In Ghulam Nabi Khayal’s death earlier this month, Kashmir lost a multi-faceted personality who made a mark as a journalist, writer, poet and a social activist.
Khayal was an acclaimed journalist but he is better known for his accomplishments as a Kashmiri poet and essayist. His poetry is deeply rooted in the culture, history, and landscape of Kashmir.
His literary journey encompassed three languages: Kashmiri, Urdu, and English. Throughout his illustrious career, he penned an impressive collection of over 30 books which include Allama Iqbal aur Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir, Gaashir Munaar, Chinar Rang, Fikr-e-Khayal, Iqbal aur Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir, Karvaan-e-Khayal, Pragaash andKashmi: The Burning of a Paradise.
Among his many literary contributions, Khayal’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam into Kashmiri remains a noteworthy achievement. This translation brought the timeless Persian verses to a new audience.
A defining moment in Khayal’s literary career was when he was honored with the Sahitya Akademi Award for his outstanding work, ‘Gashik Minaar’ in 1975.
Khayal’s professional journey was as diverse as his literary pursuits. He embarked on his career as a newsreader at Radio Kashmir during the 1950s. This set the stage for a lifelong association with journalism.
Over the years, he lent his formidable talents to some of the most prominent news organizations in India and abroad. He wrote for publications like the Guardian, Illustrated Weekly of India, India Today, and Associated Press. Additionally, he also became a prominent and an important voice on various broadcast radio stations of the world.
He was also a man who left a mark in the social circles of Kashmir and is known for his steely determination.
In 1958, Khayal was arrested in the Kashmir conspiracy case for two years. He spent his time in prison writing poetry and essays. He shot to prominence later for his famous poem, ‘Yeh Chuh Choun Watan, Yeh Chuh Meoun Watan’.
In 2015, Ghulam Nabi Khayal also become the first literary figure from Kashmir to join the ranks of writers across the country who returned their Sahitya Akademi awards in protest against the spiral of intolerance being witnessed in the country.
While doing so he said that growing hatred and attacks on minorities in the country is the reason for his gesture. He has also appealed to Sahitya Akademi awardees from Kashmir to join him in the protest.
“I can’t fight these communal forces physically so I have decided to lodge a silent protest by returning the award,” Khayal had said. “In the past one year, since the BJP-led NDA government assumed power at the Centre, India is increasingly being pushed back into the Dark Ages. I have never seen such an alarming communal atmosphere in the country in my entire life. The divisive and communal forces have been let loose against the minorities,” he had said in an interview.
Those righteous steps we took, those went astray, Ya Mustafas.a.w. Will you not cast a glance at the Kashmiri people, Ya Mustafas.a.w.
They spread webs below, with ropes they tightened the sky The wings of flying birds have broken, Ya Mustafas.a.w.
Since iron-sounds were heard on our doors, hinges are broken Now the entire city is concealed in hideaways, Ya Mustafas.a.w.
The moth became cinders, the candle melted, and the night turned smoky-close
Light dimmed, the dark fell around, when will the dawn bloom, Ya Mustafas.a.w.
Oil-lamps were snufed, colours paled, piles of flowers turned heaps of ash Whose evil eye has blighted the nation of Kashmir, Ya Mustafas.a.w.
Last night, before I slept, when I rubbed the dust of your feet on my eyes I saw thousands of stars in my dream, Ya Mustafas.a.w.
(Excerpt from Suvir Kaul’s ‘Of Gardens and Graves’ with English translation by the author)
I was the aroma
Of the spring breeze How could I know?
Wherever I spread?
The whole night long I searched for
The market place And wilderness,
But on reaching home In broad daylight I lost my way.
He stole my heart
A long time back, Ask not when?
Ask not who?
Should I convey him?
Through the winnowing wind That he alone will suffer
Who is destined to suffer.
Tulips didn’t bloom
On the rooftop of clay Since someone
Occupied the house below.
O Khayal, you write Verses sweet
Inasmuch as You think of someone.
A Guru you’re guiding yourself That too is Khayal, and no one else
(Translated from Kashmiri by Hameed Mumtaz, Source: Source: Indian Literature, Vol. 51, No. 4 (240) (July-August 2007)
A Song in a Kashmir Village
You’ve stopped our meeting every morn and eve At the Spring, How hard, my love!
Why came you then at all To feed the gossips with our tale?
You wore hyacinth print, Your rosy hands were dyed in Henna paste How vulnerable to the taunts the village elders hurled at you!
Your village cast a spell on me; Though a townsman, I forget the town.
It was a tyrant love that drove me here, A prey to common jibe.
Be wary of your jealous friends;
They’ll sell our love to common tongues.
And tear to bits my clothes,
And they won’t spare your skirt, How hard!
I said, “Bewitching is the moon tomorrow, Let’s make love under the blossoming peach.”
You said, “What ruse I give at home, and come to the peach.” How hard?
(Translated from Kashmiri by Jiya Lai Kaul)
At the Frontier Post
This spot of earth was scorched by enemy fire And sprinkled with the blood of man. At this very spot at the frontier post, Far, far away from home, my comrades dug a hole And buried my bullet-ridden body:
The body of mine which in its lusty youth Was caressed by my land of birth, Nourished in every fibre for months and years, By lakes and tarns and vigorous highland breeze, Which saw its glorious sun-births and sunsets glow.
Should you, perchance, come to that dreary spot, The shade of Shalimar Chinars will welcome you, And you will feel rested as on Dal Lake shores. The dust you tread upon will rose bloom,
You cannot step but on a flowerbed.
Here, resting awhile, a thought may tease your mind: “War came here trailing destruction and death, Drenching this spot with streams of blood, Charging the air with gun powder and bombs, How is it then the earth is green again,
And there is a stir of life around?
Birds fly up in the air, The breeze blows fresh and cool.”
Then standing up you cast a look around, A tomb obscure will greet your eye, And you will understand, This dreary spot will forever Kashmir be.
(This poem was inspired by Rupert Brooke’s The, Soldier)
(Translated from Kashmiri by Jiya Lai Kaul, Source: Indian Literature, Vol. 51, No. 4)