At the age of 30, poet Masroor Muzaffar from North Kashmir's Baramulla district, became one of the youngest winners of Sahitya Academy's Yuva Puraskar in 2020. Masroor is a poet whose poetry focuses on painting an authentic picture of current times with a dash of romanticism.
In this interview with Rising Kashmir's sub-editor Irfan Mehraj, Masroor discusses his journey as a poet who began writing verses in Kashmiri at a tender age to his winning a national-level award besides offering careful instructions on the preservation of Kashmiri language.
Tell us about yourself, your background?
I was born in 1990 in a small village in Baramulla. I did my schooling in Baramulla and completed my 12th as a Medical student. I joined Amar Singh College in Srinagar to study Kashmiri in 2010. After graduation, I did B.Ed from Al Huda College in Pattan, Baramulla. I got admitted to the University of Kashmir in 2016 for my post-graduation in the Kashmiri language. After completing my Master's degree, I came to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Agra, Uttar Pradesh in 2018 where I am pursuing PhD at the Department of Modern Indian Languages (Kashmiri section).
How did you get interested in the Kashmiri language and literature?
Since childhood, I have been interested in the Kashmiri language. My mother’s passing away in 2006 when I was just a kid impacted me somehow and I started expressing myself through Kashmiri verse. My teacher, Mumtaz Gohbali, who was a poet himself encouraged me at this stage of my life. It was due to his support and guidance that my young voice was featured on TV and Radio. I would participate in programs on TV and Radio — where I would read my poems. I was only a 6th standard student when I started writing poetry. This phase of my life was crucial in inspiring me to write poetry in Kashmiri. During that time, a cultural festival would take place in Gulmarg (a popular tourist destination of the valley), where students from higher-secondary schools would participate. At that time, I was rather famous for reading jest-news in the Kashmiri language. I have won prizes for this. This also helped me build interest in our mother tongue.
In 2008, I became a member of a literary club known as Bahar-e-Adab in Tilgam (a village in Baramulla district). Fayaz Tilgami, who is a well-known literary figure, was part of the club. With his encouragement, my first Ghazal (a lyric poem with a fixed number of verses and a repeated rhyme, typically on the theme of love, and normally set to music) was published in Naagjoi magazine published by the club. I met many other poets and literary figures who were also associated with the literary club.
At college, one teacher named Professor Mashooq Hussain found talent in me and encouraged me. I kept honing my skills during this period and would also participate in Mushairas on the radio. I would go as a junior artist to these programs. The love for the Kashmiri language only grew in me during this time and I would keep writing poetry. I found that the best expression of my inner voice can only be found in Kashmiri, my mother tongue. I found I could not do it in any other language.
Tell us about your first collection of poetry that won you an award?
My first poetry collection called Waawich Baavath (Expression of Wind) was published in 2017. It's a book of Ghazals, with a few Nazm’s (Nazm is poetry written in rhymed verse and also in modern prose-style poems and is a major part of Urdu poetry). The book was awarded the Yuva Puraskar by Sahitya Academy in 2020. I was one of the youngest poets to have won this award. The theme of my poetry is to paint the picture of present reality and times. Romanticism is also a feature of my poetry. I also write on the erasure of the traditional values and culture of Kashmir. My first collection of poems was well-received and in fact, Professor Neerja Mattoo (a well-known Kashmiri literary figure and editor of Meeras) has translated some of the poems from my book into English.
Besides the book, my poetry has been published in many magazines and periodicals in Kashmir, including in Anhar magazine and Vyeth — a well-regarded Kashmiri magazine. My poetry has also been published in newspapers like Sangarmal (Kashmiri language newspaper owned by Rising Kashmir).
What were the challenges in publishing your first book?
I am against self-publication as is prevalent in Kashmir nowadays with even 12-year-olds publishing books. It’s not a good trend. For my book, I faced financial constraints in publishing it. I was still just a student. Finally, some of my friends helped me publish my book with a publisher in New Delhi. These challenges are common to young writers like myself and should not discourage anyone.
How was the response to your first collection of poems?
The response was quite encouraging. The book was appreciated by several literary forums in Kashmir. Critical readers of Kashmiri poetry also gave positive reviews of the collection and praised it. If my book was not well-received, I don’t think I would have won the Sahitya Academy Yuva Puraskar at such a young age. It was quite a big achievement for me.
Besides the Sahitya Academy Award, I have won quite a few awards for my poetry such as Indian Excellence Award among others. I won the poetry competition organised by Kashmir Writers Association in 2020 also. I just feel lucky and happy that I have found appreciation among readers for my poetry.
Who are your inspirations among Kashmiri language writers and poets?
Among the traditional poets, Lal Ded (a 14th-century Kashmiri mystic poet) and Sheikh-ul-Alam (known as Alamdar-e-Kashmir was a 14th-15th century Kashmiri Sufi saint, mystic, poet and Islamic preacher) are my foundational inspirations.
Kashmiri poets who have inspired me as a reader and me becoming a poet are Rehman Rahi, Shahnaz Rashid and Amin Kamil. The first two are the living legends of the Kashmiri language. Rehman Rahi has given to the Kashmiri language what no other contemporary poet has been able to. He is among the greatest.
Other contemporary poets who have been an inspiration for me are Nisar Azam — the first Kashmiri winner of Sahitya Academy’s Yuva Puraskar, Sagar Sarfaraz (from Hajin, Bandipora), and Riyaz Rabbani (from Kreeri, Baramulla). These young poets have been a big influence on me. Reading them has greatly inspired me to write poetry.
What are you presently working on?
I am currently working on two books. One is a book of criticism on the literature written and produced in North Kashmir (comprising districts of Baramulla, Bandipora, and Kupwara) and another one is a collection of poetry.
What would be your message to young Kashmiri writers?
I would begin by saying that the language — a significant number of our newer generation speaks or converses in—is neither Kashmiri nor Urdu nor even English. It’s a mix of every language we know. This is quite bad as it will not help us gain command over any of the above-mentioned languages—let alone Kashmiri. This sort of language, mostly spoken, has no heritage. I certainly believe this is an erasure of authentic Kashmiri language. A well-known adage goes that identities die when languages die. I find it very true in our case. When we lose our identity, nothing else will remain. I would insist that we have to strengthen our cultural roots by way of preserving our language. When our roots are strong, only afterwards can we go out into the world and proclaim our identity.
All of us must be very sensitive to the fact that the best expression of who is a Kashmiri and what is Kashmir is in our mother tongue. It’s our best and authentic means of expression. We should not lose it at any cost. If we lose our expression, we will lose our essence.
Knowledge of other languages and literature is quite important as we won’t understand the world we live in if we don’t read poets and writers like Eliot, Shakespeare, Ghalib, Iqbal, or other great poets, but it is essential that we, at the same time, take serious note of our language. Vast knowledge of other great poets can only enhance our indigenous expression.
My message to young Kashmiri writers would be that one cannot simply express in any other language what one can in the Kashmiri language, and the endless possibilities within that.