Divided Valley Unites To Fete Rahi
10 March 2007
The Indian Express
Srinagar: Kashmiri poet Rehman Rahi winning the Jnanpith award has brought the people of the valley together in celebration. For in Rahi, Kashmir has had a cultural symbol who has defied petty political divides created by two decades of violence. The award, which has come rather belatedly to Rahi, recognises his contribution to the Kashmiri language over the past 50 years. A language that he has not only protected from Persian and Urdu influence but also used as a means to resuscitate the essential inclusiveness of Kashmiri culture. Rahi's poetry reflects the Valley and yet transcends it to create a universal narrative from a Kashmiri perspective. Which is why Rahi is a poet of Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims, a benign cultural presence common to both. For Rahi, however, it is the language which is the fountainhead of Kashmiririyat, the syncretic Kashmiri tradition, and is therefore happy that the award has come as a recognition for the language at the national level. 'I see the award as an honour for my poetry, and above all an honour for the language in which it was composed and for the people who use this language,' Rahi, who is widely regarded as the greatest living Kashmiri poet, told The Indian Express. In 1961, Rahi became the youngest Indian to win the Sahitya Akademi award. He also received the Padma Shri in 1999. Rahi, 82, has been an influential literary presence in Kashmir for the past five decades and is credited with giving the Kashmiri language its modern idiom of expression. He is also the founder member of the Kashmiri Progressive Writers Movement called Cultural Congress which was set up in 1947 and lasted till the early sixties. The movement brought Kashmiri literature in step with other major languages of the sub-continent like Hindi and Urdu. But Rahi's main contribution lies in liberating the Kashmiri language from its Sufi and folksy preoccupations. 'Rahi's poetry represents a decisive break from the pre-1947 Kashmiri literature,' said Rahi's colleague and eminent poet Amin Kamil. Over the last 17 years of turmoil, Rahi has been one of the foremost voices of Kashmir's pain. His book 'Siyah Rood Jaren Manz' (In Black Vernal Showers) reflects the agony of his people caught in an unenviable struggle between competing nationalism and identities. In a nostalgic throwback to the peaceful past in one verse, Rahi fondly reminisces about the 'melting snow, blowing wind and blooming orchards,' for which Valley is known and calls upon spring to forgive Kashmiris for the wilderness that has visited the land. But at the same time, Rahi also harbours expectation of a ' fresh dawn's free twitter' with Kashmir returning to peace and prosperity.