I was shocked! I have a reason to get shocked on discovering that our new generation is detached from its past. It knows not men and women it ought to know. Have I a right to expect young people to think as I do; to believe in what I believe in or to love what I love. If I am not becoming too didactic and want to foist my ideas on the techno savvy generation. These questions bothered me, after having had a marathon session of interaction with a group of young students.
In connection with the World Book Day, Debating Society of a premier college, with a scintillating past, invited me to share my experiences with students on book reading and book reviewing. I have not been a student of this college but its list of illustrious alumni is so varied and variegated that it is impossible to think of contemporary Kashmir without them. Having been cauldron of literary, cultural and political movements, it has produced leaders that shook citadels of monarchy and autocracy and brought down towers of arrogance of power like a pack of cards.
With history of the college lurking in my mind, in my endeavor to reach out to the younger generation and establish an intimate contact with them, I started my interaction with them by asking them about some historical people of our land that I believe have provided warp and woof not to ancient but in molding of modern Kashmir personality. Like a class teacher, I asked the students; those of you who know the answers of the questions should raise their hands.
My first question: Have you heard the name of Mulla Tahir Ghani- those of you who have heard his name may raise their hands. In a gathering of three hundred boys and girls not a single hand was raised…I was shocking.
The reason for my asking this question was that to our generation Ghani was an inspiration, a source of strength and symbol of self-esteem and dignity. He throughout his life never waited on princes, nor wrote a single Qasida (eulogy) in praise of any nobleman or king. In his hundred thousand verses, there is not a single quadrant or couplet in praise of the nobility. Iqbal on his visitation to the poet in Javed Nama says:
“ Rumi said, ‘Observe what is now coming;
give not your heart to what has passed, my son.
That poet of colourful song, Tahir Ghani,
whose poverty abounds in riches inward and outward,
drunk with eternal wine, is chanting a melody
in the presence of the Sayyid sublime, noble of nobles, commander of Persia,
whose hand is the architect of the destiny of nations.”
Ghani for his denying joining the Mogul emperors court, instead of obeying the orders of the governor Saif Khan, preferring declaring himself as madman has been for past four hundred years criss-crossing throughout the Kashmir’s political narrative as a symbol of resistance. Teachers and politicians’ alike told us nurse self-esteem and dignity like Ghani Kashmiri and do not bow before the powers of arrogance- the Pitamber Nath Dhar Fani said at the morning assemblies.
This great Persian poet of ‘vivid imagination’, ‘high soaring intellect’, was not hero to people of one faith but to all. In fact, during sixties Dina Nath Nadim reintroduced him to the masses through his famous light and sound opera Assi Aiyas Ta Assi Aasav. So deep was imprint of the poet on our generation that he very subtly had, become a role model for us.
Quoting famous verse of Mehjoor that mentions names of three great Kashmiris, counted as icons of our identity, I asked the young students if they had heard the name of Sheikh Yaqab Sarfi. Not a single hand was raised in approbation- no student had heard the name of this man of letters who for having written a series of five masnavis (epics) ‘in imitation of his teacher’s teacher Abdur Rahman Jami was known as Jami of Kashmir. For his eloquent poetry, and art of composing Sarfi had earned a place of distinction in whole of South Asia. Known for his erudition in most parts of India he had earned a place for his land. True, during our school days, learning Persian language was no more in fashion but most of the teacher endeavored to connect the students to their culture and heritage thus imbibed a sense of belonging in them to their land of birth.
If they had heard about Abdul Ahad Azad, was my third question to this young gathering of boys and girls. It was saddening to see only two boys and a girl raised their hands in affirmation. Just a couple of years back Abdul Ahad Azad birth centenary was observed by the state government with enthusiasm and fervor, elite seminars were held and conferences were organized. Massive hoardings with best verses from his poetry were erected all over the valley. It was disappointing to note that the yearlong celebrations had also failed to attract young generation towards great revolutionary poet- our own Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib.
It came as a rudest shock when to me I learnt in a gathering of hundreds of student’s only four girls and two boys stated that they were reading Iqbal.
The young generation distancing itself from its roots and delinking itself from its culture is dangerous- it has the potential of eroding even the well-entrenched societies. Culture says Edward W Said, ‘is a source of identity and rather a combative one.’ How to connect young generation to their traditions and culture- the elements that shape personality of a nation is moot point for our intellectuals.