Dr R L Bhat
Premi Kashmiri, as Master Sarwanand Koul of Souf Shali, Anantnag used to style himself, belonged to that generation of men who got inspired by the challenges of the first half of the twentieth century. Born in 1924 he plunged into the freedom movement in 1938 at the age of 14. It must have been around that time that he started writing poetry, for it was the age when ‘men’ were substantive beings if they were anything. They would be socially conscious, reformist though devout religionists, men of letters who mingled research and creative writing, easily and harmoniously in their pursuits. True to his age and as Mahjoor and Azad had done before him, Premi started writing in Urdu but shifted to Kashmir, again like these peers. When Premi met Mahjoor, he handed him a number of his poems in succession. At each presentation Mahjoor is said to have remarked, but that is what I have written myself. Then Premi showed him his poem Roouda-jarea and the great poet reportedly cried out, but why did I not-write that!
As Premi himself says in his collection of verse Paan-tsaaddar, he is influenced by Mahjoor. Indeed, the Gazals in ‘the ‘collection not only’ carry the unmistakable flavour of Mahjoorian poetry, but many actually appear to be continuations of some one or the other of the soulful lyrics of the great poet. Mahjoor went out of fashion with his death. May be that would’ have been delayed had not the master craftsman Dinanath Nadim stepped into the arena. At one sitting Mahjoor is said to have pointed to Nadim as the one who was to bear the torch after him. But many feel that Nadim had not only appropriated the torch but had already begun to throw new light upon the Kashmiri poetic vistas. The fifties saw Kashmir poetry taking new diction’, new idiom, new concerns. Other monumental changes in ideation were taking place. Mahjoorian ways, how so delighting they may have been passed out rather too soon. So, did his ardent followers, find the times change quickly for what they had perfected.
Premi can be said to have mastered that style well. That is why his poems look so close that the master himself may well have claimed authorship of many of them. But there are other gems in there,
Lolus byol gali titi na sa bani zanh
Zoon payi chali-chali titina sa bani Zanh
Apuz kenh kaal yudway rathi khasi
Pazarus niyal gali titi na sa bani zanh
(Love’ll will be uprooted good? no never
Moon’ ll break into bits and fall? no never
Lie may live ‘for a day, ‘or so but
Truth won’t lose its rind, no never.)
Gatse-hey bulbulan kayizi aeli naash.
Kuni kath yimen, yud kuner asihey’
Qadar zanahan chani sabaruk wupar
Yiman chon huiw yud jigar asihey
Nightingales wouldn’t have lost their nest,
Had they been of but one voice .
Others would have known thy tolerance
If they had thy heart, thy for bearance
And of course, there is the rooda jaer, that Mahjoor himself envied Premi. But Premi was only in his twenties when Mahjoor died. He wrote the new verse, modern, verse. Indeed, second part of Paan Tsaadar is all nazams, in the right modern style. And quite in tune he livens up Taj Mahal in the progressivist, workers’ idiom and idea, replete with the sweat of brow of the hard work. Paan Tsaadar, the title poem is in this part and quite a piece in itself. As per Premi’s son Rajinder Premi certain quarters, the money wielding powers of cultural academy, tried to prevail on Premi to change the title ofhis collection, to call it Aabshar or something in that tone and tongue, to get the necessary funding from the academy, which he refused. He refused to change it to a suitably Urdu sounding title that is, for he got the academy aid and published the work with it. But refusal to compromise ultimately cost Premi his life.
Just before his cruel death at the hands of the terrorists, who were then called Mujahid Saaeb-they still are called that but with much less ardor!-Premi who was also a journalist and commentator, sent one of the valley papers a rebuttal of the communalist visions that the terrorists were propagating. They came calling soon after, in the night of 29th April 1990 and took him away for ‘questioning’. His eldest son Verinder insisted on accompanying his father. Two days later the father and son were hanged, in which condition they were discovered several hours later. But before that, they had been severely tortured, their eyes had been gouged out, their bodies burnt with cigarette bits and a deep hole had been burnt into Premi’s forehead where he used to wear his tilak ! What fulfillments the Mujahids got from thus violating a retired headmaster who may never have harmed a fly is not only for those marauders to answer. It is also for the torch bearers of their creed, the apologists of the ‘movement to address. Many others had preceded Premi; many more followed him, though the callous killing of the father and son remained one of the most dastardly deaths the terrorists masterminded.
But then Premi was not only a versifier and rebutter of communalist tendencies. He had been an activists all his life, though none of it could be said to have rubbed any religion, any faith, any belief the wrong way. He used to keep a copy of Koran in his Puja room. He was hugely popular among all the people of his area irrespective of creed or calling. He was a Gandhian having started ‘his life in the Gandhiashram. He was a freedom fighter and above all a humanist who Spanned the arenas of social activity as easily as the academic pursuits. Though Government servants in those days kept away from political activity his freedom struggle background, would not have allowed him to remain aloof from activism. It is remarkable that a category of political workers in the valley somehow just did not prosper or progress in politics inspite of their huge contributions. Kashap Bandhu was afrontrunner no doubt yet he sank into the sidelines. Rishi Deev another grassroots worker in the old National Conference mould faded out even though he was a whole-timer there. Premi had to be thankful for the teacher’s job he had- Others who had the potential and could have been significant names had to be content with a mere occasional call from the powers. A few of them made it, but it was with entirely different means and for different reasons.
Premi could well have been a leader of masses. His hold and influence cut across creeds, and extended much beyond the area where he lived. His literary work was extensive. Apart from Paan Tsaadar, they include Kalami Premi, Payami. Premi, Rooda Jeriosh to vush, bakhti kosum, etc. He was an editor, translator, compiler. They only published works of the adyatmik seer- poet, Mirza Kak are the two compilations by Premi. He published two books on Rupa Bawani. He translated Bhagawat Gita and Ramayana into Kashmiri. He also translated Tagore’s Geetanjali. His published works number seventeen while another eighteen works are yet to be published. These three dozen books are written in Urdu, Hindi, English and Kashmiri languages. Indeed, his was a life much larger than one may imagine a forlorn villager to have live. This life has largely remained unacknowledged, unsung, even though notables from Jag Mohan to L.M. Sanghvi, including George Fernandes, Syed Sahabudin, Quareshi, Subramanyam Swami, and topped by Vice-President Bharon Singh Shekhawat himself, lamented his death and the Chief Minister of State had been a close associate and fellow traveler of Premi.
Thus as small a bequeath as naming a couple of institutions in his home district. Anantnag after him have remained proposals forgotten in the Government files. Nor have any other fitting tributes been paid to this great soul for his sacrifice, his social and political work and literary contributions. The bereaved family had to run after the administrators and ministers of this State to get the date of death of this martyr corrected in the records which somehow had come to be stated it as 5th of May 1990!
Sarwanand Koul Premi-still unsung!
Dr R L Bhat