes poetry mostly in English. But his Son Nazir does it in Kashmiri and Urdu.

Shahbaaz had immense regard for the Hurriyatleader Syed Ali Shah Gilani. He praised Gilani for his unflinching and resolute political position and would never let anyone talk against his policy, if anyone dared he would react strongly.

“Despite having masters in Persian and Urdu, he would still write in Kashmiri, our mother tongue. He was upset with all the contemporary poets, for their indifference towards uplifting Kashmiri language. He would often say, they write for promoting themselves instead of promoting Kashmiri (language).”
Shahbaazwas a member of Kashmir Advisory committee and Kashmir cultural trust, vice president Kashmir Cultural Organization, president GulshanadabHandwara, and Vice president AdbiMarkazKamraaz.  
 
The brave poet and son of the soil had championed the cause of taking care of orphans and giving them the basic knowledge about their rights.

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