The writer who addressed the history of the crisis in 1990s Kashmir most directly in his work is Akhtar Mohiuddin. His collections of short stories published posthumously reveals a mind constantly grappling with violent transformations in Kashmiri society. Mohiuddin had himself lost a son and son-in-law in the violence of the 1990s. In early 1990s, he joined the Hurriyat Conference, a separatist political formation in Kashmir. For a man who had been a socialist and was awarded with the Padma Shree, this was a difficult intellectual journey.
Akhtar Mohiuddin was born on 17 April, 1928 in Srinagar. He lived in Lal Bazar, Srinagar until his death in 2001. We get a glimpse into the imaginative world of Akhtar Mohiuddin in his books of short stories, Seven One Nine Seven Nine, an incredible collection. Akhtar Mohiudeen had written more than forty radio plays and six collections of short stories. He had also published a novel, Daud Dag (Disease and Pain) and Zuv ti Zulan (Precarious Life). Akhtar Mohiuddin had translated extensively into Kashmiri and also edited many collections of Kashmiri short stories.
There are two collections of short stories which appeared just after his death in 2001. He had clearly prepared both for publication. One of them is Seven One Nine One Seven and other Stories. The dedication to the book is enough to signal the shift in Akhtar Mohiuddin’s concerns as a writer in the 1990s:
Mausoom shaheed Muhammad Yusuf wa Ahmadullah Reshi te
timan jawanan handi nawa yim zulmakis ani gatis manz be nau
Jayan qatl karne aayi.
To the innocent martyrs Muhammad Yusuf and Ahmadullah Reshi
and those boys who under the cover of oppression’s darkness were
killed in nameless places.
This collection contains many short stories such as Jali hand dande phal (The Broken Teeth of Jali), Nav Byemaer (The New Disease), Aaatankwaadi (The Terrorist) which deal creatively with the everyday experience in the 1990s.
Akhtar Mohiuddin’s last published collection of short stories contains many other stories which deal with the 1990s. Many of his short stories remained unpublished for a long time. They reveal the moral pressures faced by people living in a society in transition.
The recent publication of Akhtar Mohiuddin’s novel, Jahnamuk Panun Panun Naar (To Each According to his Own Hell) confirmed my intuition that Mohiuddin wrestled the most with the issues confronting Kashmir in the 1990s. This new novel by Mohiuddin is a bitter and ruthless indictment of Kashmiri society and attempts to delve into the genesis of militant violence. What makes this novel extremely relevant is its subject. It studies the apathy and decadence in the ruling classes of Srinagar in the years just before the urban revolt in late 1980s Srinagar. This tale of urban decadence is dedicated “To the first young man who will pick up a gun to clean this mess”. In the novel, the date for the dedication appears to be 1975. The message that Akhtar Mohiuddin wants to convey through this dedication is clear. He connects the events of the novel to have been a direct cause for the rebellion which Mohiuddin wholeheartedly supported. 1975 is also the year Sheikh Abdullah signed a peace accord with India abandoning the demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir. Though we are here not concerned with Mohiuddin’s political choices yet most of his work towards the end is intensely political. This includes the controversial history, A Fresh Approach to the Cultural History of Kashmir. Jahanammuk Panun Panun Naar (To Each According to his Own Hell) is indeed one of the most significant books in Kashmiri to be published in recent years. No other significant novels were published in the 1990s. There are, in any case, no more than a couple of dozen novels written in Kashmiri.
I would like to present here my rough translation of the short story, Aatankwaadi (The Terrorist) as an example of Akhtar Mohiuddin's style and of the themes which had begun to dominate his writing towards the end of his life.
The Terrorist (Kashmiri text in PDF)
By Akhtar Mohiuddin
The bylane which Bauba Tathi took had an Army patrol party come in from the other side. The moment young Shafiq saw the soldiers, he started crying. He rolled on the street, tugging at his mother's clothes and refused to move. Bauba Tathi scolded him and distracted him with imaginary gifts but to no effect.
The Army officer thought to himself that the moment these Kashmiri children see us, they get terribly scared. He was lost in these thoughts when he said to young Shafiq:
Don’t be sacred, beta.
Bauba Tathi replied in a mixture of Kashmiri and Urdu:
Hell, scared. He is crying because he wants your gun. Dupta hain gun de do. Wants your gun. He sees Army, wants gun.
The Army officer was shocked to hear this. He couldn’t react for sometime and clenching his teeth, muttered to himself:
And hurried on.
For more on Akhtar Mohiuddin, click here.