‘Tikta lagith ta band lifaafa-n manz
Be-patah khat chi daak-khana-ikaesi’
(Stamped and sealed in envelopes,
We’re a post office’s letters without an address)
Celebrated Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali was 18 or younger, most likely a student in the University of Kashmir, when Amin Kamil wrote this famous couplet that has simultaneous existential and civic connotations. The verse pointed at the uncertain destiny of Kashmiris with the help of an unconventional and befitting metaphor of an envelope without an address.
Around three decades later, alluding to the above couplet, Shahid wrote one of his poems which was originally titled as “Kashmir without a Post Office” and later included in his book of poems, A Country without a Post Office. Shahid’s metaphor is an extension of Kamil’s metaphor with an important difference: while Shahid is looking at the issue as an outsider who has lost communication with the land and finds it desolate, Kamil presents a tragic story of an insider who has lost both his identity and destiny.
Kamil’s stories Talaash (Search) and Sawal Chu Kaluk (The Question of the Head), among others, speak of his outlook on the Kashmir issue, expressing “the nature of this dispute much plainly than any explanation or writings have so far.” (Ajay Raina, Outlook India essay, Nov. 15, 2002). Sawal Chu Kaluk is a story about a dead body found on the line of demarcation between two police stations. The corpse has become a cause of contention between two station masters disputing each other’s jurisdiction over its possession. Meanwhile, the corpse rots at the crime scene. “The story is woven around a dialogue between the narrator and one of the station masters,” says Kamil’s son, Muneebur Rahman. “Kamil’s satire and humor interwoven in the story makes it a remarkable piece on the subject.”
Amin Kamil was born in 1924 in the Kaprin village of South Kashmir and graduated in Arts from Punjab University. After pursuing another degree in law from the Aligarh Muslim University, he became a lawyer in 1947 and continued to practice until 1949 when he was appointed as a lecturer in Sri Pratap College, Srinagar. He was closely associated with the Writers’ Movement of that era and switched over from writing in Urdu to the Kashmiri language. After the State Cultural Academy was set up in 1958, he was appointed as the convener for Kashmiri. He went on to become the Editor for Kashmiri and edited Sheeraza and Son Adab journals of the academy for many years with distinction. Kamil received a number of awards in his lifetime including Sahitya Akademi Literary Award, University of Kashmir Lifetime Achievement Award and Padma Shree.
Kamil left an indelible mark on modern Kashmiri literature through his admirable literary magazine Neab (Inklings), which was first published in 1968. The publication, which went on to become a trend-setter magazine, was one among the numerous achievements of its founder, Amin Kamil. Its publication was halted after 17 issues in 1971. In July 2005, the magazine came to be revived by Kamil’s son. “Neab was instrumental in liberating Kashmiri literature from clichéd forms and expression. The journal gave some new and major voices to the language,” says Prof. Shafi Shauq, a well-known Kashmiri literary historian, critic and poet. Among them are some of the most prominent writers such as Farooq Masoodi, Shafi Shauq, Shanker Raina, Hirdhey Kaul Bharti, Ghulam Nabi Aatash and Gulshan Majid.
“Amin Kamil was a multidimensional writer who wrote in as many diverse genres as the Kashmiri language has in its kitty,” says Abid Ahmad, editor of the Sheeraza, an English-language cultural journal published by the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages. “Through his inimitable style and diction, Kamil added such heightened form of lyricism to the Kashmiri poetry which still remains unparalleled.” Commenting on his short stories, Abid says that Kamil is so rooted in his native soil that he does not write about Kashmir but he writes Kashmir. With his prolific writing, he adds, Kamil has proved to be one of the defining littérateurs of the Kashmiri language. At the release of the last collection of Kamil’s poems, Prof. Hamidi Kashmiri, the tallest critic Kashmir has ever produced, summed up Kamil’s outstanding creative ability in various literary forms: “Kamil has the Moses’ hand in his sleeve. He’s not an ordinary person. Truly, he has the Moses’ hand in his sleeve, a gift from God.” Prof. Hamidi was alluding to Kamil’s success across different literary genres. Like Moses’ hand, Kamil lit up every genre of literature his hands touched.
Amin Kamil was also an outstanding prose writer. He writing is simple but profound. He was able to render any turn of thought or imagination without jargon, artificial or labored language. He is considered to be among the pioneers of Kashmiri fiction. Most of his stories were written and published before 1966. Kamil has many remarkable stories to his credit which have become popular not only in Kashmiri but also in other Indian languages after translation. Some of his well-known short stories are Laag (Infection), Aena (Mirror), Kafan Tshoor (The Shroud Thief), Harda Waw (The Autumn Wind), Kokar Jung (The Cockfight). The Cockfight was chosen by Penguin India as one of the 23 best-loved stories of the century in the Indian languages.
According to Autar Mota, a prominent blogger on Kashmir’s cultural heritage, Khushwant Singh once commenting on this story said, “I do not know who is Kamil. But after reading this story, I feel like knowing the man and reading him more. This writer has a keen observation of what is happening around and then conveying it with light and send-up rustic realism and a style.” The story has been translated into some world languages including Arabic and Russian.
Amin Kamil is considered to be an exemplary short-story writer and a trend-setter poet.
Commenting on the literary merit of Kamil’s short stories, Prof. Shafi Shauq writes in July-August 1995 issue of Indian Literature: “The forte of Kamil in his short stories is his deft use of irony which unlike superficial satire, originates from his profound understanding of the incongruities ingrained in man’s nature. This consciousness led him to dystopia even in the times of euphoria of political and social upheavals. Yaa Doostoo Gu Gu Guu Guu (The Call of the Dove, in Kwangpoash, 1953) and Swaal Chhu Kaluk (The Question of the Head, 1992) are two such stories that unravel the hollowness of the doctrines.” Kamil has also written several dramas for the stage and radio. He has a novel to his credit too. Few might know that Kamil’s maiden novel Gati Manz Gaash (Light Amidst Darkness, 1958) is one of the first two novels written in the Kashmiri language, most likely the first. Kamil has translated three giants of Indian literature: Rabindra Nath Tagore, Mirza Ghalib and Allama Iqbal.
Kamil was also a fearless and uncompromising critic and researcher known for his insightful literary and cultural scholarship exhibited in his essays written in a unique style of criticism and published in two volumes of Jawaban Chu Arz (In Reply I Beg to Say). As an early collector and evaluator of Kashmiri poetry, Kamil collected and edited important figures of Kashmiri literature like the poems of Shaikhul Alam (Noor Nama, 1966), the poetic compositions of Kashmir’s Sufi poets in three volumes (Sufi Shair, 1964-65), and the poems of 18th century love poet Habba Khatun (1987). Kamil is the only Kashmiri writer to have ventured to write on the philosophical thought and Sufi tradition of Kashmir. His book-length exposition Roohani Falsafa is considered a definitive text on the subject to this date.
Kamil’s Mehjoornen Bonen Tal (Under the Chinars of Mehjoor, 2001) is among a few books written on Ghulam Ahmad Mehjoor, the most popular poet of 1930s. The book is based on research and evaluation and sheds light on some unknown aspects of Mehjoor. Kamil’s much-awaited book on Kashmiri Sufiana Music, Lola Nagma (Love Songs), which includes a collection of over 400 poems traditionally sung on different maqams, will be posthumously published in 2015. A well-known Urdu-Kashmiri poet, Dr. Shafaq Sopori writes about this work: “No one has ever looked at Kashir Musiqi in the past five hundred years the way Kamil has and the way he has brought to light its weaknesses.” Noor Muhammad Bhat, a master of Sufiana himself, writes about Kamil’s work on the subject: “Kamil is the only writer who has understood Sufiana Musiqi in historical perspective. Such multi-dimensional people are rare. His analysis is a catalyst for thought and serves as a guide.”
“Kamil has contributed considerably to every form of literature: ghazal, nazm, opera, short story, novel, drama, literary research and literary criticism,” says Prof. Shafi Shauq. “His eminence in the ghazal is however undeniably epoch making.” Dinanath Nadim called Kamil as Ameer-i-ghazal (The Master of ghazal). “If there is a best poet ever produced by Kashmir after the legendary Rasool Mir, its Amin Kamil,” points out Prof. Marghoob Banihali. “He gave a new direction to Kashmiri ghazal. He gave a contemporary touch to his ghazal unlike past where ghazal was associated with love and beauty.” In a two-day seminar on Amin Kamil in Aligarh Muslim University in 2009, Prof. Gulshan Majid, a critic and poet of Kashmiri, commenting on Kamil’s art, said that his “poetry should not be deemed to be oriented to any ideology or system. Kamil’s use of words is oriented to liberating us from the prison-house of systems, ideologies and meta-narratives. Kamil employs metaphors and paradoxes with a view to transcending the normal parameters of communicability.”
Sahitya Academy Award winners, Shafi Shauq and Kamil’s lifelong friend and biographer Naji Munawar, write about him in their book “Kashir Zaban ta Adibuk Tawaryiekh” (Ali Mohammed & Sons): “Amin Kamil is an epoch-making poet of the twentieth century whose influence swayed all his contemporary poets; the sway is still un-abating.” As a creative poet, “Kamil is matchless in the contemporary Kashmiri poetry,” says Professor Hamidi Kashmiri, former vice-chancellor of University of Kashmir. “After Lal Ded and Shaikul Alam and a few sufi poets in between, Kamil is the only poet to have used language creatively with all cultural consciousness. His use of language is exceptional in the literary history of Kashmir.” Ghulam Nabi Gowhar, a poet and novelist, called Kamil “a genius”. “Kashmir has produced many greats including multi-faceted personalities. But geniuses are rare. In my opinion, Kamil is truly our genius,” writes Gowhar.
Kamil brought a fresh life to Kashmiri poetry with his allegory, allusion, and suggestiveness, beginning with his poem Nethanen Maanay (Naked Thoughts) which was first read in Koshur Bazm in 1961. Akhtar Mohiuddin, an unmatched Kashmiri short-story writer, then commented on this poem: “We all were held back by this thought that whether there was a way ahead. We either resorted to obscurity or ran towards romanticism; this poem paves a healthy way with the introduction of allusion.” Kamil had initiated a new trend of allusion and suggestiveness in Kashmiri poetry. Naji Munawar and Shafi Shauq, while commenting on Kamil’s second book of poems, Laveh ta Praveh (Dew and Sunbeams), put on record that “the book laid foundation of a fresh and unprecedented way of expression.”
Kamil’s poetry has progressively shown colors like a rainbow. He rejected the mysticism and romanticism of Kashmiri poetry, and also the symbolism and classicism of Urdu-Persian ghazal. He refreshed Kashmiri poetry with modern sensibility by bringing it close to his time and land. Kamil published more collections of poems than any of his contemporaries, and frequently too – Mas Malar (Waves of Wine,1955), Lava ta Prava (Dew and Sunbeams,1965), Beyi Suy Paan (Again the Same Self, 1967), Padis Pod Tshay (A Foot Shadowing the Other, 1972) and Yim Myane Sokhan (These, My Words, 2009). Each of these five collections of poems introduced new themes and new ways of expression. In “Naked Thoughts”, he writes:
Sonchik paymanay gayi tang
Beyi maa Sanaa kenh qaalib drayi
(Old goblets are too small for thought —
I wish some better form were found.)
In one of his last compositions, he prays:
Zuvi zuvi praanaan praanaan gos
Kentsha navirich rash ditam
(I’ve turned old with persistent living
Allow me rather a refreshing treasure.)
Kamil always refreshed his treasure with new ideas, with new findings. He never repeated himself. He was aware of innovativeness and newness as a life force but at the same time he believed that above all a writer “must be his own person, that he must have his own thinking, his uniqueness. All this makes him, if not perfect, but a writer of substance.” This he shared only with Mehjoor, probably in greater amount.
Kamil was an honest and sincere intellectual who always stood by his convictions and beliefs. “He was an embodiment of Allama Iqbal’s ‘Mera Tareeq Ameeri Nahin, Faqeeri Hai/Khudi Na Baich, Ghareebi Mein Naam Paida Kar’ (The way of the hermit, not fortune, is mine;/ Sell not your soul! In a beggar’s rags shine.),” says Rahman. As his son and a devoted reader, Rahman has a great regard for Kamil, his father and writer, for his simplicity and honesty, for his learning and achievement, for his lifelong search for truth and impartial outlook, and for his belief in unity in diversity. “He was always there for us in times of difficulty, but he never helped any of his sons to get a job when he could,” says Rahman. “He literally believed in ‘do it for yourself, on your own merit’.”
A fellow writer and poet, Muzaffar Aazim says Kamil refreshed Kashmiri literature better than anyone has so far. “His work has been recognized, but much more needs to be done. He was thoughtful and outspoken, with a penetrating vision, somewhat ‘naughty’ and witty, and always ‘alive’,” he says. “I wondered how could one be so loving and so sweet and yet so awesome simultaneously? He was.” A distinguished short story writer of Kashmiri language, Hirdhey Kaul Bharti remembers Kamil as “a great poet and prose writer; a critic with wonderful analytical sense; a class conversationalist; an orator with the magic of keeping audience spellbound and pinned to their seats.” According to Hamidullah Marazi, an eminent professor in the Kashmir University’s Department of Islamic Studies, Kamil “was a great poet, scholar and a very sincere personality who wholeheartedly served the Kashmiri language and contributed to its literature so much so that he deserved the highest awards than anyone else.”
After the recent floods, Kamil lived with his elder son in Jammu where he breathed his last on October 30 at a local hospital. He was 90. In a simple and familiar metaphor, Kamil likened death to the flight of a bird from its cage – bereavement for us but truly a celebratory experience for the bird.
Majid Maqbool is a writer and a journalist based in Kashmir.