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Did India goof up honouring Kashmir’s revolutionary poet?

India has released a postage stamp featuring most famous pro-freedom poet of Kashmir, Mahjoor, who strongly detested Kashmir’s accession with the country. Is it a goof up? Haroon Mirani reports.

Srinagar, Jul 03, 2013:

Mahjoor stamp
India last week honoured the most famous pro-freedom poet of Kashmir, who strongly detested Kashmir’s accession with India in 1947.

Peerzada Ghulam Ahmad popularly known by his pen name Mahjoor was a revolutionary poet, who never favoured Kashmir becoming part of India.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his two-day visit to Kashmir spoke highly of Mahjoor and released a postage stamp in his honour on June 26.

Singh said the revolutionary poet should have been honoured many years ago.

The move either was aimed at bridging gaps with Kashmiris or a huge goof up.

Singh said it was a moment of pride for him and his government to honour Mahjoor, who he surprisingly described as “national” poet of Kashmir.

United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi who was also present on the occasion said, “Mahjoor had progressive ideas and through his verses delivered a message of universal brotherhood.”

She quoted Rabindra Nath Tagore who had called Mahjoor ‘Wordsworth of Kashmir’.

Mahjoor, born in 1885, played an important role in stirring the passions of Kashmiris against the oppressive regime of Maharaja before 1947.

His writing was effectively used by National Conference (NC) to reach out to the masses and rally them against the Dogra monarchy.

“But Mahjoor felt cheated when NC endorsed Kashmir’s accession to India in 1947,” says Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a Kashmiri poet, who has extensively studied Mahjoor. “He expressed his resentment in his writing.”

The opposition from the most influential poet of Kashmir rattled Sheikh Abdullah, prime minister of Kashmir at that time, grandfather of incumbent chief minister Omar Abdullah.

Mahjoor’s writing came under the government scanner.

“Forget state honours, he couldn’t even get his work published as the press was under the government control,” says Zareef.

The abundance of pre-1947 literature and the absence of post-1947 work of Mahjoor may be one of the reasons why the government feels him to be his own man.

Despite curbs, Mahjoor never stopped expressing himself.

His words angered the government a number of times and continue to rhyme with the separatist-leaning Kashmiris even now.

A famous poem of Mahjoor, Bidad (complaint) written in 1949-50 gave rise to one of the most popular slogans of anti-India brigade in Kashmir.

Noone daade Gayous Naetionel wanas, Dupaham Gode Ral Hindustanas Saeth; Buzith Ye Wachem thar Thar Panas, Kare Kiyah Dil Chum Pakistanas saeth,

(To buy salt, I went to NC’s shop, He set a condition, first join India Hearing this, I started trembling How could I do, for my heart lies with Pakistan)

“By referring to Pakistan, Mahjoor expressed the sentiments of people of Muslim majority state at that time,” says Zareef. “After the import of salt, sugar and cloth from Pakistan stopped, NC rationed these things through the shops allotted to its workers, who in turn denied Pakistan-favouring-persons such luxuries.”

These verses gave rise to one of the most popular pro-Pakistan slogans in Kashmir, which is chanted during protests, Indo-Pak cricket matches or simply at places where Kashmiris want to show resentment against India.

Dopmas zu jan wandha Hindustanas, magar dil chum Pakistanas saeth'

(I could have loved India with my life, but my heart lies with Pakistan)

Abdullah, during that era was harsh to any kind of opposition, and got Mahjoor briefly arrested after he wrote the famous poem Azaadi (freedom).

“He wanted to say that accession with India is not what we had fought for,” says Zareef.

Lookan peth azadi gaeyi sethha gob hari-parbat zan, Dapaan vanhao panin ahwal asi ma layi azadi

(Freedom (so called) has become burdensome, ala hillock We would bare our souls, lest freedom gets annoyed)

On freedom Mahjoor says:

Bi ti yithui osus ni osus waqt-e-aki ba ikhtiyaar, Din gavahi myaani kanne, yim prain kanne dewar myean (I was not like this always, I was independent; The grand ruins, the majestic stones stand witness to it.)

Anticipating freedom of Kashmir, Mahjoor had penned its national anthem too.

Bulbul vanaan chu poshan, Gulshan watan chu sonui (Bulbul tells flowers that our country is a garden)

Mahjoor attacked Abdullah a number of times.

In one of his poems, Mahjoor expressed his frustration over the change in Abdullah, which he hinted at his closeness with Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru.

Bulbula surat aakh badlaavith, Tsi kativ chog laagnavith aakh; Zaal kaem logui haal gas bhavith, Tsi kativ chog laagnavith aakh

(O bulbul where have you changed yourself; Where have you adored yourself with a ponytail (sikha) Who has trapped you, express yourself; Where have you adored yourself with a ponytail)

Mahjoor died in 1952 and was buried at his native village Metragam.

However, Abdullah government got his body exhumed and Mehjoor was re-buried at Pandhrethan, known for its dust ridden stone quarries.

Zareef, who has written a long essay on the incident, says it was meant to kill Mehjoor’s legacy.

“At Metragam, people would have flocked to his grave regularly and Sheikh may have feared what would emerge thereafter,” says Zareef. “It was an exile after death.”

Social media in Kashmir was also abuzz with the news, with some expressing surprise that New Delhi had misinterpreted Mehjoor's writing and ended up honouring him.

Some expressed their sentiments with popular Kashmiri saying, ‘yiman taer’ (they were conned).

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