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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXII (1998-1999)

KASHMIRIS IN THE SERVICE OF URDU

Z. L. Kaul

Excerpts: 'KASHMIRI PANDITS: A CULTURAL HERITAGE' Edited by Prof. S. Bhatt

In early forties, at an all-India gathering of Urdu scholars, the delegates were asked to draw a panel of names of people, who wrote correct idiomatic Urdu. Surprisingly, the panel which consisted of four names, included three Kashmiri Pandits. The panel consisted of Maulvi Abdul Huq, of the Anjuman-i-Tarqi-i-Urdu, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Raja Narendra Nath and Pandit Brij Mohan Datatriya 'Kaifi'. That was the measure of proficiency achieved by the Kashmiri Brahmins in Urdu language.

Court Language

When Islam was introduced in Kashmir in early fourteenth century, Persian became the court language. The Kashmiri Brahmin, with a remarkable flair for adjusting himself to the changed scenario, switched over from Sanskrit to Persian. The speed with which Kashmiris mastered this foreign language was extraordinary. Overnight, the court circulars, the firmans and the judicial pronouncements were written in chaste Persian by Kashmiri Brahmins with the same ease with which they wrote Sanskrit.

But Kashmiris not only mastered the art of the official language, they also tried their hand at literary forms, notably poetry. Scores of local poets sprang overnight, but their literary output never won any recognition outside the valley. The only exception was Ghani, whose fame transcended India and reached Iran. Even today Ghani is regarded as a greater Persian poet in Iran than Iqbal. Kashmiri Brahmins, continuing the tradition of Kalhana, wrote history of Kashmir in Persian. They are Anand Kaul Ajaz and Birbal Kachroo, whose Persian chronicles are a valuable source of Kashmir history.

When the Mughul empire decayed, Urdu was born in the ovilight of the decadent Mughul culture. It was in Urdu that the literary genius of Kashmiris flowered and attained heights never before achieved in Persian.

Mother Tongue

Kashmiris, who migrated to India in the wake of Pathan repression, made Urdu their mother-tongue and soon forgot Kashmiri. Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru once proudly declared: "Urdu is my mother-tongue and I am proud of it". Almost every town in India had minor Kashmiri poets, especially in Indian States where they enjoyed royal patronage.

The four Kashmiris who have earned for themselves a niche in the history of Urdu literature are Mohammad Iqbal, Ratan Nath Dhar 'Sarshar' Daya Shankar Kaul 'Nasim', and Brij Narain 'Chakbast'.

There can be no two opinions that Iqbal is one of the greatest Urdu poets of all time. His forefather came from Kulgam from the family of Saprus. Iqbal was proud of being a Kashmiri.

Literary Giant

The first and foremost Kashmiri to win recognition as a literary giant in Urdu was Pandit Daya Shankar Kaul 'Nasim' of Lucknow. He was born in Lucknow in 1811 and died in 1845 at the young age of 34. He was a disciple of the great Urdu poet, 'Atish Nasim's 'Gul Bakawali', a versified version of the famed love story, made him immortal. His fame caused envy to many Urdu novelists. Sharar came out with a fantastic story that Nasim was not the real author of the book, but Atish, but Chakbast wrote a spirited defence of Nasim and silenced Sharar and his supporters. This controversy, which has now been settled once for all, was an event of great literary battle in the early part of this century.

Ratan Nath Dhar was the celebrated author Fasana Azad, which is regarded as the forerunner of the Urdu novel. He died in Hyderabad in 1904 under mysterious circumstances. The story of his coming to literary prominence is as fascinating as his works. He was a school teacher and wrote a piece for the famous Urdu paper Oudh Punch. The editor at once realized the potential of the writer and invited him to write regularly for his paper. Ratan Nath, with prosperity coming to him, became an alcoholic. According to tradition he was paid not in cash but in bottles of whisky for each piece. The messenger of Oudh Punch used to come to him with a bottle of whisky and Ratan Nath Dhar used to write while sipping pegs. He wrote four volumes of Fasana Azad, and the amount of alcohol he must have consumed is anybody's guess. His mastery of the Urdu idiom and dialogues of butlers, begums and courtiers is remarkable for its authenticity. His humour anti wit is there for all to see. His characters are as well drawn as of Dickens and Fasana Azad is akin to Pickwick Papers.

The last great Kashmiri poet was Brij Narain Chakbast, who died at the young age of 44, in 1926. His poetry is full of patriotic fervour, and is devoid of love and romance. Chakbast was an ascetic and a liberal in politics like Sir Tej. But Chakbast was master of diction, idioms and the classical Luknavi Urdu.

Our Own Time

In our own day Pandit Anand Narain Mulla, a former judge of the Allahabad High Court and an M.P., is a poet of standing.

Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru's services to the cause of Urdu literature are too well known. Raja Sir Kishen Prasad Kaul, of the erstwhile State of Hyderabad, was a great patron of the Urdu poets. Among the lesser known poets one can mention Amar Nath Madan 'Sahir' and Tribhuvan Nath 'Hijar'.

In the valley itself, Kashmiris have served the cause of Urdu literature well. Nand Lal Kaul Talib, Dina Nath Mast and Nand Lal 'Begarz' are well known names, among many.
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