As the twilight tip toes into a room furnished with sumptuous carpets, an old man, eightyish, with a long white beard, neatly folds his prayer rug and puts it aside. A group of children are waiting for him with a worn-out book placed on a low table in front of them. Ghulam Hassan Bhat, the children’s grandfather turns the shabby pages of the book, Golistan-i-saadi (a landmark Persian book) and reads aloud the story of Harun Rashid from chapter one. He meticulously reads the Persian text and then translates into Urdu. The children seem captivated.
“This book”, Hassan said, “has been with me since my childhood. I had opted for Persian in my 6th standard back in 1965. I’m so fond of it that I now remember its most of the poems and stories by heart. The book has been translated into Urdu and English too but the essence one gets by reading it in Persian is unmatched.”
While narrating an interesting incident related to the book, he said that, “I once forgot the book at home, which was already torn into two sections. My mother thinking of it being a piece of garbage put it into Anime (rice water) and used it as an adhesive for her wicker rice dustpan. When I came back home, I looked for the book and my eyes caught sight of the dustpan which was put under the sun to dry. I could read some Persian letters clearly from it. My mother after realizing her mistake brought me a new book without letting my father know. Now, I narrate stories from that new book.”
Ghulam Hassan has been following the tradition of Persian storytelling every evening since decades, earlier to his children and now to his grandchildren.
“I have grown up reading and listening to Persian, which has vanished into thin air now. I read stories in Persian to my grandchildren so that they at least get familiar with the language. I wish that my home always resounds with the Farsi language, even after my death,” he said.
Persian is an Iranian dialect which evolved here in the valley of Kashmr in late 14th century when Shahmiri Sultans founded Muslim Sultanate in Kashmir. Persian soon dominated the Kashmiri language and became the lingua franca. The language was introduced at school level and hence became necessary for everyone to learn it. But the language because of the negligence from the authorities over the past few decades has lost its sheen. While Persian witnessed a sharp decrease in its disciples, some of its admirers are resisting to let the language die.
Shadab Arshid completed his Bachelor’s in science with flying colors in 1999. Shadab and his family looked forward to get an admission for his Masters but fate had other plans for him. In the same year, Shadab attended a Kashmiri folk music session; the artists sang some Persian poems. Shadab felt mesmerized by the language.
“After attending the session I went straight to a person whom I knew was connected to Persian language. I told him to teach me the language. I started attending Persian classes’ everyday for next two months. Seeing my progress, my teacher told me to go for Masters in Persian language. I topped the university entrance exam and later excelled in the department too by fetching two Gold medals from the faculty at University of Kashmir.” Shadab said.
For his exemplary academic background, Shadab Arshid was offered a PhD scholarship from Tehran University. He accepted the offer but left it midway after he got appointed as a plus-2 lecturer in Kashmir. After few years, Shadab completed his PhD in Persian language from Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi.
Dr. Shadab Arshid is currently a senior Assistant Professor, Department of Persian language, University of Kashmir. While Dr. Shadab continues to contribute for the revival of the language by publishing numerous research papers, he is saddened by the deteriorating state of affairs of the Persian language at the administration level.
“Our roots are embedded in the Persian language. Our ancestors who excelled in various fields have documented their work in Persian. We have documents on medicine, geography, history, culture etc-all written in Persian. No matter how hard we try to shrug off the Persian language, we always go back to those Persian scriptures whenever we try to understand our history, culture, politics or even geography. A good chunk of our revenue documents still exist in Persian language. I get calls every now and then where authorities ironically seek help in translating documents from Persian,” Dr. Shadab said.
While stressing on the historical and cultural importance of the Persian language, Dr. Shadab narrated an incident where a Geography scholar working on the history of earthquakes in Kashmir had to plead people with Persian knowledge to translate a document for his research at a University in London.
Even after not being offered at school level, some students with an inclination towards the Persian language take the subject at secondary, college and university levels. Most of the colleges from the valley teach Persian language as an optional subject. Every year 50 students pass out with their Masters degrees in Persian language from University of Kashmir.
Batool Fatima, a girl in her early 20s was inclined towards Persian language since her adolescence. She opted for Persian in her 11th standard as an optional subject but the profundity of the subject made Batool to consider it more important than her major subjects. She was thrilled to learn the subject further at her college in Budgam. But Batool was disheartened with the quality of teaching there. Witnessing the apathy of her fellow colleagues; with a comparatively better hold on the language, Batool took an initiative to take online classes for the students who found it hard to continue with the subject.
“I was disheartened by the quality of teaching at our college. I stated giving online classes on zoom and telegram when I saw my friends failing the subject, I find the easiest. I received an overwhelming response for the initiative. The classes were attended by a good number of students across the valley,” Batool Fatima said.
Ghulam Hassan, Dr. shadab Arshid and Batool Fatima represent three different generations of Persian lovers in Kashmir, who are defying all odds to keep their beloved language alive in their homeland.