AT the age of 30-year-old poet Masroor Muzaffar from Baramulla district in North Kashmir, became one of the youngest laureates of SYuva Puraskar from Ahitya Academy in 2020. Masroor is a poet whose poetry focuses on painting an authentic image of the present day with a touch of romanticism.
In this interview with Cashmere amount sub-editor Irfan Mehraj, Masroor talks about his journey as a poet who started writing verses in KashmirI at a young age to his winning a national level award in addition to offering specific instructions on the preservation of the Kashmiri language.
Tell us about yourself, your background?
I was born in 1990 in a small village of Baramulla. I was educated in Baramulla and finished my 12th as a medical student. I joined Amar Singh College in Srinagar to study Kashmir in 2010. After graduation I did a B.Ed at Al Huda College in Pattan, Baramulla. I was admitted to University of Kashmir in 2016 for my postgraduate degree in Kashmiri language. After graduating with my masters, I came to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Agra, Uttar Pradesh in 2018 where I am pursuing a PhD in the Department of Modern Indian Languages (Kashmir section).
How did you get interested in Kashmiri language and literature?
Since my childhood, I have been interested in the Kashmiri language. My mother’s death in 2006, when I was just a child, impacted me in a way and I started to express myself through Kashmiri verses. My teacher, Mumtaz Gohbali, who was himself a poet, encouraged me at this stage of my life. It was because of his support and guidance that my young voice was featured on TV and radio. I would participate in television and radio programs – where I read my poems. I was just a 6th grader when I started writing poetry. This phase of my life was crucial in inspiring me to write poetry in Kashmir. Meanwhile, a cultural festival would take place in Gulmarg (a popular tourist destination in the valley), attended by upper secondary school students. At that time, I was rather known to read joke-news in Kashmiri language. I won prizes for it. It also helped me develop my interest in our mother tongue.
In 2008, I joined a literary club known as Bahar-e-Adab in Tilgam (a village in Baramulla district). Fayaz Tilgami, who is a well-known literary figure, was part of the club. With his encouragement, my first Ghazal (a lyrical poem with a fixed number of verses and a repeated rhyme, typically on the theme of love, and normally set to music) was published in Naagjoi magazine published by the club. I met many other poets and literary personalities who were also associated with the literary club.
In college, a teacher named Professor Mashooq Hussain found talent in me and encouraged me. I continued to hone my skills during this time and also participated in Mushairas on the radio. I would go as a junior artist in these programs. The love for the Kashmiri language only grew in me during this time and I would continue to write poetry. I have discovered that the best expression of my inner voice can only be found in Kashmir, my native language. I found out that I couldn’t do it in another language.
Tell us about your first award-winning poetry collection?
My first collection of poetry titled Waawich Baavath (Expression of Wind) was published in 2017. It is a book by Ghazals, with some Nazm (Nazm is a poetry written in rhymed verse and also in modern prose style poems and is a important part of Urdu poetry). The book received the Yuva Puraskar from Sahitya Academy in 2020. I was one of the youngest poets to win this award. The theme of my poetry is to paint a picture of reality and the present times. Romanticism is also a characteristic of my poetry. I also write about the erasure of traditional values and culture of Kashmir. My first collection of poems was well received and in fact Professor Neerja Mattoo (a well-known Kashmiri literary figure and editor of Meeras) translated some of the poems in my book into English.
Besides the book, my poetry has been published in many magazines and periodicals in Kashmir, especially in Anhar and Vyeth magazine. – a highly regarded Kashmiri magazine. My poetry has also been published in journals like Sangarmal (Kashmiri-language newspaper belonging to Rising Kashmir).
What were the challenges of publishing your first book?
I am against self-publishing, as is the case today in Kashmir, even with 12-year-olds publishing books. This is not a good trend. For my book, I had to face financial constraints to publish it. I was still just a student. Finally, some of my friends helped me publish my book to a publisher in New Delhi. These challenges are common to young writers like me and shouldn’t put anyone off.
What was the reaction to your first collection of poems?
The response has been quite encouraging. The book has been appreciated by several literary forums in Kashmir. Critical readers of Kashmiri poetry have also given the collection positive reviews and praised it. If my book hadn’t been well received, I don’t think I would have won Sahitya Academy Yuva Puraskar at such a young age. It was a great achievement for me.
Besides the Sahitya Academy Award, I have won quite a few awards for my poetry, such as the Indian Excellence Award, among others. I also won the poetry competition organized by the Kashmir Writers Association in 2020. I just feel lucky and happy to have found appreciation among readers for my poetry.
What are your inspirations among Kashmiri-speaking writers and poets?
Among the traditional poets, Lal Ded (a 14th century Kashmiri mystic poet) and Sheikh-ul-Alam (known as Alamdar-e-Kashmir was a 14th-15th century Kashmiri Sufi saint, mystic, poet and preacher Islamic) are my foundations inspirations.
The Kashmiri poets who inspired me as a reader and me in becoming a poet are Rehman Rahi, Shahnaz Rashid and Amin Kamil. The first two are the living legends of the Kashmiri language. Rehman Rahi gave the Kashmiri language what no other contemporary poet could. He is among the greatest.
Other contemporary poets who have been an inspiration to me are Nisar Azam – the first Kashmiri laureate of Yuva Puraskar from the Sahitya Academy, Sagar Sarfaraz (from Hajin, Bandipora) and Riyaz Rabbani (from Kreeri, Baramulla). These young poets were a big influence on me. Reading them inspired me a lot to write poetry.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on two books. One is a book of criticism on literature written and produced in North Kashmir (comprising the districts of Baramulla, Bandipora and Kupwara) and the other is a collection of poetry.
What would your message be to young Kashmiri writers?
I would start by saying that the language – a a significant number of our new generation speak or converse – not Kashmiri, Urdu, or even English. It is a mixture of all the languages we know. This is bad enough because it will not help us to master any of the languages mentioned above, let alone Kashmir. This kind of language, mostly spoken, has no heritage. I certainly believe that this is an erasure of the authentic Kashmiri language. There is a well-known adage that identities die when languages die. I find this very true in our case. When we lose our identity, nothing else will be left. I insist on the fact that we must strengthen our cultural roots by preserving our language. When our roots are strong, it is only after that that we can step out into the world and proclaim our identity.
We must all be very sensitive to the fact that the best expression of who is Kashmir and what Kashmir is is in our mother tongue. It is our best and authentic means of expression. We must not lose it at all costs. If we lose our expression, we will lose our essence.
Knowledge of other languages and literatures is quite important because we will not understand the world we live in if we do not read poets and writers like Eliot, Shakespeare, Ghalib, Iqbal or other great poets., but it is essential that we, at the same time, take serious note of our language. The vast knowledge of other great poets can only enhance our native expression.
My message to young Kashmiri writers would be that we cannot simply express in another language what we can in the Kashmiri language., and the endless possibilities therein.