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Meet Asif Tariq Bhat who promotes Kashmiri language through poetry

Srinagar: Socrates said ‘unexamined life is not worth living’. These examinations, I believe are of different kinds and work in different levels. Oft times in our childhood, we find ourselves face-to-face with situations which prompt us to examine ourselves and the world around us.

When Asif Tariq Bhat was young, he always found solace in listening to Kashmiri folk tales from his family elders. He would wait for his bedtime to arrive so that he could listen to those enticing tales. More than the tales, he loved the musicality of the language in which they were narrated to him.

 

From an early age, Asif had an extraordinary zest to learn this sweet tongue to the extent that it became his obsession. While other kids of his age would play in the meadows, Asif invested his early childhood in learning Kashmiri language and literature. This was his journey of examining this sweet language, and in the process, examining his own self.

The first major epiphany in his life happened when he was once listening to radio with his mother. A poem of eminent Kashmiri poet Prof Rahman Rahi was being sung. This fascinated little Asif who innocently asked his mother, “Who is singing this song? He has written it so well!” His mother laughed heartily and replied, “Son, the singer and the writer of this song are different. The writer is always greater than a singer. In fact writing is one of the greatest creations in the history of humankind.”

This unbound Asif at different levels and he also began to compose poems, from an early age. The support of his parents acted like a catalyst and he knew he was heading toward the right destination. However, his love for Kashmiri language and literature was not met amicably by his school authorities and teachers. This was primarily because he was enrolled in an English medium school where everyone was surprisingly very hostile toward Kashmiri language. When Asif wrote his first full-fledged poem, ‘Waqt’ and showed it to his teachers, they tore it to pieces and punished him, corporally. Even his classmates would bully him, terming him an outcast.

However, no amount of mental torture was enough to dispirit Asif. At this stage, Kashmiri was more than just a language for him – it had become his identity. He was not willing to give up on his identity, no matter what it would cost him.

Eventually, Asif dropped out of the school and enrolled in a new school, which was a lot more accepting. There he was infused with a renewed energy to work toward his goal. The teachers encouraged him and appreciated his craft. All this was to him like a dawn after a dark, long night. There was no doubt in his heart anymore about whatever he was doing. With time, he kept on improving.

When he was confident that his work was sublime and possessed a certain amount of literary merit, he paid a visit to the renowned Kashmiri poet, Zareef Ahmad Zareef. The latter was charmed by the young poet’s work and offered to be his mentor. This invigorated Asif’s self-confidence and gave him a clear direction on what he was to do in life.

After completing his high school, he enrolled in Amar Singh School, Srinagar, choosing Kashmiri as his special subject. Here he got the opportunity to read Kashmiri literature extensively and turn his raw talent into enduring literature.
In this phase, Asif’s work began to get published on a larger scale ranging from the college magazine to Sangarmaal, the sole Kashmiri literary journal of Kashmir. Asif also began to experiment with fiction at this stage and it was fruitful for him as well. His flash fiction was received well from all quarters. Among these, the most popular are “Shikear gove shikaar karith” and “Teme doh oos rood pawaan”.

Asif believes that identity is essential for any human being for survival and expression in this world. A person who does not carry a valid identity is lost and imperceptible in the social scene. Mother tongue is a common identity of the masses and he believes one must never shun this identity to imbibe some other identity as it is not suited for them.

This identity is existential in nature as it is directly linked with the existence of a person. Sometimes social pressures can come in the way of our existence and identity, but we must never suppress who we are and what we are meant to be.
Trying to imbibe cultures and languages of other geographical locations is fine, but it must never come at the cost of suppressing one’s true identity. This not only erodes values and cultures of a certain civilization but also slowly results in extinction of the truth of one’s existence, resulting in something estranged and fragile.