Literature is a vital record of what men have seen in life, what they have experienced of it, what they have thought and felt about those aspects of it which have the most immediate and enduring interest for all of us. It is thus fundamentally an expression of life through the medium of language. And when this record is compiled it takes shape of a book or a magazine. Jammu and Kashmir though having a rich culture and literary tradition owing to its vast socio-cultural and geographical matrix, does not boast of having a literary magazine other than Sheeraza- a literary magazine published by the Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, J&K. Sheeraza, since its inception in January 1962, has been catering to the needs of literati in Jammu and Kashmir. It has proved to be an excellent platform for the writers, poets, and researchers of the erstwhile state of J&K (now UT) to express themselves in different genres of the literature. It has provided them with an identity and recognition in the diverse milieu of J&K. JK being a multicultural, multilinguistic and multi religious state, no single language whether it is Kashmiri, Dogri Ladakhi or Gogri is dominant throughout the state. Every language is confined to a specific region, so any book in any language does not enjoy much readership as do the books written in Bengali, Tamil or Punjabi. Hence the influence of the author too remains region-specific. As a result, the writer of one region remains unrecognised in other regions. This, inturn also hampers their influence at the national or international level. Only those books with quality content written in English manage to have some respectable readership. This is where sheeraza comes to their help; it gives writers some space to get their works published and be recognised at least on UT level, besides helping them financially to some extent.
The special volumes of sheeraza dedicated to some prominent writers help them get recognition at least among the literary circles in the UT, If not nationally. It also gives them a sense of satisfaction that their contribution to art, culture and literature finds some takers. It is a big consolation for them. Though sheeraza continues its literary journey despite different political upheavals during last 60 years (particularly the last 30 yrs of militancy in the state), however, to remain relevant to the coming times it must reorient its shape and style. It must broaden its base among literati by publishing quality material and making itself available on internet, if print editions are expensive and remain beyond the reach of readers due to lack of proper distribution network and a ready market. The online edition will help it broaden its network and gain readers loyalty irrespective of any geographical borders. Being online will give magazine a chance to provide better services to the clients by improving upon their online feedback or comments. Its highly convenient to the readers to access the magazine from their own comfort zones, because not only they can read whenever they desire but they can instantly buy new subscriptions or magazines.
A good number of competent budding writers emerging on literary horizon of the UT need to be encouraged by giving them oppportunities to publish their works. Besides efforts need to be made to get their works translated into English so that it reaches a vast section of people.
Despite being sole representative of literature produced across the three diverse regions of the erstwhile State-Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir, and being patronised by the Jammu and Kashmir Government, it has not become a house hold name. Only some people directly or indirectly linked with the Academy are familiar with it.
When asked about such a State of this magazine, the Academy officials cite ‘dwindling number of book lovers” as one of the contributary factors.
Sheeraza Urdu was brought by Academy of Art, Culture and Languages in January 1962 under the supervision of (Late) Ali Jawad Zaid, the then Secretary of the Academy. Initially, it was bi-monthly and was later made monthly. During the past 58 years, its publication is continuing without any break.
The word Sheeraza means bonding of pearls or sutradhar in Hindi.
The first Editor of Sheeraza Urdu was Mohammed Yousuf Taing who later became Secretary Academy, Advisor Culture to Chief Minister and Director General Culture of J&K Govt.
Sheeraza is being published for the last 58 years and works of amost all the legendary Urdu writers, poets and literatteurs have been published in it, which include Josh Malesh Abadi, Sahab-ud-Din Abdul Rehman, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Jagan Nath Azad, Darzi Abdul Wadood, Mir Ghulam Rasool Nazki, Ram Babu Saxena, Shahzoor Kashmiri, Sahibzada Hassan Shah, etc. The list is too long to repeat. There is no major problem being faced by Sheeraza except the readership has shrinked to some extent.
Urdu was official language of State of J&K but no notification has been issued which language would be official language of UT of J&K. However, Sheeraza has its own circle and no major problem is being faced right now.
There are many scholars of Urdu who live in Ladakh and they are contributing articles and writings to Sheeraza and the Academy is in constant touch with them for promotion and development of Urdu language and literature.
What they say about Sheeraza
Sheeraza (English) looks like a poor cousin to Indian Literature, brought out by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi. Its cover is a tacky affair. The paper used is of poor quality, printing passes the muster, but just that and nothing beyond.
As for the quality of writing, typos are a rule rather than exception. Finicky readers would find some of the prose pieces rather amateurish. Poetry too is passable in many cases.
Contributors are predominantly from the Valley, though care is taken religiously to publish writers and poets from Jammu region and Laddakh as well.
Having said that, the journal published in eight languages (Urdu, Kashmiri, Dogri, Punjabi, Hindi, Gojri, Pahadi and Laddkhi) besides English caters to the literati of all the regions of the former state. Its modest look can be forgiven when we consider that while Indian Literature is priced at Rs 100 per copy, one can buy a full year’s subscription of Sheeraza (English) for just eighty rupees. Money makes the mare go. The less than professional poetry or prose pieces appearing in the journal may be attributable to its objective of providing a platform to the aspiring writers for ‘creative expression’. On the positive side, it is to be noted that while Indian Literature carries material only on different genres of literature-poetry, fiction, drama and criticism – Sheeraza goes one step ahead. Almost all the issues have one or more articles on the history and cultural aspects of our heterogeneous society.
It can be said that though there is much scope of. improvement, Sheeraza is not doing badly, considering its limited resoures and the wide area of responsibility it has been entrusted with.
Sheeraza, the bi-monthly chain of literary journals, the flagship publication programs undertaken by J&K’s Cultural Academy, are platforms to foster creative expressions of the young and budding talent as well as encouraging senior writers/ poets to contribute seriously for the development of their language and literature; encourage translations for better understanding of literature being produced in from sister languages and also to encourage research relating to the different languages in general and history and cultural heritage of the of Union Territory of J&K in particular.
But unfortunately, the corpus of Sheeraza journals in J&K’s eight languages (Dogri, Kashmir, Urdu, Hindi Punjabi, Pahari, Gojari, English) with Dogri and Kashmiri journals now more than six decades old, has not been given due importance in Academy’s libraries. As these institutional reference libraries at Abhinav Theatre, Jammu and Lal Mandi, Srinagar, have failed to collect all the old issues for reference of students/scholars and writers of different languages, the Academy must rectify this remiss posthaste. It has to ensure that it gets hold of all old issues of Sheeraza journals and make them available in form of reference sections in all its main libraries in its offices in districts.
It is important that the Sheeraza’s editors in-charge and the chief editors of different languages should ensure easy access to the hitherto published material in all old issues of Sheeraza in all languages by bringing out comprehensive bibliographies under separate titles such as modern short stories, poems, one-act plays, travelogues, memoirs, essays, articles on literary criticism, linguistics, and intangible heritage aspects such as folklife, folk music, tales, poetry, idioms, proverbs, etc and aspects of tangible heritage aspects such as art, architecture, the natural heritage etc.
Academy should also bring out a bibliography of articles in Sheeraza Annual Language Conference Numbers which publish the proceeding of such conferences, for the ready reference of those interested in knowing and studying the direction and quality of the development of J&K’s modern languages and modern literature.
There is a requirement to revive the emphasis on research and documentation of various aspects of folklife in the different hill and highland communities of J&K as under the impact of juggernaut of globalization and homogenization all traditional values and practices are fast vanishing in thin air. Academy also needs to update its website.
Sheeraza, the literary magazine of Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages has undoubtedly contributed in promoting English, Kashmiri, Hindi and Dogri. It also covers different literary capabilities of the people. It has gone through many phases but fortunately has maintained the quality. It also highlights the literary acumen of the budding and upcoming writers, essayist, critic and poets. But the big problem is that its distribution is limited within the circles of established writers, authors and poets. It has not reached to the grass root level. We have enough of readers but it fails their reach. When the Academy organises any programme in its theatres in both the capital cities of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, Sheeraza should be talked of and distributed to the common readers so that it reaches to the public. Sheeraza is available on in two Kitab Ghars of the Union Territory. It should be made available in the leading book sellers.
Tajamul Islam, Editor of Urdu Tameel Irshad says “There is a limited group of writers who are close to the higher ups in order to reap the benefits of payment which needs to be looked into.
Ayaz Rasool Nazki
Sheeraza is published in many languages. Different editions may have different inadequacies. A common issue is its regularity and non serious distribution which are managemental issues. On time publishing and proper distribution would be first steps. Standard of materials published would be the next. They could infuse some fresh approaches by opting for guest editors who could be reputed writers not in the service of academy. The selection of material would be broad based and not confined to the state writers. Online availability of the journal, the current and past issues would add to the reach of the journals.