Once recognized, writers usually avoid writing about the children. This is the key factor for limitations in the Kashmiri literature for children. Aaqib Hyder meets two school teachers Aatash and Razi who have done phenomenal work in this genre
In the late 1950s, at a Government school in Nanil (Anantnag), almost every teacher was disgusted with the performance of the student, Ghulam Nabi Pandit, 10. After he passed his fourth primary with low grades, the teachers were pessimistic about his future. A laggard, he was assigned tasks like making tea and buying bread for the teachers. It was a daily routine for him. Around 60 years later, Pandit says he liked those extra-curricular assignments.
“With each passing day, I started feeling happy about it,” Pandit said while recollecting his 60-year-old memories. “To a 10-year-old kid who was never interested in studies, serving teachers and skipping books was a dream came true.”
Possible reasons for his disinterest in studies were his family’s economic conditions and the prolonged illness of his mother. His mother died after remaining bedridden for nine years. With father and elder brother at work all day, he was the only one around to take care of her. Pandit recalls how his mother would sing painful folk songs and dirges for not being able to love him properly. Pandit was too young to comprehend the gravity of the situation but his mother was visibly eaten from inside.
Those memories are indelible on Pandit’s memory: “In my memory, my mother is always ill and bedridden. I never got a chance to play in her lap. Most of my time was spent in taking care of her and doing household chores. From feeding her to combing her hair, I have done it all. I have spent countless days in school with an empty stomach and I would never complain about it.”
One day, the headmaster, a Kashmiri Pandit, asked teachers in a reprimanding tone: “This kid is heading towards destruction and you people are facilitating it. Why don’t you set him straight and teach him like everybody else?”
Since the teachers had already branded the kid as good for nothing, they ignored the command. Finally, the headmaster started summoning him at lunchtime every day.
“From that day onwards, he taught me every book right from first to the fifth primary during the lunchtime for six months,” Pandit recalls. “To everybody’s surprise, when I wrote the fifth class examinations, I passed with very good grades.”
Two years later, Pandit, now in the seventh standard, became the president of School’s Bazm e Adab and there was no looking back.
After finishing his schooling, Pandit started writing poems and essays for reputed journals like Amin Kamil’s Nyeab. The boy, who spent most of his early school years in making tea for his school teachers, emerged a name in Kashmir’s literary circles. Pandit later adopted the pen name Aatish which loosely translates as ‘sourness’. His transformation from a good-for-nothing schoolboy to a literary giant Ghulam Nabi Aatish was unexpected to everyone including him.
“The selfless concern and care of my teacher pushed me towards the right path of illumination and education,” Pandit said. “Moreover, the dirges of my mother which resonated in my ears for decades ignited my love for Kashmiri poetry and folklore.”
Now 69, Aatish has around 40 books, tens of research articles and several compilations to his name. These include nine books exclusively on children literature. Most importantly, he has written more than 100 published entries in the fifth volume Koshur Encyclopedia Folklore.
The idea of writing children literature struck his mind in 1979 when he realized that Kashmiri literature for children is almost non-existent. He started writing poems, essays and short stories for children in the same year, and two years later, his book titled Kyentcha Myeantcha was out in the market. The book which later became a series of three books is one of his most read children books.
“I realized that apart from few children poems written by Mehjoor and Abdul Ahad Azad, our children have nothing to read in their mother tongue,” Pandit said. “Since then I have tried my best to help this genre to prosper.”
Aatash penned a book Koshur Shuer Adab (Kashmir’s Child Literature), which is an in-depth analysis of the origin, history and development of Kashmir children literature. A two-volume anthology, poetry and prose, Kaeshir Shuer Adbich Sombran (A compilation of Kashmir’s’ Children Literature) give the testimony of Aatash’s literary acumen and hard work.
So far, in his 50-year career, Aatash has received 11 national and state awards as an educationist, poet and folklorist. Apart from receiving awards like Sahitya Academy Award and Bal Sahitya Purskar Award, he was also awarded Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1981 for translating famous Russian poet Pushkin’s poems into Kashmiri. He has also five other translations to his name including the translation of Seerat, the life and deeds of Prophet Muhammad by Moulana Abul Hassan Ali Nadvi. The book which comprises of 21 chapters is set to get published this year.
Aatish believes that through children literature, Kashmir’s new generation can get acquainted with their language and identity from a very early age.
“It will ultimately culminate in the preservation and prosperity of our mother tongue which is facing serious issues since decades,” he said.
In 2008 when the government made regional languages compulsory from the first primary to twelfth standard, he was roped in as a Kashmiri literature expert. He played his role in the preparation of syllabus and textbooks of Kashmiri for all these classes. After seeing him working tirelessly on the project, BOSE made him a member of revision committee of Urdu textbooks as well.
“When I started working on the project, there was an extreme paucity in Kashmiri literature as far as the framework of the academic syllabus is concerned,” Aatash said. “Later, I wrote countless lessons and exercises of books for classes as per their standard to fill the gaps.”
The project supposed to take years completed in just 18 months.
Aatash is a major name but he is not the only specialist in Kashmir’s children literature. Almost 7 Kilometers from Bijbehara is Kanelwan village, where a man in his mid-70s has a habit of picking an unused paper from the road whenever he goes out.
At first, picking paper from roads triggered awkward and ridiculing speculations about him in the village but soon after the reasons became public, and people started to revere him more than before. The man is Abdur Rahim Sheikh Alias Sheikh Razi, a retired headmaster who is the first recipient of National Bal Sahitya Purskar award for Kashmiri children literature.
“Wasting paper is a sin, even if it is only a single sheet. It pains me a lot,” Razi said. “If I spot an unused piece of paper anywhere, I pick it up and use it for writing my notes or poems.”
“Why should we waste a resource which can be used for better things instead,” he added while taking dozens of small paper pieces from his Pheran pocket.
Razi said he has also written a poem titled Baazgardish on the significance of recycling things and resources. He strongly believes that economic independence of a nation depends on how much resources are preserved and recycled by its people.
Razi who fluently quoted from Charles Dickens A tale of two cities to Persian couplets of Mir Taqi Mir ascribes his love for literature to his school in main town Bijbehara. According to him, the school which was owned by a Pandit named Amarchand Mahajan played an important role in inclining his mind towards books and literature.
“At a very young age, my mind was exposed to the complex poetry of Ghalib and Mir Taqi Mir and other literature. Due to certain prevailing conditions at home, I had to walk to my school (7 Km) from home barefoot countless times but I never missed a day, such interesting and literary charged up was the aura there,” he said in a seemingly boastful tone.
After the death of his mother, he had to shun his studies for three years after passing his matriculation. Apart from doing household chores, he wrote a few poems and published them in his first book titled Kalaam-e-Razi in 1963. After his recruitment as a government teacher in 1961, he closely monitored the changing behaviour of children in Kashmir. Keeping the first-hand experience and observations in consideration, he wrote the first poetry collection for children titled Bulbul and published it in the early 1990s. An amusing poem from the book titled Javaiden Batak Pooet was sung by Kashmiri singer Rahmatullah Khan for Doordarshan Srinagar.
Razi after teaching children in different districts of the valley for 40 years retired as a headmaster in 2001. Of his 10 books in Kashmiri, five are for children. Razi said that children literature can play an important role in keeping the impending extinction of our language at bay.
“The tragedy is that we can count the books on Kashmiri children literature on our fingers,” Razi said. “In most of the cases, when an author gets his share of fame, he considers writing for children beneath him. People are also to be blamed for being disinterested towards own language and identity.”
Lamenting over the current state of Kashmiri language and literature, he said that Kashmir is literally choking its identity to death. He holds government apathy and the disinterest of people responsible for this situation. Razi is of the opinion that only writing books doesn’t matter in the larger picture but constructive criticism and analysis is the bedrock of quintessential language growth.
“Any new book in Kashmiri gets negligible criticism from the already established authors. A book which isn’t critically analyzed isn’t worthy of being called a good piece of literature,” he said.
His four-decade experience of teaching children changed his perspective and the way things are seen. Things which would rather go unnoticed and small to a common eye are the main themes of his several poems. For example, a book for children titled Gul tae Gulzar is entirely based on poetic expressions regarding animals, birds, insects, trees and seasons.
“To write for children, one has to go down to their level and think like them,” Razi said. “Children don’t require complex ideas and explanations; we have to just feed them easy amusing literature which is also informative, both on academic as well as spiritual lines.”
Not considered as a much important genre of literature, there is a dearth of literary material on the subject of children literature in Kashmir. Writers like Aatash and Razi are doing their bit to leave behind a trove of literature for the children of Kashmir to cherish in their mother tongue.