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An Offbeat Day With Writers (ZGM)

An Offbeat Day

Z.G. Muhammad

It was not mundane at all; there was not much excitement, but it was an offbeat day in as much as it was different from the past one thousand and odd days. Of course, sitting amongst a host of short story writers, most of them young, dreaming of making it to the list of Booker awardees Kiran Desai, Mohsin Hamid, Arundhati Roy and Geetanjali, it was a rendezvous with a utopian world. It was an engagement distant from the “new-norm world, ” in which many a friend and I have been living.

In a small busy street connected to the Residency Road, filled with honks and horns, hawkers shout, vendors jeer, and teenyboppers giggle, there is a niche- as silent as cosy lovers’ corner in salubrious highlands. The slot in a non-descript hotel houses the Office of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh writers Guild. Every Saturday, many writers and poets come over from far and distant places to share their short stories, poetry and writing with a highly attentive audience. This small space on the ground floor of a hotel has been a haunt for immature penpushers, time-seasoned litterateurs and topmost writers. The beauty of the writers guild is that it does not suffer language-chauvinism, as has been the case with many such literary organisations, which I believe is how it survived all tides during eight years of its life. Undoubtedly, it has been no less than a miracle, given uncertainties looming large all over. Three pen portraits of Prem Nath Pardasi, Dina Nath Nadim and Ali Muhammad Lone on the small room’s walls also tell a story about our literary landscape. But of course, only a fraction of the vast and variegated landscape. Like colossal, many towering writers dominate our skies and continue to be the lodestar of our literary skies.

At an earlier sitting, long back, I had the opportunity of hearing two young fiction writers writing in the English language. They had an excellent command of the English language and flawless pronunciation, though on occasions, because of their overenthusiasm and laying too much-unwarranted stress, they sounded ridiculous. Nevertheless, they continue to hold the promise of joining the English short story writer galaxy. On Saturday, July 16, it was the second occasion for me to enjoy the company of these young and old stars and their latest short stories. Mohi-u-Din Reshi, an ace storyteller, read out his story- and it left an indelible imprint on my mind, and some very well-crafted sentences resonated in my mind for quite some time. Besides his story couple of other stories also had a tale to tell.

In all uncertain or peaceful situations, literature is a medium to showcase the narrative that may not find space in historical and journalistic writings. And of all the genera of literature, the short story is the most important form of expression. Whether Saadat Hussain Manto’s ‘Siyah Hashy’ or  Qudrat Ullah Shahab’s ‘Ya Khuda’ or Rajinder Singh Bedi’s ‘Lajwanti’, these give us a mirror image of the gruesome times that history would hardly capture with the same finesse. All the three stories I heard today revolved around archaic social themes. Undeniably, one was beautifully weaved, but I doubt if these were iconoclastic in as much as mirroring the actual image, it would be the Critics who would better judges these writing could be described through some of George Orwell’s words and phrases. With all its limitations, the Guild is taking the literature of the land to the threshold of a renaissance. Another vital task this small organisation has taken upon itself is taking literature produced in various languages in this region nestled in the bosom to the world by translating it into English. It was gracious of Shafi Ahmad and Mushtaque B Burq to present me a copy of “Eternal Insight of Kashmir”, a collection of Short Stories translated into the English language. The collection contains thirty-six stories by old masters of storytelling like Akhtar Mohi-u-Din and Autar Krishen Rehabar. And by a  host of new masters of the craft who had taken this genus of literature to new heights, Mohi-u-Din Reshi, Majroorh Rashid and Riyaz Tawhhidi.

The Guild deserves kudos for all it does to water the barren literary landscape of our land and get it back the greenery, grandeur, freshness and fragrance it had in the past.

An Offbeat Day

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