Tryst with Ahad Zargar Such poets are the treasured assets of a nation

These are not just rituals or funfairs. Anniversary celebrations, memories and commemorations are important. They shape national narratives as someone has rightly said and ‘reify the feeling of national selfhood and are central to nationalist movements and sentiments.’  Commemorations not only help in revisiting the past but also help in reinterpreting them in the changed context for deconstructing narratives targeted at delegitimizing the genuine aspirations of the people. Commemorations not    to me is to use a Fanon’s phrase, ‘cast aside the victimhood and become master of one’s owns lives’ and write one’s own narrative. Not only do martyrs   but also literary icons of a nation provide warp and woof to national narratives.

On Sunday, September 12, 2012, I was one amongst many invited to 29th Ahad Zargar Day – the day marked death anniversary of the poet. In a glittering hall raised in memory of the poet in Narwara, his birthplace ironically not by the government but his admires,  scores of poets, writers and admires had gathered to pay homage to him.  Masters of Kashmir folk music from various parts of valley had converged in this small mohalla near historic Iddgah to sing his poetry on his gravesite. For one full day and night the area resounded with poetry and poetry.  

Ahad Zargar born in 1882, died at a ripe age of 102, on November 21, 1984. Some of his biographers have recorded his year of birth as 1886. Thirty-six years before his birth Kashmir and Kashmiris sold under a ‘seal deed’ as merchandise by the British to Gulab Singh.  It was the darkest periods in the history of Kashmir- having suffered hellish life under alien rule from 1819 it was coerced  to live an infernal life under brute tax system, despotic discriminatory and communal rule. One after other tyrant ruler pulled down the great institutions of scholarship and learning born during the period of the Sultans.   Moreover, at the time of the birth of the poet, the institutional education system in our land had totally crumbled.  Nevertheless, for the passion of   for learning,    people established Akhon-Chatahals (maktabs), small seminaries in every village and Mohalla of Srinagar city. Children learned reading the Holy Quran and   some Persian classical books in this small maktabs. The poet received his early education in one such maktab, but his learning in true sense started under the tutelage of two great religious scholars of his times,  Mirwaiz  Ahmadullah’ and ‘Mirwaiz  Atiqullah’. It was under these religious scholars that the poet learnt great classical Persian literature and mastered Maulana Rumi and Sheikh Saadi. These were the times when the institution of Mirwaiz which is distinct to Kashmir  had graduated as an important centre of social reforms and resistance against the tyrant rulers that had converted hospices into garrisons and used  mosques as  granaries. The institution of Mirwaiz was first to raise its voice against the occupation of Muslim religious places.

I have started believing that Ahad Zargar was baptized as Sufi poet under tutelage of the two Mirwaizs, and passing through various Sufi experiences his poetry got fine-tuned from refinement to refinement making him   towering amongst the towering in his tribe. Kashmiri Sufi poetry was born in the first quarter of nineteenth century, was it mere coincidence or it was reaction to the end of five hundred years old Muslim rule. Some historians of Kashmiri literature see it as reaction to the alien rule. ‘On ending of the Muslim rule, scholars and poets felt need of articulating their views about reassertion of their  beliefs and values that after advent of Islam had got completely     assimilated  in Kashmir personality, and eroding these values would amount poisoning it to death. The poets after 1819, once again started looking for their national character’, and Sufi poetry based on three fundamental principles Tawheed (monotheism), Risyalat (finality of Prophethood) and Ashaq (love) became a forceful medium.  Ahad Zargar, counted as the last of Sufi poets of Kashmir despite taking this genre of Kashmir poetry to new heights in thought, content and form remained tethered to traditions. Prof. G.M. Shad, in a monograph on the poet brought out by Sahitya Akademi, drawing distinction between two classes of mystic poets that he calls as ‘su’kur’ and su’hu, of these first one in their intensity  of love  crosses limits and second one rein it in. He sees Ahad Zargar as admixture of both.

Of all the Sufi, I see Ahad Zargar as one of the most difficult poets. His poetry is a goblet of elixir to be enjoyed by scholars of extraordinary understanding of mysticism who can rise to his level.   Like many other lovers of Kashmiri language, I enjoy just rhythm in his poetry but what has endeared me in this great mystic poet   has been his respecting self-dignity.

Some “renege-literati” have been using Kashmir Sufi poetry for strengthening the ‘dominant discourse’ and defeating the ‘peoples discourse’.  It is ironic, that even stories have been conjured about majzoobs for fortifying the ‘dominant discourse’ – stories have been galore that one or the other majzoob was not supportive of the ‘popular discourse’. These stories were used to dishearten the common folks. 

The ‘renege-literati’ have been describing the Sufi poets as recluses.  Historically, I do not see our mystic poets what is described as ‘passive recluse’ and ‘dovish’. The recluses cannot be as assertive.  Ahad Zaragar throughout his life never attended any government sponsored function. Like Gani Kashmiri, he denied meeting any government functionaries. Amongst all the 20th century Kashmiri poets, he stands out iconic for denying honors from the government in power. In 1962, the State Cultural Academy arranged a high profile function to honor to the poet but he denied attending and accepting the honors.  So holds true about yet another nineteenth century Sufi poet, Wahab Khar. Maharaja Ranbir Singh who was a great devote of the poet sent Rs. three hundred and a horse as gift to him but he refused to accept it. In this column, sometime back, I wrote how in 1931, Syed Mirak Shah, greatest Sufi saint of his times  on a horse back led an arm rebellion against Maharaja Hari Singh and how 110 year old saint Sudu Bayu,     denied meeting a governor of Sikh ruler in protest against atrocities committed by them against people..
Our Sufi poet, Sufi’s and saints have strengthened the people’s narrative and not ‘dominant narrative’.