18 June, 2008
Published in Daily Etalaat, Srinagar.
He was born in Shopian district of south Kashmir and moved to
Srinagar in his youth to test his mettle. Perhaps nobody knew at
that time that the youth from the far-flung area will one day become
a legend of Kashmiri Poetry. Amin Kamil gave a
new direction to Kashmiri ghazal and made this romantic art to express
the human anguish and pain. Apart from being a poet, he’s
a short story writer of repute. His short stories reflect the complexity
of human life in Kashmir. He typically depicts Kashmiri psyche which
has always tried to see good even in its adversaries. His short
story “Koker Jung” translated into English as “The
Cock Fight” features in an important Penguin anthology of
20th century short stories, Best Loved Indian Stories of the
Century. Though 85, Amin Kamil, by his own confession, is still
wedded to writing. He believes that at a stage a poet starts to
repeat himself and “when I found that, I gave up writing poetry,”
he says. Kamil has many books to his credit and has been a recipient
of many awards as acknowledgement of his contribution towards the
Kashmiri literature. He spoke to Etalaat Correspondent Manohar
Lalgami. Excerpts from the interview:
Lalgami: How did a village boy from a far-flung
area of Shopian turn into Amin Kamil, a poet?
Kamil: When I ventured into Srinagar to
test the waters, the atmosphere, that is intellectual as well as
literary, was rife with a new thought of ‘Progressive Movement’.
Everyone wanted to be a part of it. This movement had the whole
lot of poets under its spell. But it was Dina Nath Nadim who made
it. He was a genius; his grip on the subject and his diction were
enviable. The poets at that time tried to go with him but with no
success. I too tried to copy Nadim’s diction but failed miserably.
Then I came to the conclusion that his diction is only his. Nadim’s
diction died with him.
When I looked at the Kashmiri ghazal of my time, I felt that it
needed something more to express my feeligs; otherwise, ghazal had
no future. I can afford taking the credit for giving ghazal a new
direction in Kashmiri. I am pleased with what I did at that time.
Lalgami: What do you think of the poetry of modernism
Kamil: For Kashmiri poetry, they are simply
words without any meaning. The terms 'modernism’ and ‘post-modernism’
came from Europe and America. I don’t see how these terms
are related to our poetry, our situation, our society. Rehman Rahi,
Ghulam Nabi Firak and even Shafi Shouq have gone through modernism
in their poetry. I couldn’t do it. I don’t see what
is there for me. This is all the copying of the West. Our land is
a different land with different odor. Even the concept of poverty
which many think is universal is different in the developed world.
My two children live in America, I have the first-hand experience
of the society over there. Here when we say poor we mean the person
is barely able to provide basic necessities to his family. In the
US, a poor person will have a vehicle of his own at least. So where
do we meet? America and Europe is the place where you can count
the number of adults in a family by counting the cars in their backyard.
On the material level, we are 500 years behind the US and Europe.
Better I would write about a person of remote area for whom snow
means not beauty but starvation for his wife and children. I will
write about the verbal row between two women in my locality, it’s
more significance for me than the World War-II.
Lalgami: A common man sees a poet as a person devoid
of reality; poetry simply as a talk of hair locks and bewitching
lips of the beloved. What’s your take on that?
Kamil: It’s not necessary that a
poet will use lips or any other word in its literal sense. Poetry
is mostly metaphorical in nature. The meaning of poetry is suggestive.
I think a certain amount of prejudice prevails here. The same common
Kashmiri has no problems with words like zulf, mouay when
he knows that they are from a sufi poet but when a poet like me
uses the words the common man takes them at their face value. Poetry
is an art of giving meaning and metaphoric value to words and situations.
I can say that literature is an indirect art. For example, I wanted
to write about the political situation of the state. I wrote a short
story Kafan Tshur (The Shroud Thief). The main character
of the story is a person who steals shrouds of the dead from their
graves in the dead of the night and buries them back nude. At his
deathbed, a person confesses to his sins and seeks forgiveness.
But stealing of shrouds doesn’t stop, it goes on. People are
now more aghast as the new thief not only steals the shrouds of
the dead but leaves their nude bodies outside the grave. Upon this
sight, people remembered the dead shroud thief with regard and respect,
exclaiming “That fellow was a noble soul; at least he buried
back the bodies; this new thief is a wretched fellow. He doesn’t
even fear God.” It was ironical that people outside the Valley
had pleasant words to say about my efforts but here most of the
people passed it by. Similar was the case of my story Koker
Jung (The Cock Fight).” The Penguin published it among
23 best short stories of the last century, and my fellowmen used
to say what it is all about?
Lalgami: What is the process of writing poetry
Kamil: Firstly, let me tell you that some
years ago I found that I was repeating to some extent what I had
already written as a poet. Nothing new was coming out. I stopped
writing poetry altogether. To me, enough was enough, now I devote
my time to prose writing. This didn’t happen only to Kamil,
every poet reaches a stage where he becomes a victim of repetition,
and if a poet is glued to his title as the poet, he goes on repeating
all that he has already done.
As far as my writing poetry is concerned, or for that matter anything
else creative, it is an unconscious process. During the process
of writing, I am under some unknown spell and most of the times
I am not even aware of the process of writing.
What can you say about the short story writing in Kashmiri?
Kamil: Like other arts we too have forgotten
the authenticity of experience here. The Kashmiri short story seems
to be depicting the West more than Kashmir. A writer exists on three
planes—the plane of relationships, the plane of social ties,
and the plane of individuality. A writer can’t do away with
any of these. If he has to contribute something he has to be aware
of the emotions attached with the relations, the confines of society,
and above all he must be his own person that he must have his own
thinking, his uniqueness. This all makes him if not perfect but
a writer of substance. This has been my experience.
Lalgami: What do you think about the present day
writers of the Kashmiri language?
Kamil: To be frank, I am disappointed
regarding the future of the Kashmiri literature. I don’t know
what fate is in store for us. Like the alphabet of Kashmiri, new
literary forums are formed. What is their contribution, I don’t
know? Funds are released by the Cultural Academy but on what basis?
That is a mystery? The language is not moving forward at all; it
has lost the dynamism. In our speech, we have even shifted to our
version of Urdu. We speak a mixture of Kashmiri grammar and Urdu
words. Sometimes, when we talk in our Urdu, we shamelessly use Kashmiri
words when we find that we are stuck. What are we conveying to our
children by talking to them in this ‘desperate’ Urdu?
We are still communicating that we are worthless, and as they are
our children they too are that way. Can I be so relaxed with any
other language than my own? The role of the government institutions
has been pathetic to say the least. From 60’s we have been
pressing the government to introduce Kashmiri in the curriculum
but nobody listens. At the top of it, we have Master's degree in
Kashmiri, and there the student starts learning the alphabet of
Kashmiri. We have thrown out Kashmiri even out of our mosques. I
remember we used to listen to the sermon of the preacher in Kashmiri,
and the poems of Lalla Ded and Sheikh Noorudin Wali were recited
and the preacher would refer to revered Sheikh as 'thus says Kashmiri
saint...' Now as we have an imported wazkhan from Utter
Predesh the preaching is done in Urdu. How can the preaching be
effective when our mind set is not in affinity with the language?
What really ails the Kashmiri society?
To copy blindly and land in destruction has been our fate so far.
Unless we start to think about ourselves, I don’t mean selfishness
but a sense of our own perspective regarding things, we cannot get
very far. We have to give up our habit of following others not only
in literature but other spheres too. We must have our own approach
which is not to be seen anywhere. That's what pains me.