Playwright Muhammad Amin Bhat told Khalid Bashir Gura after being elected as president of Adbi Markaz Kamraz.
Kashmir Life (KL): What drove you to writing plays in the first place?
Muhammad Amin Bhat (MAB): I was born and brought up in Baramulla. It started from Saint Joseph School in my hometown though I was influenced towards the language, knowledge through my father, friends and the cultural activities environment in my hometown. Even though in my childhood film and theatre and cultural events had a lot of impact on me, I realized the creative spark was ignited when I wrote the opening scene of one of the plays. But I was hesitant to show my work and whispered in one of my teacher’s ear about my work. When he saw it, he encouraged me and probably it all started from that moment onwards.
Later on, I started writing plays and short stories for Radio and subsequently, I became one of the founding members of Mehboob Cultural Society, a theatre group of repute in Kashmir to reflect contemporary socio-political realities of the times through art. My first stage play was Man-a-Kis Wanas Manz staged in 1985, which won an academy award. This was followed by first nationally awarded Radio play Nav Treaana- Satouvuh in 1987. Decades later, I remember the moment because it was my friend who had broken the news of me winning the national award.
KL: Now you are heading Adbi-Markaz-Kamraz. What are your priorities?
MAB: Adbi Markaz Kamraz (AMK) is the oldest and largest literary federation of Kashmir, based in North Kashmir. I have been associated with it for decades. In 2015, when journalist Shujaat Bukhari became its President, as a friend he insisted on me sharing his burden. So, I became its Secretary General for three years. Even though, Bukhari was an English language journalist, he was a Kashmir lover. He loved every aspect of his Kashmir; music, literature, language, art, culture and everything related to Kashmir and he had dreams of how they can be promoted. And as a leader of AMK my goals and priorities will not be different. We want to fulfil his dreams, which were aligned with the organization’s purposes and aims.
The responsibility I have taken has to be taken forward like promotion and preservation of the mother language i.e. Kashmiri in schools, government institutions, and homes and passing it to the new generation and how the official status of the Kashmiri language can be used for its promotion. We want to conduct workshops with people, officers, petition writers, students and English knowing journalists to help them learn the language. It can be learnt within a day by someone who is Urdu knowing. My personal observation is that other languages have attained importance because people get employment through them in various sectors. Majority of Kashmir lives in villages and they do speak their mother tongue. The Kashmiri language is a language of our dreams and of our day to day conversations.
KL: We keep talking about the preservation of art, culture and languages, but on the ground, there is no significant change?
MAB: I disagree. Statistically, one may be hopeless. But many things are happening in an unorganized manner. I am aware of the facts where people and institutions took benefits for the promotion and preservation of the language. At a time when the Kashmiri language was not taught in schools, the organization used to conduct workshops, competitive essays to promote and encourage the people. In future, I would try to rope in people from different pillars of society to sponsor the initiatives for the language and literary movement. I do not want it to be the mandate of the organization but of the society.
KL: Why do we have to struggle so much for our own language?
MAB: The genesis lies in the political context. We live in a world where we cannot discern people on the basis of clothes but language is something which brings us close to a distinct identity. If far away from home, we hear someone speaking Kashmiri, suddenly a bond is developed. We may have to analyse what led to the decline of Kashmiri and at the same work for its revival.
KL: Beyond organizing seminars and events where people share their work, what exactly is the mandate of the institution?
MAB: The main work is to create consciousness among people about their mother tongue. I am talking to you today about Kashmir language, about its preservation and promotion; it means we have been successful to bring it into the public sphere. These efforts cannot be quantified but can be felt. When people prefer to speak, think, dream, and listen in Kashmiri it means we are successful. Language is our identity. By us, I mean all the people associated with this land. Our Pandit brothers who are far away from us geographically and they too are trying to reconnect themselves and their new generation through the mother tongue.
KL: Why AMK, why not Adbi Markaz Kashmir?
MAB: I appreciate the concern. All the organizations that have formed this organization belong to the north (Kamraz) Kashmir. Its head office is in the north but I disagree that we are restricted to a region. We have had conferences in Kishtwar, Poonch, Banihal, and Jammu and across all the districts of Kashmir. The organization has been working successfully for decades. In terms of work, we are there for any Kashmiri in any part of the world. My predecessors have worked selflessly and I will also follow their footsteps.
KL: Though it is important to know all the languages, there is some sort of taboo in Kashmir about speaking the native language?
MAB: I feel the genesis of the problem does not lie in cultural reasons but in the politics as it is the cause of many issues in our place. A sort of inferiority complex with varied reasons like socio, political or education may be the reasons why speaking and learning Kashmiri language is dissuaded at homes. In coming time I am hopeful it will change.
KL: Is funding a constraint for your organization?
MAB: Yes, because the financial position of the organization is not good. I promised to personally donate Rs 50000 in four instalments. Our main source of funding is the cultural academy’s annual financial grant which has stopped for the past few years. Now the units that are associated with us contributed to take care of immediate expenses. I hope in near time, the people who love and support the Kashmiri language and this literary movement will come forward with their contributions.
KL: Kashmiri music is in transition. The new generation has given it a new avatar yet it seemingly lacks originality? Where is it heading?
MAB: I think performing art has two sides: the commercial and creative. The commercial has less life. The tree which lacks not deep roots will not survive.
KL: Over the centuries, rulers, regimes, boundaries have changed but the Kashmiri language survived. Why do we have to burden our kids with this language at school level where they are not able to score well in it?
MAB: It is at the school level where the future of society is made. We are investing in our future by teaching at the basic level. It is an injustice to consider it burdensome, as language is the identity. An individual who may tomorrow become the pillar of society will need the mother tongue to connect with the people. Almost 90 per cent people have welcomed its introduction at the school level. Anyone who loves Kashmir should feel pride that his child is speaking Kashmiri and his future is secured.