Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dinanath Nadim - Kashmir's forgotten poet by Mohan K. Tikku

The most outstanding figure in 20th century Kashmiri literature has also been the least published poet of his generation. To his many readers and admirers, Dinanath Nadim has been a bit of a paradox. In a literary career extending over half a century, Nadim (1916-89) wrote a lot but published little. Partly, the neglect was due to Nadim’s reclusive nature. He would often scribble his poems on stray scraps of paper, including the packet of Charminar cigarettes that he smoked regularly, and never cared to put them together for publication. As a result, the poet did not receive the kind of critical acclaim that he so eminently deserved. But a recent discovery of his unpublished work may change that.

Nadim burst upon the literary scene in 1946 - a time when Kashmir was experiencing historic political changes. Sheikh Abdullah had just been released from prison and the National Conference, the premier political party of the state at the time, was getting ready for an enlarged role. Nadim made his mark when he got a chance to recite a poem at a public gathering in Srinagar to honour Abdullah. The evocative poem - an ode to Abdullah and the mass movement he was leading - had an electrifying effect on the audience and Nadim soon became the most compelling voice of modern Kashmiri poetry.

Nadim also spearheaded the progressive writers and artists movement in Kashmir. He went on to pen the first modern short story in Kashmiri, wrote the first operas and the first sonnets in the language, and experimented with new genres. He introduced the language to a new diction, where words of common usage would acquire new meaning and force. The onomatopoeic effects of his poems resonated with the masses, regaling and surprising them all at once. Along with two of his senior contemporaries — Mehjoor and Azad — Nadim brought Kashmiri poetry, which had long been restricted to themes of love and longing, face-to-face with contemporary realities, and provided it with a modern sensibility. For instance, here’s an excerpt from a sonnet that was especially popular: “The moon rose, over the rolling hillocks;/ Like children seated in a row, hungry and waiting,/ Waiting for something to be fed.”

Yet, the lack of published work hampered his literary career. When his name was proposed for the Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1971, the selection committee found that this pre-eminent poet of the language, who had mentored a whole generation of younger poets, did not have a single book to his name. The selection committee finally found a way out. The citation said that Nadim was being awarded for “the totality of his works”, without having to mention any title in particular — simply because there was none. Despite the lack of published work, Nadim managed to create an impact within Kashmir and outside. In the 1950s, Harivansh Rai Bachchan translated some of Nadim’s poems into Hindi, and Kamleshwar paid him the ultimate tribute by likening him to a devdaru (the tallest tree) on the Kashmiri literary landscape. In 1987, just a couple of years before his death, Nadim received the Sahitya Akademi award.

In 1990, a year after the poet’s passing, some of his relatives, fortunately, returned to visit Nadim’s home in Srinagar. One of them fortuitously packed a pile of old and yellowed papers lying around in his baggage. It now turns out that the pile contained many of Nadim’s unpublished works. These include over a hundred poems and a few operas, apart from sundry pieces of writing. These may now appear in print for the first time. This month marks the beginning of Nadim’s birth centenary year. The Sahitya Akademi in New Delhi appears to have missed the date. Hopefully, it’s still not too late. The discovery of Nadim’s unpublished work places the centenary celebrations in a new light. It would now be an appropriate occasion to bring out his complete works, including the newly discovered writings. But is the Sahitya Akademi listening?

Shantiveer Kaul’s book on The art of Ghulam Rasool Santosh
Mansoor Anwar on Comrade Abdul Sattar Ranjoor (1917-1990)
Kashmir: Conversations on Exile. Panel discussion on Friday March 10