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Peace Watch » Kashmir-Talk » Prison Tales IV: Jails The Cauldron of Ideologies

Prison Tales IV: Jails The Cauldron of Ideologies




On a shelf in my small study, I have a beautiful book printed on glossy paper ‘Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’, translated from Persian into our mother tongue by Ghulam Nabi Khayal.    It was my second introduction to Khayyam, after having read translation of Rubaiyat by Edward FitzGerald as a student of literature and parroted verses like:

  “Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup

Before Life’s Liquor in its Cup be dry.”

Many a critic of Kashmiri literature considers Khayal’s translation of   Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam as one of the best in our native language. Long before, as a young student passing my leisure time inside a bookshop in our Mohalla, owned by one of the then famed calligraphist Mahajan Sahib, I had seen the first edition of the translation and heard the story that poet had rendered 15o quatrains from Persian into Kashmiri during his days in jail- like many others he also had been implicated in fabricated ‘Hazratbal Conspiracy’ case of 1958. The glossy edition on my shelf for past almost a decade and reprinted after forty years staring at me reproachfully about our apathy towards our literature reminded me how jails had brought best in some of the inmates and how these had turned into seminaries and schools for some of my contemporaries and classmates – and how thinking of some students had metamorphosed in these cauldrons of ideologies.

I would have no idea if there were any students behind the high walls of the prisons in the fifties   when translator of Khayyam’s quatrains was jailed. But, for a decade after 1965, thousands of students were sent to use Charles Dickens phrase to the ‘melancholy house’ to pass their ‘weary days’ in long barracks and pace on metalled prison pavements like ‘mourners at a funeral’. After freedom from jails   for years, they recounted the horrific experiences and sour stories and shared tales how in the dismal scenario they saw a silver lining that changed their lives.

A couple of friends often talked about the dedication of an inmate Master Mohammad Abdullah Beg of Uri who taught them to read the   Quran and made them memorize many a Surah of the Holy Book. In their childhood, they had not been to Quran Chatahall; there were stories that after 1947 the emergency administration had closed Chatahalls, and these were re-opened after 1953 only. Some received lessons on the Holy Quran, from Qari Saif-U-Din Sahib one of the founding members of the Jama’at-e-Islamia Jammu and Kashmir. It was their first-time introduction to the literature on Islam by one of the greatest twentieth-century South Asian Islamic Scholar Abul A’la Maududi – the literature changed their outlook for the rest of their life.

Some  friends often felt nostalgic about the human qualities of Abdul Kabir, an unlettered communist leader, master in stitching clothes with a needle who visited various barracks to know from the students if he could be of assistance to them, including mending their clothes and fixing button in their shirts. In the mid-sixties, when G.M. Sadiq, a communist was in power ironically many left-leaning students, perhaps professing Marxist-Leninist ideology was jailed. A couple of friends often mentioned that while visiting them in their barrack and listening to  their discourses on works like Das Kapital and Dialectical Materialism  they  for the first time learnt about Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – and got influenced by the ideology.

In a place where over a period of hundred years people have been jailed, there are a plethora of stories suggesting that jails have been the cauldron of ideologies- that have metamorphosed detunes political outlooks- on occasions oscillated them from one extreme to another. The story of Engineer Ghulam Qadir Sufi, a footballer and one of the founding members of Islamic Study Circle could be a classic example. Talking on student politics in Kashmir and remembering his days in jail, he told me that during his days in S.P. College he read communist literature and was actively associated with the Democratic National Conference. He knew all prominent socialist leaders D.P. Dhar, Noor Mohammad and Sadiq, and as an activist of the party hawked party newspaper ‘Hamara Kashmir’ with another friend Ratinder Koul. In 1965, as a student of the Regional Engineering College, he was detained and lodged on the Central Jail, Srinagar. On the first night inside the jail in the evening, someone slipped a book into the barrack. He picked up the book; it was a collection of Iqbal’s poetry. Next morning, a man introducing himself as Jahangir Khan asked the jailed students, if any one of them had picked up the book he had slipped into the barrack. Knowing Sufi had picked it up, Jahangir Khan suggested to him read Iqbal and try to understand him. Iqbal transformed Sufi; then he started reading Abul A’la Maududi.  ‘The second volume of ‘Tafhimat’ was the first work of Maududi, in barrack no 3, then he read   one after another work by the Islamic scholar in the jail- and he left the prison as a learned man with a changed ideology.  

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