Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Reading Mahjoor to Tagore

By Naseer A Ganai

At a function to release the stamp in the name of Peerzada Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor at the SKICC here, the anchor of the show said
Rabindranath Tagore described Mahjoor as the 'Wordsworth of Kashmir.' Everyone in the audience clapped.

Audience is meant to clap, and it doesn't matter to them why they clap. The audience comprised of Mahila congress workers, some officials, some more yes-minister officials and officials of Cultural Academy of Art and Butchery.  All of them clapped.

They will never tell you why they clap over every utterance from the stage.  If you sneeze, they will clap. (How beautifully he sneezes!)
The anchor, who was ostensibly speaking in an English-like language, further said like 'Kashmir was heaven on earth.' This was followed by a huge round of applause. More claps!

The anchor, who was impressing himself more with his own voice, should be reminded of a small incident when in 2006 Jammu and Kashmir legislators went to Islamabad.

On their return, they said: "Islamabad looked like Europe." The legislators of the Heaven on Earth were surprised to see Europe in Pakistan’s Islamabad. Otherwise, it looks dreaded place where bombs explode in streets, in mosques and in air. During prayers and shopping. If Pakistan looked Europe to them, imagine what they will say once they will land in Bali. They would call it real heaven and look for 72 hoors.  

Thus exposure is necessary for the residents of alleged heaven on earth. Only then they will stop clapping. 

Mahila workers clapped for appeasing politicians, while officials clapped to appease higher officials. There's a method to this politics of appeasement. We are bonded together in this chain of appeasement.

When clapping stopped, I started wondering whether Tagore told Mahjoor himself that he is Wordsworth of Kashmir, or did he tell this to someone else, and that someone else accidentally conveyed it to Mahjoor. Or there is another possibility.  Tagore might not have stated this at all, but John Samuel, the head of Kashmir’s postal department, or his illustrious Kashmiri subordinates might have told this to the anchor to say it in order to give Mahjoor a romantic look and to let audience appreciate the worth of Wordsworth. 

Whether Tagore met Mahjoor or Mahjoor met Tagore is a question of debate. I think it is one of the crucial questions. When and where did Mahjoor meet Tagore or vice versa, and who were the witnesses of that ‘marathon meeting’ and what did they talk. What transpired in the meeting?

If they have not met, then we need not to bring witnesses and we should close the chapter saying there was no meeting at all. And when there was no meeting, obviously nothing transpired in the meeting which didn't take place. This issue should be settled once for all.
Now, the second issue. If Tagore has described Mahjoor as 'Wordsworth of Kashmir', this needs to be debated and researched. This should not be brushed aside as a matter of prestige and the presumption should not be presumed a fact. Let real facts come to fore.

If Tagore had not met Mahjoor, then how come Tagore read Mahjoor’s Kashmiri poetry and then described him as the Wordsworth of Kashmir? Was translation of Mahjoor’s work available at that time in Bengali and then Tagore read it in Bengali and then affectionately referred his fellow contemporary as Wordsworth? But why only Wordsworth of Kashmir, why not of Asia? Why Tagore confined him to Kashmir only?

Scholars should respond to these queries and explain us everything. Not Mahjoors. They should instead collect stamps.

A poet lives in the hearts of his people. He voices their fears. He speaks when they are silent and when they are silenced. Nation talks through its poets and litterateurs. And a nation never forgets mistakes of poets and politicians.

It is said Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah promoted Mahjoor over Abdul Ahad Azad. Thus Mahjoor became a court poet. Fifty years down the line, his progeny did no justice to him. They again made him a court poet by releasing a stamp in his name in an official function.
Sheikh was a towering leader. He was the voice of his people. Once. But then it took one foreign film for Kashmiris to understand what Sheikh was all about. In eighties, all those who saw Omar Mukhtar, came out of cinema halls and brought down tall portraits of Sheikh. It takes years to understand mistakes of leaders. And once people realise it, they never forget it.

I had forgotten that Mahjoor once was a court poet. I always remembered him as a beloved poet. My beloved poet. But the other day a stamp released in his name again reminded me why Sheikh preferred Mahjoor over Abdul Ahad Azad.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Good Times

By Naseer A Ganai

On a rainy winter evening, perhaps in 2005, Rashid Shahid was at his desk in Greater Kashmir newsroom. It was a tense evening. Shahid Sahib was angry. He was talking loudly to an official from Forest Department, who was on the other side of telephone line. “Just tell me, where have the horses and smugglers gone if you have seized smuggled timber, which, according to you, smugglers were carrying on horses?”

Somewhere in Bandipora jungles, the Forest Department had seized timber. In its press release the department had proudly talked about seizing timber, which smugglers were carrying on horses. But there was no mention of horses and smugglers.

Rashid Sahib was aghast over the audacity of forest department. He said the department has let off smugglers and their horses and seized some timber and now they want this news - that they have seized timber -- published in Greater Kashmir.  It was unacceptable to Rashid Shahid. Almost for an hour Shahid Sahib grilled the officials.  “Where have the horses gone?” The forest officials were speechless.  And the sentence: “where have the horses gone” echoed in Greater Kashmir newsroom for quite some time.

Nothing would miss his watchful eyes. His day would begin in the evening. It would not even end at midnight. In his sixties, he was the man among a lot of tired and sleepy young reporters.
Once you cross 60, you prefer the calm environs of your home; you frequently visit doctors, you regularly check your blood pressure, you don't take sugar, and you avoid salt tea. He had no such issues. If there was not enough sugar in his tea, he would not take it. If there was no salt in salt tea, he would say, pour more salt, more.
I have never seen anyone enjoying journalism as Rashid Shahid did. He was a journalist 24/7. He would call you, give you directions on how to go about a story, and then he would call you again and give you further directions. Then he would call you once more and give you more directions. He was with you all the time showing the way.

In the evening, when he would edit your story, he would again pull you up for missing the dots. But next day, when you would see your story, you would love to read and reread it.

His entry would transform the newsroom. Lazy reporters like me would instantly realise that leisure time is over.  He would call all reporters one by one to his desk and seek information about their stories. And then point out loopholes and ask them to correct it. Some of us would enjoy to sit with him only when he was editing story of some other reporter.

You also come to know a person when you  work with him. You also come to know about his tastes. If I wanted to do nothing for a day, I simply had to praise Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in presence of Rashid Shahid. This was a sacrilege to Shahid Sahib. Shahid Sahib had an opinion about Sheikh -- he held him responsible for all miseries of Kashmiris. He was argumentative and believed in his argument only. I knew it. He would do everything to correct my perception but he never knew that I was just killing time.

Shahid Sahib was indeed a perfectionist. Every story was earth-shaking story for him. He would not miss even a comma, and he was particular about semicolon in the stories he mercilessly edited. He would never take half-baked stories and many a time would call you in the middle of the night and ask you to seek a quote from an official if it was not there in your story. He would not take this for a quote: “The official was not available for a comment.”
Official has to be available and he has to be on record. Lazy journalism, like writing, 'when contacted official was not available for comment,' was unacceptable to Shahid Sahib. “Hata ba’ba kous official chu nae available.” “Trace him and find him. It is part of our job,” he would say. .

He was young at heart. He had an amazing sense of humour. Once he pointed toward an article about human rights violation.  Shahid Sahib described the article as a biggest violation of human rights. He said it has killed grammar so mercilessly that it deserved to be hung on the wall and shot at.

Shahid Sahib had great faith in his reporters. He would describe them as backbone of a news organisation. “It is the reporters who run the paper. You should know it. If a reporter is not a repository of information, and if he doesn’t know what is going on in political circles, then there is no need to become a reporter. You should sell sausages somewhere,” he would say. And we couldn't help but agree with him.

In the newsroom he was harsh to reporters because he wanted perfection, but he would always defend his reporter. Once I filed a story about a scam in the Irrigation Department. The then Chief Engineer called Shahid Sahib throughout the day, saying the reporter has not taken his version.  I pleaded that I need not to as I had the document, the proof. Shahid Sahib insisted that I should show documents to him. And once he saw the documents, he called the Chief Engineer and gave him his piece of mind that would have taken peace from anyone’s mind.

When I heard about his illness, I called him. One by one he mentioned names of all those people, who were my colleagues and had worked under him. He said tell them to forgive him if he was harsh to them. “I was harsh at times Naseer.  I was harsh. Just convey them that they should forgive me,” he said.

I consoled him and said all will be well, that nothing will happen to him. And I did believe that nothing will happen to Shahid Sahib. That he will not die. Sometimes you feel that some people will not die. You feel some people should not die. Shahid Sahib was one among them. I was so sure about his recovery. But then death keeps no calendar.
Good bye Shahid Sahib. We have no complaints. We have only memories of the good times spent with you.