An interview with Prof. Dr. Rattan Lal Shant

November 2011

(Prof. (Dr) Rattan Lal Shant is a Kashmiri Short Story Writer, Dramatist, Hindi Poet, Translator, Editor, Researcher and Critic. Besides receiving many awards, he got the Sahitya Academy Award in the year 2007 for his book of Kashmiri Short Stories “ TSHEN” (RUPTURE).

Rajendra Razdan, a freelance journalist is in conversation with him…….

RR: Which Short Stories have you written about the plight of Kashmiri Pandits outsideKashmir? What do you say in them?

RLS :   Many short stories of mine have been written pointedly on this subject.  But most of my other stories may also be carrying the strain of themes concerning Kashmiri Pandits. Thus for instance,  “Curfew”, “Thor”(Obstacle),    ”Haer” (Mynah), ”Byakh Reshinama”(Another Rishi chronicle ), ”Raevimuti Maaney”(Lost meanings)“Beyi  Akh Doah”(Another Day) and many other short stories written before our displacement from the valley, speak of the  atmosphere of subtle political discrimination ,social neglect , disguised bullying and forced submission in  which minority characters lived . After 1990 almost all my stories written here directly confront situations arising out of the exodus and subsequent Diaspora of Pandits. You can quote from any of my “Tshen” (Rupture) stories in this connection. These stories present studies of almost all such aspects of the segregated, isolated, marginalized and emotionally truncated lives of people. Such people have widely been described also in the vast body of journalistic literature published during the last two decades outside the valley.

RR: Do you give any solution to the miserable condition of the Pandit community in your writings?

RLS: I have offered no solution, because I do not believe that literature should or can do that. My stories may lead readers to some ideas or they may even draw conclusions from the situations depicted, I shall not question their ingenuity… I think if I am able to focus on the problem, which includes among other things the plight of my community living in exile for the last two decades, my role as a writer is done.

RR: You write poems in Hindi and short stories in Kashmiri, why? Which language are you comfortable with?

RLS: I am comfortable with both. Almost, if not fully and equally. Kashmiri, my mother tongue does have a slight edge over Hindi. However, I am satisfied with the two modes, choosing any of them at the slightest cue from my subject that comes along with its form.  So if it is a story, I find that   Kashmiri is already at work weaving the appropriate structure:  a poem is similarly busy catching up with making selection and rejection of suitable word and phrase in Hindi; literary criticism concentrates wholly on the problem and may take up that language medium which is more relevant to the subject. In fact, the transition from Hindi to Kashmiri or vice versa is so smooth that at times I wonder that my own translation looks to me as good as my original. Some of my friends tell me too.

RR: Kashmiri Pandit writers write in Devnagri Script. When will you expect the problem of two scripts – Nastalique and Devnagri be resolved?

RLS: I don’t think that Devanagari will be confined to Pandit writers, just as Nastalique script is not to Muslims. I do understand that without official support even Nastalique in Kashmir may someday be untenable and e-savvy generations may prefer Roman in case they let the language survive at all in face of the sweeping Urdu (and English) wave in the valley .So the progress Nagari   makes shall depend on how willfully and widely Kashmiris use it or let it be used. It also depends on how much useful reading material (even stories or tales of yore would do to begin with) is published in it. As of now, the number of Pandit Kashmiri writers is dwindling fast, perhaps in direct proportion to the number of speakers. Nastalique shall still have an advantage because of the numbers.

RR: You have also signed a Resolution that the Devnagri Script should be recognized and that the Pandit Writers should write in Devnagri Script. Yet you write stories and other things in the Persian script. Why?

RLS: Yes, I supported the move to let Nagari be officially recognized inDelhi and Srinagar as an additional alternative to the official Nastalique. I keep requesting members of my writers’ fraternity to try writing and publishing in Devanagari also for their readers here. Many of them write and publish their work in both the scripts in order to reach old and young generations of readers. They are conscious of this two fold responsibility of theirs.  They can’t wait till official recognition comes or not. I believe that for the desirous future generations of Pandits outside the valley, Nagari alone will be the common medium.

I write for my readers like every writer does. As of now, most of my readers do happen to be in known of the Nastalique script. So I write mainly in the same. But I also write in the Nagari with equal commitment to my readers knowing that script .As you know, besides, stories and essays, I write a regular column in the “Vaakh”, the only ‘Nagari Kashmiri’ magazine, published by the AIKS. This is in addition to publishing my stories and critical write ups in other magazines ‘Koshur Samachar’ and ‘Kshir Bhavani Times’  If the avenues of publishing in Nagari open up, I won’t be second to anybody in contributing to them. I have been fighting for the cause of Nagari as an additional alternate script on merits, not on any non literary or non educational grounds. Survival of Kashmiri language in Diaspora will not depend as much on the script used for it as on its dedicated use in our homes. Books will come later. I think that at the moment we should lay stress on its survival. Our own survival as a distinct ethnic group is at stake now. Besides other factors, it is closely connected to our language, which in turn can be saved outside Kashmir by an honest commitment. .

RR: Please name some of your books you are proud of.

RLS: I am happy with what I have been able to write, but the work I can be proud of has yet to come. I do not know when or whether that comes. Right now I am fighting the devastating lack of time. Well, sometimes I do find it interesting to sit and go through a chapter from my book in Kashmiri (Tshen”) or Hindi (Samay ke Tevar”) to enjoy myself. I like these two books.  I wrote many stories and literary criticism both in Hindi and Kashmiri after these (i.e. since 2007), which were acclaimed but await publication in book form. My three books in Kashmiri are expected to be out in the first quarter of 2012.

RR: What is your opinion about the writings of other migrant writers, whether Kashmiri, Hindi or English.

RLS: I appreciate how well some of the so called ‘migrant’ writers have written in Kahmiri, Hindi English etc. during the last two decades  in very incongruous conditions outside the valley .I am all admiration for playwrights  Kemmu and Meera Kant, poets ‘Saqi’, ‘Majboor’, KL Choudhry, Siddharth Gigoo, Agnishekhar, ‘Santoshi’ ’Shad’, ‘Masroof’, ‘Saroor’ and ‘Betab’ ,short story (fiction) writers   Chandrakanta, Sanjana, Kshama, HK Kaul, ‘Jowhar’, ‘ML Pandita’ and  ‘MK Raina”, to name a few for  the excellent  depiction of emotions and  relationships in apt and  forceful language. I have written on some of them in detail.

RR: How and when did you start writing? Which writer has laid a lasting impression on you? Who has been the inspiration behind your writings?

RLS: Though I started publishing my Hindi poems in the annual numbers of ‘Martand’, a journal of the ASKPC, Srinagar, in my school days in 1951-52, I could not publish my earliest  Kashmiri short stories  which I wrote almost simultaneously, anywhere, for I knew of no other journal. Consciously, I published my first Hindi poem ‘Varsha’ and my first Kashmiri short story ‘Navsheen’ in the .S P. College magazine the “Pratap” in the year 1953. I consider this the beginning of my writing career. Bachchan’s and, Dinkar’s poems in our ‘Hindi optional’   text books interested me most while I was in SP college.  I liked Akhtar’s and Kamil’s Kashmiri stories which appeared in the AS College magazine, the ‘Lala Rookh’. Later, personal contact with renowned poets and scholars as also guidance and encouragement by my teachers in Kashmir and Allahabadstrengthened my resolve to continue with the passion even at the cost of a better career. I owe my urge for literary pursuit also to my long association with Kashmir Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, since 1953 which became almost my ideological commitment. My going headlong for MA (Hindi) far away in Allahbad. Overcoming strong patronizing advice to prepare for IAS instead, was direct fallout of such a commitment. (I had topped the BA Examination of J&K University in 1957.)

RR: Who do you rate a Master Writer among Kashmiri Pandits?

RLS: I can not but name two, who are excellent in the genres in which they wrote and who, I think, have not been surpassed. They are Dina Nath Nadim and Hari Krishna Koul.

RR: Devotional poetry got a sudden rise after exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. What have you to say about this kind of poetry?

RLS:  Devotional poetry was an easy way out for poets who felt cut off from their literary neighborhoods and alienated from their traditional audiences. The seemingly sudden   emergence of this kind of poetry has nothing to do with poets’ dejection or desperation resulting from their exodus from the valley, as some critics would like to believe. It was but a weak rally of the displaced poets to connect to such readers here, for whom referential religious rhymes were good enough.  Psychologically, abandoned religious icons and centers in Kashmir had evoked unfathomable empathy in the displaced people. Though some established poets too composed such poems, some ‘devotional’ rhymesters tried to benefit from the situation.  An upsurge of Ashram activity in Jammu and elsewhere can perhaps be seen in this context.

RR: Are there any young writers among Kashmiri Pandits and what do they write about?

RLS: I may have come across just a few young and promising Kashmiri, Hindi or English writers emerging during the last two decades. But unfortunately not much of what they write is visible. Our hopes soared when young writers like RL Jowhar, Kalhan Koul, Siddharth Gigoo and Adarsh Ajit appeared on the horizon. Unfortunately all of them do not seem to be as earnest now as was expected of them. .

RR: You are a translator as well, what have you translated?

RLS: I have done quite a number of translations from and into Kashmiri, Hindi and English, which have been published. “Poshimal ”(Rasulmir), “Nundrishi”, “ Awazon ke Arth” (DN Nadim) “Alberuni sund Hindostan”, “Garu Badli” (BP Choudhury) “Lalded”( Ved Rahi) “ Ujla Rajmarg”(Edited assorted Kashmiri poems, part translated)are my books. Besides, dozens of my translations appeared in journals or were broadcast.

RR: The themes of the short stories poems and other writings changed after the exodus of pandits. Don’t you think the real themes are there in the writings now?

RLS: Themes are always ‘real’ whether they are directly and visibly connected to the present situation or not. What makes them look live and convincing is the genuineness of feeling and able treatment. Sometimes a dream situation or a concocted story may depict ‘reality’ more authentically than a theme based on ‘facts’ does. It is true that after the exodus of 1990 life changed for the victims of the unprecedented phenomenon drastically. Writers, painters, musicians and theater artists took time in absorbing the shock and analyzing the repercussions of the upheaval. Soon we got some good creations in word, color and performance, which were applauded by critics. A new name (‘literature in exile’)

RR: Are there readers of the Kashmiri books among Kashmiri Pandits? And how do you predict the future of Kashmiri language in our community?

RLS: Readership of Kashmiri books is decreasing fast. Now we have lesser number of Pundit readers than we had immediately after we landed in non Kashmiri cities and towns in Jammu and Delhi, in 1990 and after.  There was a time when it was estimated by free opinion and it was almost recognized officially that the number of readers here exceeded that in the valley. J&K Cultural Academy had to reprint some of its books of especially classical, bhakti and Sufi poetry for sale in Jammu. But as hopes for return to Kashmir decreased and enthusiasm for the mother tongue ebbed, enthusiasm for learning or reading Kashmiri too decreased. The situation does not seem to be improving and I am not very sanguine about the future of the language

RR: What are you working on these days?

RLS: I am doing an exhaustive study on Hari Krishna Kaul’s art of short story writing.

RR: Do you have any message for the young Kashmiri Writers, if there are any?

RLS: Writing is a very serious business. It demands regular reading as well as full commitment of time and attention.  It has been seen that our young writers today display a lackadaisical attitude to reading and writing. They expect quick returns in terms of admiration, fame and money from the little that they write. I do not have any message for them. I only wish they take writing seriously, even when there is no hope for any lucrative return from it.

RR: What is the state of the writings of the Kashmiri Muslim writers?

RLS :  They have a vibrant society. Numbers are on their side. So, they will always have reason to benefit from elements nurturing continuity of history and living links with geography. In spite of their dichotomy of whether Urdu or Kashmiri, the recent spurt of sub nationalism is expected to go a long way in providing them a congenial atmosphere for Kashmiri. The fact remains that we were in minority there, trying to go along with the creative endeavor of the mainstream, yet facing discrimination on many counts. But our fate has worsened even though the world here is much opener for us.

RR: “HARUD” Literary Festival to be held in Srinagar has been cancelled. Two Kashmiri Muslim young writers started tirade against it. Your comments?

RLS: I was upset to see what happened.

RR: Why don’t pandit writers like you ask the organizers of the Literary Festival to organize such a festival in Jammu? It will be fruitful for all the writers of Jammu also.

RLS: I would be happy if a festival where creative people of all shades of opinion on literature meet, present their creations and exchange views on art freely is held here. I hope some organization takes such an initiative.

RR: Don’t you think it is the moral responsibility of the Kashmiri pandit writers to ask and even force the youth to write books?

RLS: In my opinion, the most timely and important moral responsibility in this connection today is that of Kashmiri parents. It is for them to insist on, may be force, the discipline of using Kashmiri and only Kashmiri in homes. They should come out of their false notions on mother language, as also children’s capacity to learn many languages and to face the world of competitions. This will surely help our society to remain connected to our history and heritage, motherland and identity. The question of Senior Pandit writers’ responsibility to ‘ask’ or ‘force’ young writers to write books etc. etc. comes later. Of course, creating opportunities for young writers is the duty of senior sections of the society and the intelligentsia. Using any pressure to get quick results in the domain of culture is neither desirable nor practicable. On the contrary it may be counter productive.

RR: Young Kashmiri Muslim writers come out with the literature of Resistance in English which is a Global language. What should young Kashmiri Pandit writers come with? Where are their guides?

RLS: Writing with some motive does help spread ideologies which may build bases for political or social movements. Such writings are more journalistic in nature than literary. Literary creations transcend time leaving indelible impressions on readers while the former don’t do more than creating a stir at a point of time. This is exactly what literature written with a view to highlight the so called ‘resistance’ in Kashmir may succeed in doing now.  ‘Literature in Exile’ played almost a similar role outside the valley though underlining a different point and with less success. Yes, writing in English can be quite advantageous in so far as spreading the message among English audiences in India and outside Indiais sought. Our English writers like KL Choudhry, Arvind Gigoo, and Tej Dhar etc. have done that, though I believe that their writings are not exactly motivated or reactionary. However, I do not think that any amount of coaxing or guidance can make or unmake a writer, whether in Kashmiri, Hindi or English. When, in what circumstances and with how much success a writer may appear, nobody can tell. Politically or socially speaking, writing that makes the world aware of our plight in exile is also important. I think our journalists are doing a fine job in this respect.

RR: Can Kashmir problem be solved through writings?

RLS: Genuine writers are sensitive to human condition and sensible not to succumb to cheap populism.  If unmotivated writers are made judges, with guaranteed immunity from social and political reprisals and coercion and if no conditions are slapped on them, I think we may be able to get some universally acceptable solution. But if we expect them to write down literature leading to some solution, we may get neither a solution nor any literature.

RR: Do you think Kashmiri Pandits should and will go back to Kashmir? I am asking you this because most of the writers write about their lost homeland.

RLS:  Yes, I have still not lost faith in our yearning for Kashmir. Today, even keeping the flame of hope to return and live as before in our homeland, burning is an uphill task. I see that flame getting bright or dim, the desire to return becoming intense or weak with changing weather and politics. I am conscious of the fact that our young people studying marrying or settling far away from their parents may lose interest inKashmir unlike their elders who suffered a lot physically and mentally. The latter will also keep lamenting the loss of their ancestral land and cultural identity. What reassures me, however,  is the nostalgia for Kashmir getting stronger by the day in those young  entrepreneurs  and professionals  who are living far more comfortably in far away  West for decades and yet keep craving for all that Kashmir stands for. So far as writers are concerned, they only reflect people’s (as well as their own) aspirations with honesty and fearlessness. Getting their homeland    back is the natural, lawful and universal aspiration of all uprooted KP’s.