In a recently held seminar on the future of Kashmir, one of the prominent intellectuals chairing a session mentioned that Kashmiris have no icons to follow. This is not true. Kashmir has produced some of the most prominent personalities widely known and respected not only in the sub-continent but globally. Kashmir has had many exceptional people of repute in their individual fields that are no longer with us but their memory is evergreen even among the common people. In ancient Kashmir there are names like Laltaditya, Avantivarman, Hakim Suya and so on who are remembered for their contributions and achievements. In fact, Pandit Kalhan, the author of Rajtarangni, the first recorded history in the sub-continent himself is an icon. So was Jonaraja. Budshah is not only known to every one but is remembered even by the manual workers who recite his name while working. Ghani Kashmiri, the famous poet is known more in Iran than in Kashmir. Among Islamic scholars Moulvi Anwar Shah has no comparison. Historians like Haider Malik Chadoora, Mohammad Din Fauq, and Hassan Khaihami have been there. One of the most historical icons is Subhan Navid who fought a relentless crusade against prostitution. Similarly, there are people whose ancestral origin is from Kashmir but they are icons known throughout. Two well known examples are Dr.Mohammad Iqbal, called the poet of the east, and Jawahar Lal Nehru, the architect of modern India. There is a belief that Kashmiris shine and get recognition only when they go out of Kashmir. Regarding this apathy of the local people towards their heroes, there is a popular Kashmiri saying that even prophets didn’t get recognition from their own people!
Unfortunately, we have completely forgotten our past or have been deliberately made to forget it! Even people do not know about some of the outstanding personalities of recent years. I do not know all the prominent persons in different fields but even a few whose names I can recollect are in dozens. In the field of art Ghulam Rasool Santosh, Bansi Parimoo, and Shuja Sultan are there. In music Raj Begum is ever green. She is better than Lata Mangeshkar in her own right. Then there are poets, romantic, revolutionary, and spiritual. Habba Khatoon, Rasool Mir, Mehjoor, Abdul Ahad Azad, Shamas Faqir, and Wahab Khar. In the field of medicine Dr.Ali Jan was a household name. Professor Fida Hassnain is an historian of international repute. He has been researching all his life and is still doing the same at this ripe age. Professor Hajini was a great scholar. Among educationists Dr. Aga Ashraf Ali who is an institution in himself has so much fervour evidenced in many seminars and debates that many of our younger leaders look “older” in his presence. Our new generation is totally ignorant about these icons of Kashmir. No one has tried to produce a book about them. A couple of years back the Institute of Kashmir Studies was set up with great fanfare. It should have been the first priority of the Institute to compile the life history of all these outstanding personalities of the past with all their achievements. The University of Kashmir is doing a lot of research on umpteen topics but there cannot be a better topic than to study Kashmir’s heroes in different fields both of the ancient as well as the recent past. People seem to have become so materialistic that they have totally forgotten the finer qualities of life. Another factor responsible for making us forget these icons has been the shattering of the social life during the years of turmoil. Last two decades have virtually brought the entire social interaction in Kashmir to an abrupt end. Kashmiris were used to a very vibrant and colourful social life. People would not only visit each other often but would participate in many social functions. There would be many occasions for meeting each other not only to discuss world affairs but to talk about various finer aspects of social life. Most important gathering point for these discussions had been the barber and baker shops where people would wait for their turn and discuss world problems as well as different social topics.
However, the situation has come to such a pass that people see and meet each other mostly on two occasions now. These are the wedding feasts and the funeral gatherings. During last couple of years in the course of my attendance of these gatherings I happened to encounter a number of prominent personalities of the yester years. Even though some of these people have slightly changed in their physical appearance yet most of them are as vibrant and active as before. With some of these people I have had longer interactions and some I have seen from a distance with off and on chance encounters. However, I have been impressed by their personalities, especially by their intelligence, dedication, and commitment. Some of these personalities are SAS Qadri, the former divisional commissioner; Noor Mohammad, former Chief Secretary; Mufti Bahauddin, the former Chief justice of J & K; Dr.Allaqaband, a renowned physician (again ever young like Aga Ashraf); Rehman Rahi, teacher and a famous poet of national repute; Hamidi Kashmiri, again a poet and a great teacher (taught me in S.P.College); Mohammad Amin Chisti, former Registrar of the combined University of Jammu and Kashmir, and last but not least Pir Ghulam Hassan Shah, former head of Kashmir Police. Having been myself a bureaucrat, my maximum interaction has been with bureaucrats. Among these Noor Mohammad I found to be the most positive and dynamic one. I remember few interesting interactions with him. During my tenure as the head of winter sports wing at Gulmarg in mid seventies he happened to visit Gulmarg where his children were skiing. At the end of the visit local employees met him and complained that they had to work in tough conditions in winter and I was not providing them winter gear of jackets, boots, gloves, goggles etc.
On being told that it was not provided under rules, he said, “Ashraf, if you want to be successful in administration, never go by rules. Rules are meant to be broken in public interest!” He ordered me to provide these essential items and send him a note for confirmation. Needful was done and these people now regularly get their winter outfits. He was again very positive as the State’s Planning Commissioner in sanctioning import of equipment for adventure activities. Noor Sahib’s missive served me well during my entire bureaucratic career. Similarly, Pir Ghulam Hassan Shah has been the most positive and a dynamic head of the State Police. I have known him since he was a deputy superintendant of Police attached with the Kashmir House in Delhi. I have yet to see a more intelligent and sharper Police Officer than him! His contributions in modernising the Police force in Kashmir are immense. The one person with whom I have had the maximum interactions is Professor Fida Hassnain. During the period he was the Director Archaeology of J & K, we must have made dozens of trips to locate the missing stupa under which the deliberations of the fourth Buddhist Council engraved on copper plates were buried. We visited dozens of archaeological sites all over the valley and Ladakh together. I have been actively participating with him in his research about the mystery of Jewish tribes in Kashmir. He is a persistent and meticulous researcher. People like him and others who are still around are in true sense “Living Icons” of Kashmir. They will be soon gone from this world and Kashmir will be left with fading memories of them. I wish if someone could compile their life stories including their contribution to our society. It would be a good treatise for the new generations to study and emulate. In fact, the local TV channels and especially DD Kashir which has recently been appreciably revamped and claims to give a “feel” of Kashmir, could project some of them as role models for our youth! Will someone please do it?