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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 and post-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 for you?
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.

Lalgami: 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?

Lalgami: What really ails the Kashmiri society?
Kamil: 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.