Monday, August 10, 2020

Q and A with Outlook Magazine

Last month had a brief  Q and A with Outlook Magazine on Kashmiri Pandit Literature and exile. 


1. What's the significance of Kashmiri culture for a Kashmiri Pandit? Is it any different to them from say, the significance of Malayali culture to a Malayali living elsewhere in the country? What strikes you the most when you observe Kashmiri Pandit families -- I realise you are one yourself --, their way of living, their food habits, the conversations, etc.?

A: Since you mentioned Malayali and since I am in Kerala for last many years, I can tell you one thing I found common is that both really love the land and culture they belong to. Both think of it as unique and ancient. Both interestingly are mutli-lingual and open to other cultural influences also. However, one big difference is that in case of Malayalis they have a common traditional festival like Onam in which Malayalis from all religious backgrounds take part and it is mass celebrated. In case of Kashmiri culture, the commonality of a festival does not exist. While Kashmiri Pandits take pride in Kashmiri culture, they also emphasise the fact that within it, their own culture is a subset. A Malayali living elsewhere in the country may have personal fears of losing out on culture but the actual culture is only thriving in the land of birth. In case of Kashmiri Pandits, exodus from Kashmir has meant that most of their culture is now diasporic in nature and concerns as reflected in the literature and art produced by them. There is constant fear that the culture is dying, so all the activities eventually tend to be self-aware acts about preservation. 

2. Loss is arguably the single most defining theme of literature produced by Kashmiri Pandits post the exodus. Are there other themes too? What was the literature about before the exodus?

Prior to 1989, literature produced by Kashmiri Pandits had concerns similar to artists belonging to other places in India. Post 47 and till 60s...bulk of popular writing was part of Progressive movement influenced by the left movement. We have Poet Dina Nath Nadim and his concerns for the common people. In this period a lot of literature was about communal harmony also. By 1970s, we have short story writers like Hari Krishen Kaul, still writing in Kashmiri but inspired by Western writers like Kafka. In this period, the concern deals with modernity and how it was changing the old Kashmiri society. Also, all this while we have a lot of devotional songs and music getting produced by the community. Poet Master Zinda Kaul's main theme was devotional and spiritual. The theme spiritual is probably most popular in Kashmir and is most common in Kashmiri Muslim culture also. So we have a lot of mystical poets, even till half a decade ago, and their works celebrated by both communities and publicly sung. AIR was the hub of culture and lot of Kashmiri Pandits like Pushkar Bhan and Pran Kishore were involved with radio. Meanwhile, we also had writers like Sarvanda Kaul Premi who apart from writing poetry in Kashmiri were also translating Tagore into Kashmir. By 1980s, we see a crop of Hindi poets and writers also active in cultural scene. Novelist Chandrakanta belongs to this era. Her concerns in early work also deals with modernity and how Kashmir was changing.

Post exodus, bulk of Kashmiri Pandit writing has been in languages other than Kashmiri and the major tone has been nostalgic and longing for home. Initially it was mostly Hindi but in the last few decades English has become the language for capturing the experiences. I think in a few years in the community we will see new writings on how the community was changing and how they adapted, carried multiple cultures. Writing from people who are either comfortable or struggling to be comfortable with the past and present.


In the 90s we do have a lot of Kashmiri Pandits writing in Kashmiri about the loss of home. There are writers who only a few years ago were writing in Kashmir and writing about other themes and now find themselves out of Kashmir and just remembering Kashmir. The reach of these writers was limited. So, now some work on translations is also happening. There are people working on preserving the Kashmiri language among the community. Latin script for writing Kashmiri is gaining acceptance for the simple ease of use. But, arriving at a standard remains a challenge.

4. Do you write yourself too? If yes, what do you write? Would you mind sharing something please?

I do write. Some of the pieces have been published on various online News portals. I am co-founder of Game studio in Kerala and for last 10 years I have been running a blog "SearchKashmir" that archives bits of Kashmiri Culture. This involves telling stories that I have heard, personal stories of other people, folktale, history, old photographs of Kashmir, music, films, books, arts and artists. It is basically a collection of personal discoveries as I try to dig into the past. It started with a family visit to Kashmir in about 2008. I realized I knew very little about the place I belonged to and the kind of things about the place that interested me were not there online. So I went about cataloguing. Overtime, more people started sharing their own stories too.

3. Which poet/writer's work do you relate to the most? What's so profound about them?

Strangely, or not so strangely, like most Kashmiri Pandits of my generation my introduction to Kashmiri literature was quite late. In my teenage years, work of Ritwik Ghatak spoke to me. His understood exile like few in India could and successfully captured it on screen. Manto resonated. The violence, the odd-balls caught in history and the occasional wry humor. It was only much later, as often happens, I sought and found Kashmiri culture, or rather parts of it. There is Arvid Gigoo and his sardonic tone. There are poems of Prem Nath "Shaad" and Brij Nath Betaab in Kashmir capturing the violence of 89-90 and experience of exile in Kashmiri.

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Extracts and quotes from the interview were used in the Magazine:
August 2, 2020 issue 
[What the Pandits Lost: Trauma of exodus and the Kashmiri past of Pandits in the community's art/How Kashmiri Pandits' Loss And Longing For 'Home' Find Expression In Their Literature]

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